Monday, 14 September 2009

The View From the Shoe: Susan Green

Susan Green does something dear to the hearts of writers and craftspeople alike. She makes notebooks. Exquisite, handmade notebooks and journals. In her own words:

Hello Dan, hello everyone reading Dan’s View From The Shoe. I’m Susan Green, and I’m writing this from my home in rural Dorset, UK which is also where I work. I’m a bookbinder; I make new notebooks from scratch, by hand. They’re all robust sorts of books because I want them to be good and faithful servants to you. It’s no use having to fight with or appease your notebook – you have to be able to rely upon it not to get in your way when you’re about your business of writing and drawing.

I make Hardback Journals with leather spines and decorative covers; Medieval Sketchbooks which are softer, looser, altogether more laid back affairs; Travel Journals which are similarly-dispositioned but more suggestive, prompting you to detail your adventures; and then there are the Miniatures that have that bijou/cute vibe and that politely fit in the smallest of spaces.
You can find more info on my website
Shop online at Etsy:
And on Folksy:
And I’m on Twitter:
And other places too, using the same username: susangreenbooks

Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
You’re most welcome and you’re very kind for having me and my Converse. They’re the ones that masquerade as slippers, having no laces and a comforting warmth. Thankfully they’re more attractive than slippers, and don’t go soggy in the rain.

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
Well, they say that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, and I think they’re probably right, and I think that’s what makes my books different from other people’s. I started off with what I had to hand. Fortunately, that was a lovely independent fabric warehouse called Hansons in Sturminster Newton, Dorset. It’s something of a Mecca for those who stitch and sew and there I found a huge selection of cotton fat quarters in an overwhelming selection of patterns. I figured out how to turn them into bookcloth, and began partnering them with co-ordinating leather to make my Hardback Journals.

Then serendipity struck again in a decisive pincer movement: firstly my partner decided to get rid of her sofa. She took a knife to it and gave me many lengths of amazingly soft, patinated chestnut-coloured leather. Secondly, I wanted to make her a full-leather Hardback Journal with the sofa leather as a thank you gift. But I had injured my wrist and was having great difficulty paring the leather down to the thinness required for the French joints I use. So I gave up, had a think, and decided to learn a Medieval style of binding that has a limp leather cover that didn’t require strong wrists. Fortunately she loved the resulting book and although I was sceptical, it turns out many people really love recycled leather, especially the kind whose marks hint (and/or loudly declaim) at its previous existence. And so my Medieval Sketchbooks were born. They’re different from everybody else’s Medieval bindings because I use a modern method of keeping them closed – a magnetic tab than doubles up as a penholder. Historical! Modern! Recycled! Doubly useful! Hurrah!

What do you really, really love about it?
The beginning and end are the really fun bits – the excitement of a new design, and the joy of packaging a book up prettily to send to a place on the globe I’ve never been, into the hands of someone who will put clever, creative things on its pages, or who will give it to someone they really love. The almost obsessive precision and neatness required to make the mechanics function correctly. The rhythmical and meditative folding, tearing, folding, tearing of the paper. That I get to bring into being something that never existed before. It’s awesome.
A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
More time in the day, please. It’s important to have balance and I think with more time, I’d somehow remember to water my plants, meditate, read the stacks of books I have piled up in various places and write proper letters again.

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
After being woken by a loving horde of dogs, I take a little walk down to a café on the harbour. There’s my usual outside table underneath bone-softening, mind-slowing sunshine. A selection of newspapers and journals. My notebook to doodle, write, plan and design in. Fresh fruit. Coffee. Croissants. Pain au Chocolat. More coffee. A leisurely affair. Knowing that afterwards the whole world is there, waiting to be enjoyed.

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?
Leather. Glossy, smooth, amazing-smelling, refined, exuberant, supple, sensuous.
Plastic. Hard, brash, unforgiving, brittle, cold and I imagine, if it were a person, rather mean.

Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
The gleeful, childlike excitement people often express on receiving their books always puts a massive spring in my step and boosts my desire to do more of the same as well as to innovate.

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
Oh, the former, no contest. You set your own goals and deadlines. You have time to contemplate, to experiment, to spend with people, to watch the world go by and be taken by surprise.

Do you remember that bit on Play Away where Brian Cant stood behind people and did the actions whilst they spoke? If you could choose anyone to stand behind you and do the actions to your sales pitch, who would it be and why?
Whaaaaaa... okay. It would have to be Sandra Bullock - I reckon she’d be really expressive with her hands. Or maybe Rolf Harris, because he could do noises as well.

Frocks or socks?
Both, when the weather is inclement.

Thank you SOOO much
Thank you kindly, Dan!


  1. oh, her stuff is so lovely! And so inspiring. I've been wanting to try my hand at book binding and I think I'm ready now.

  2. Wow. Would you hand draw the inside papers? You could do some amazing period pieces. I do wish I had ANY kind of dexterity at all so I could do this kind of thing!

  3. Thanks to you both Susan and Dan for this. What an inspiring post. I think I would choose Stephen Fry to do the actions to my sales pitch because he would do a wicked combination of an elegant but funny one.

  4. Thank you for having me as a Shoe interviewee, and thank you S. Melville and Anne for the lovely comments. I hope you do try bookbinding, S Melville and Anne, Stephen Fry would be a great choice!