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Meet the folks who so generously shared their know-how to get us started on our bookbinding classes!  Nadja and Enan are the folks behind the beautifully handbound books and journals of Alunsina.  We met them at the 10A Alabama Handmade Fair, and have been fans of their work ever since.  We’re totally thrilled they’ll be part of our Paper Popup next week!  Scroll down to see snapshots of how they work, their workspace, and glimpses of the beautiful products they’ll be showcasing at our Paper Popup!

Who is behind Alunsina Handbound Books?

Nadja Castillo and Enan Juniosa

The  Alunsina Planner.
The Alunsina Planner.

How long have you been bookbinding? What got you started?  How did your craft develop into a business?

Here’s something I wrote for a workshop that I was supposed to attend, describing the time when we first got interested in making books:

“Fast forward to 2008, I was living independently with my partner, Enan, and we were barely making ends meet. I just resigned from work, and to help Enan with the bills (he was a minimum wage earner), I got ourselves an Internet connection at home and started accepting online freelance work. The projects came in spurts and there were lulls in between, which I took advantage of by surfing the Net and immersed myself in random stuff that capture my interest. One night, I was looking at an online marketplace when I came across and immediately fell in love with beautiful cloth-bound books made by hand by an American bookbinder. At that time – and until now – Manila’s bookstores were flooded with mass-produced, machine-made notebooks that don’t last. Books with lightly glued pages escaping from the covers after only a brief period of use. What struck me about the hand-bound journal was the uniqueness of seeing a book crafted with so much attention to detail that it was an actual work of art. The book I saw was Coptic-bound and the stitches on the spine exposed. The stitching both holds the paper together and also lends beauty to the book. I was clearly inspired by what I saw and read, and decided I wanted to try making my own books.”

From MyMarquee interview:

“My partner Enan (who I must admit is the more artistic one 😉 eventually caught on with my hobby and have learned to love the craft as much as I do. We first started out making cloth-bound journals using Coptic binding, with batik, tinalak and yakan as covers, which we sold to friends. We did this off-and-on for the next 3 years since Enan and I both had full-time work then. Early 2011, we fell in love with leather-bound journals we saw on the Internet, and tried our hand on making some using scrap leather. When we were confident enough with our designs and had found reliable sources of good quality paper and leather, we started joining small bazaars and art fairs. Our first bazaars were relatively successful and we eventually decided to devote our full time on this small crafts business.”

Creative inspiration at the Alunsina workspace.
Creative inspiration at the Alunsina workspace.

Do you have other creative interests other than bookbinding? Tell us more.

We love experimenting and trying out new things. We see to it that we get a “free” crafts day each week which also helps in preventing burnout since making journals at times for up to 70 hours a week can be very overwhelming and unhealthy.

Lately, Enan has been experimenting with other leather crafts…bags, laptop bags, cellphone cases, etc. But these are all for fun for now, not for profit. We’ve learned some hard lessons before, and we now make it a point to develop the craft first, make sure they’re of good quality and we’ve honed our skills well enough and are confident enough in our work before we show and sell them to clients.
I, on the other hand, am more interested in exploring other papercrafts like making decorative paper, handmade paper, different bookbinding and bookmaking techniques.

Tell us about your favorite projects.

Laptop bag that Enan made for a friend. It took Enan a week to make it (there were lots of trial and error and he had to redo everything twice) but we really liked how the bag turned out. I helped out by adding a special detail…a manually engraved graphic of a bird on the front of the bag. We like collaborating w/ each other. Here’s a photo.
We also like making books for weddings. We enjoy making books that we know will be a part of a very special occasion. We think it makes our work more meaningful ☺

Alunsina mini journal necklace
Alunsina mini journal necklace

What’s the one crafting skill you’ve always wanted to master/learn?

Working w/ clay – ‘cause I’ve always wanted to make a vintage book w/ clay covers. I also want to learn a craft called leather tooling but I’m still saving up so I can buy the necessary tools.

Enan – making leather sandals, leather bags

What are you currently working on?

Aside from fulfilling bulk orders, we’re developing and planning on releasing a new series of journals…Alunsina big books, 8×10 inches in size using high quality paper, that can be used for scrapbooking, as sketchbooks, special occasion books, guestbooks etc. Target release sched is mid-Nov.

Work in progress

What’s your dream project? What have you done to make it happen so far?

Help organize a book fest, and one of the events in the fest would be a book arts exhibit. We’ll provide the “canvas” (a hand-bound blank book) and choose artists who will work on the canvas, their designs will be guided by a theme or something. If only we could find the time!

