Book binding

What to do when your product has a small defect or an experiment does not go as planned

Does this happen to you? You painstakingly work on your product, paying attention to all the small little details, trying to make sure that you get the little things right. And then, due to some lapse of judgement or unforeseen circumstances, or just plain bad luck, something unexpected goes wrong with your product and it turns out only about 95% right (ie, 5% wrong).

Or does this happen to you? You come up with a new idea for your product, some experiment or variation that you think would look really good, only to find that no, actually it does not.

Well – both of these happened to me recently. I made a vintage silk hard cover journal. Everything was going perfectly right – the binding was tight, the signatures were lined up, the book boards were cut just right, it was all great. And then, right at the very end, when the book was being pressed and dried, the cover warped a bit 😦 And so instead of the cover being 100% straight, it was now slightly curved.

My slightly warped cover of an otherwise perfectly fine journal

The failed experiment happened to me too. I’d made this leather journal with striped lining added on the inside edges, to give it a bit of a distinctive look. I figured, why not try this same idea, but use jute as the inner lining instead? Won’t jute look really cool? Wrong.

I thought of using jute instead of the striped blue lining that you see on this journal’s edges.

Turns out, when you glue jute, while it looks cool, it becomes super coarse and hard to cut. Or at least, that’s what happened to me. Using jute as the inner lining made my journal’s edges hard and coarse to touch.

Jute lining on the inside edges of this maroon leather journal

The first reaction when something like this happens, is of course that of disappointment and frustration. You had all the right intentions, you did everything right and followed all the steps, and yet, alas! Your final end product is not what you expected it to be.

The next reaction is that of somehow trying to wish the issue away πŸ™‚ In my case, I would check my jute journal again and again, hoping that it would stop feeling coarse when I checked it for the 100th time. Or that the warping would somehow magically disappear.

When that doesn’t work either, the next reaction is that of trying to fix the issue. For example – I tried to fix the warping by pressing the book under 5 heavy books. I tried to fix the coarseness of the jute by burnishing the edges and seeing if it helped (it didn’t).

When that doesn’t work, you ask yourself a very real question – “How bad is this really? Will others notice it? Can I still sell it?”. The temptation is real. You just hope that the issue is small enough for anyone to care. But here the question really is – what do you want your brand to stand for? Do you want to sell a product that does not meet your own quality standards?

I went to a restaurant recently, where one of the dishes tasted a bit burnt. It was a highly rated restaurant in SF, and I wondered – should they have served the dish at all, knowing that it was slightly burnt? And when I had this thought, it immediately made me realize that the same question applied to me too. Should I sell something that I think has a quality defect, even if it’s a small one?

I ultimately decided to sell the journals at a discount, with a clear note in the item description about the defect. I felt this was the right path forward, since the journals were still fully functional and looked great, and gave the choice to the consumer about whether they wanted that journal or not, with full knowledge of the small defect, while getting the product at a discounted price. I also ran a tiny little poll amongst my followers on Instagram, and found out that some people might actually like the coarse jute feel πŸ™‚ So that issue was perhaps not as bad as I was making it out to be.

I also think that failed experiments and such “mishaps” are perhaps opportunities for us to continue to hone our craft. After experiencing the warping issue, I found out that there’s a lot of science behind why warping happens, and ways you can avoid it. So hopefully, I’ll be a better bookbinder moving forward πŸ™‚ Don’t let these bumps dishearten you, and use them instead to improve your craft! πŸ™‚

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