Get creative with a workshop at Seastone Papers

Sandy Bernat demonstrating to the class where to start the first stitch in the practice template for Japanese bookbinding. —Gabrielle Mannino

You would never just stumble upon Seastone Papers, but it is well worth the effort to hunt it down, nestled away as it is on three acres of woodlands and a gorgeous beech grove. This small gem of a studio specializes in handmade papermaking and book arts of all kind.

At its heart is Sandy Bernat, teacher, paper artist, and founder of Seastone Papers, who was generously sharing her knowledge with us about, for this particular class, traditional Japanese bookbinding.

Before settling down for our morning of creativity and learning, Bernat asked us to go around and introduce ourselves and what brought us to the class. Of the eight women, only two of us were not professional craftswomen of some sort, and many of the women had taken other papermaking classes with Bernat. But don’t let being a rank beginner at whatever Bernat is teaching scare you off. She seamlessly attended to us all, keeping the class proceeding at a nice pace without losing anyone who was less sure of herself.

The three hours flew by. Bernat spoke briefly about the art of Japanese bookbinding, and passed around different examples, each of which had its own unique quality, whether it be the type of handmade paper used, how the pages were laid out, or the use of decorative elements.

But the art we were there to try our hands at this day was traditional Japanese sewn bookbinding. She started us out making cardboard templates for a few different designs. Thankfully, our first was the fairly simple four-hole binding. Here we used our awls to punch four small holes equidistant from one another horizontally across the small piece of cardboard. Bernat took us step by step through the process of bringing our needles and thread in and out of the holes, whether horizontally, up and over, or around the cardboard edge.

We were light of heart as she led us through the increasingly complex designs with names that translated as tortoise-shell, nobility, and my favorite, the hemp-leaf design. The amazing thing about all of them is that you never go over the same thread-made line twice, so every “line” in the binding design is a single strand. If you think that’s easy, I can assure you it’s not.

Eventually, we graduated to binding our own actual books. We selected 10 inside pages of thin, almost translucent Japanese paper; and two pieces of handmade paper with swirling colors for our back and front covers. We chose whichever design template we wanted to use, and with a good deal of coaching from Bernat, and helping one another, one by one we felt gloriously triumphant as we held up our finished products.

Having labored assiduously to fashion my little folded-paper, personally stitched book, it’s too precious to use just for a personal diary. I became inspired by Bernat’s perspective: “My artist’s books are expressions of the possibilities of fiber in paper. The question ‘What is an artist’s book?’ has been frequently discussed. The book as a container and vessel for meaning offers an interactive dialogue for the viewer, who can become intimate with the art by handling it.”

At the moment, I’m leaning to using my little treasure book to write down my dreams — those while both sleeping and awake.

Seastone offers classes for adults, children, families, open studio time, private sessions, and classroom workshops that link the paper arts to the school curriculum to enhance learning in both arenas. Visit for more information.