For Alunsina particularly, we’ve always wanted to get a bigger place so we can have a bigger space for the workshop. For now, we’re using our tiny house’s living room and it’s getting quite cramped, especially now that we are a 5-member team (3 full-time, 2 part timers) and 2 dogs! Our dream space is spacious and bare…w/ just the tables, shelving and cabinet for the leather and materials, and just basic equipment and tools. We’re working hard and saving up so we’ll be able to rent a bigger house, and hopefully this will be a reality by next year.
Another dream project we’ve always wanted to do since we started is linking up w/ a cooperative. I’ve had experience in organizing and community work since my background is in community devt. This would be an opportunity to practice my “profession” and at the same time help provide a source of income for others. But knowing the nuances and the numerous successes and not-so-successful stories in community work, I know that a cooperative tie-up w/ a type of business like Alunsina can be quite tricky. So we’re not rushing things. Our business is not yet ready and it might spell disaster for the cooperative if we rush it.

Aside from crafting what else do you do?

I sometimes do research work for non-govt organizations. Enan and I also love traveling. And lately, we’ve been spending the little free time that we have into gardening. We’re very boring, domestic people 😉

How does creativity influence the other areas in your life?

The business side of Alunsina can be stressful at times, but what we appreciate about it is that it has made our world bigger – we’ve also gained a lot of new friends because of Alunsina.

The creating part is our favourite. It’s therapeutic. It’s very liberating (compared w/ my previous corporate desk jobs and Enan’s work as hotel room attendant). I think creating books releases endorphins ☺ It’s quite thrilling, for instance, when we finally make a book we’ve wanted to make for some time, when we figure out a specific technique, etc. They’re our milestones. Enan and I celebrate these things.

From MyMarquee interview:

“Alunsina has also given us something that we both can love and help grow and work on together. And in return, Alunsina has given us lots of freedom…to manage our own time, to become our own bosses, to make money out of something we love to do.”

Alunsina leather journal

Any advice for other aspiring crafters?

Aside from 2nd answer in #16, from interview w/ artemanila (not sure if this was published):

“a. If you’re planning on expanding, don’t make profit out of other people’s labor. I think there’s nothing wrong in getting help from others to meet the demand for your handmade creations. But if you do so, it’s important to always acknowledge team effort, to pay workers fair wages, to make them and their work visible too. It’s sad if a small handmade business becomes successful, starts subcontracting part of their work but scrimp on labor costs. It’s the exact opposite of what the handmade movt is all about. b. I know a lot of people have said this already, but it’s very true – you must love what you do. It will be very difficult to sell something you don’t love or you’re not passionate about c. Find the best price and quality for your supplies. If you have to scour the ends of Manila to find them, do so. d. For new businesses, try joining fairs and bazaars. Not only will you have a venue to showcase your craft but it is also an opportunity to mingle w/ fellow sellers w/ whom you can share business and crafts tips with”

What do you do to beat a ‘creative block’?

Sometimes we just take quick breaks. An hour or two of doing absolutely nothing ☺ We sometimes play with our dogs, have coffee/tea breaks, listen to music.
If we really need big ideas and at the same time there’s creative block and burnout, we take longer breaks, go out, explore new places, go out-of-town.

Give us 3 crafting essentials you must have in your toolbox at all times.

Needle, thread, awl

Why should people get their hands busy (and start crafting)?
It’s therapeutic, fun, productive ☺

Work in progress

Where can we find your work?

Online: Facebook Twitter Pinterest Tumblr Instagram: @alunsinahandboundbooks

In 3 shops in the metro: The Manila Collectible Co., FIRMA and AC+632. In one shop in Sagada: Gaia Café and Crafts.

What’s something you learned from getting into the bookbinding business?

Not a learning per se, but a nice surprise that we still have a market out there. In the beginning, we just really wanted to make books. The selling part was purely accidentally…or more like the opportunity leading us by the hand, showing us that this was the direction we should take. Honestly, our expectations were quite low. We assumed that most people are now into gadgets and record their thoughts not on notebooks but through social media, and that we would probably sell a couple of journals in a week at best. But it was a nice surprise that there are lots of people out there who still buy journals, write on them, collect them. That there are people who still love physical books. People who love writing and the feel of pen grazing against paper, the intimate exercise of forming words with ink and pen, the sense of gratification one gets in filling up a page ☺

Handmade and “artisanal” products are everywhere these days. Take inspiration from other bookbinders, other crafters, other artists, but always be original and innovative. And work hard. That will set you apart from the rest. Hopefully this works for us too.

What’s an important tidbit of information on bookbinding you can share that you think makers should know?

Bookbinding can be very inexpensive. You can start with the hobby using the available materials and tools in your house. Find a big needle/an ice pick in place of an awl, use ordinary thread when practicing, scrap paper, cardboard from old boxes. I know the craft seems daunting at first. It’s easy to learn if you start with the basics and give yourself lots of time to practice. Bookbinding also demands lots of patience. When we were starting, we had to make and redo books countless times before we were finally satisfied w/ our work.