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Pssst… I work as a bookbinder

Adelene Koh is possibly the only bespoke bookbinder in Singapore. And it's not a job for the amateurs. She shares with us how she got into this unconventional career and why she continues to do it
 

Video: Vimeo/Another Beautiful Story

A book is a book is a book. Or is it? Not in the hands of Adelene, who runs bookbinding studio dddots Fine Books. Under her deft hands, beautifully bound books are born, whilst worn and damaged old tomes are revived and painstakingly restored. A member of Society of Bookbinders (UK), Designer Bookbinders (UK) and Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild, Koh is a private practice bookbinder, specialised in designer bookbinding and book restoration.

“Before I started doing bookbinding full time, I worked as a flight stewardess with Singapore Airlines. My husband, who was also working there, used our annual free ticket for a holiday in New York in September 2011. Unbeknownst to me, he had planned a visit to the NY Art Book Fair at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). He had always known about my love affair with books, papers and prints, but little did he realise it would spiral into a full-time career. It was at the fair where I met a bookbinder and realised that it was possible to do it as a legitimate career and not simply a craft hobby. Thus inspired, I returned to Singapore, started my blog, and sat down and thought of a brand name. After mulling for a while, my eye landed on my cat Dydy and decided to found dddots (say “dee-dee-dots”), as an homage to my feline friend.

“I studied graphic design in a local arts college and graduated with a Diploma in Communication Design. Of course if there had been a course in bookbinding then, I probably would have qualified for a B.A.. There was a lecturer in Year Two back then who taught my class how to bind a book, and that was how I started making books as a hobby. I was in advertising before joining Singapore Airlines; I was usually mainly working on final artworks before they were sent out to the printers. My primary task was to create the centrefold layouts for a supermarket weekly special advertisement. After three years of doing that repetitively, I finally got sick of it.

“During a recent move to a new place, I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover the earliest book I had ever “bound”. It was a collection of comic strips with a simple staple binding I had made when I was 10. I had glued newspaper cutouts of a Garfield comic strip and even drew a cover for it. Then, when I was 12, I won a book jacket drawing competition in school, and received a twenty dollar voucher for a bookshop.

“I’d always liked paper crafts. I used to borrow a lot of books on origami, paper cutting, wrapping, folding from the library when I was young. But it wasn’t until college that my interest in bookbinding was rekindled. But once that spark reignited, I couldn’t stop. I was always binding books for friends as personalised gifts. But at that point, I still had no idea that it would eventually become such a big part of my life.

“I officially started dddots in October 2011, but at that time, I was still in a period of self-exploration. I scoured the internet and poured through books to learn as much as I could, making books with what I had gleaned, some of which were successfully sold at a craft fair during Singapore Arts Festival in June 2012. Six months later, I made a trip to Kamikitazawa, Tokyo to learn from Japanese bookbinding artist Yamazaki Yo.

“My husband Louis, was hired for a wedding shoot, as a photographer, in Scotland in August 2013, so I decided to seek out veteran bookbinder Mark Cockram to formally begin my training at Studio 5 in London. I went to Mark with little bookbinding experience, no skills and no experience with leather, and told him I wanted to enter the UK Designer Bookbinder's Annual Competition (organised by the historic UK bookbinding society).

“Since August 2013, I have completed 13 design bindings and was certified “Highly Commended” twice in said competition. So far, my books have been exhibited in Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, United States and Canada.  

“I think outside the book; I don’t just see it as a rectangle block of papers stuck together. I see it a living thing. Like how a fashion designer would dress a woman. It moves, it flows and it breathes. The book does not need to be a rectangle; it can be more. My greatest inspirations come from fashion runway shows. Every season, I will try to watch Chanel, Viktor & Rolf for their haute couture runway shows. Chanel has a really good YouTube channel for their "making of" videos! Simply put, design binding is the haute couture of books, which was the theme of my first solo exhibition in March, held at Jurong Regional Library, to educate the public on different levels of bookbinding. There are utilitarian books, sure, but there are books that have been elevated to the highest peak of perfection.”

https://www.dddots.com/

From September to November 2019, Adelene will take up residency on the third floor of library@orchard, and work from a specially set-up studio. Patrons and book-lovers will be able to observe her bookbinding, and during open studio sessions, engage with her about her work.

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