Educator makes it her business to repair and bring books back to life

January 27, 2019
Heather Royer repairs a book in her business A Stitch in Time Bookbindery in Parkersburg, W.Va., on Jan. 9. Books are becoming a lost art with the advancement of technology. My job is to repair and preserve these heirlooms so they can be enjoyed for generations to come, she said.

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Heather Royer wants to preserve books.

That is why she started the business A Stitch in Time Bookbindery in 2017.

She repairs Bibles and other books that are special to people.

“I love the idea of preserving history,” Royer said. “Books are becoming a lost art with the advancement of technology. My job is to repair and preserve these heirlooms so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.”

She describes bookbinding as a delicate skill that requires time and patience.

The painstaking work of repairing a book’s pages and binding can take several weeks.

Royer said she fell in love with bookbinding after attending a workshop in Marietta in 2016. She then attended a bookbinding class at the North Bennet Street School in Boston.

Royer, an art teacher at VanDevender Middle School, brought her bookbinding knowledge to the classroom, where students learned to assemble their own hardbound sketchbook and illustrate their own books.

Literature and art flow together when you learn to create a book, she said.

Royer still enjoys holding and reading a book instead of reading an electronic version of a book.

“It is sort of sad that books are fading away,” she said. “I love the historic aspect of preservation.”

At her home office, Royer restores book covers, reattaches books to the cover, repairs pages and reinforces the backbone or structure of a book, so the books will last another 100 years.

She maintains the historical integrity of archival materials by using special materials to repair them.

Royer admits it can be daunting to work on an heirloom book. “It is priceless to them. I am careful and delicate with the books,” she said.

Books that are 200 years old can be dryand brittle.

Her number one request now is to repair family Bibles.

Royer believes she is one of the few bookbinders in West Virginia.

She finds repairing and restoring books to be cathartic and relaxing.

“I get focused. It challenges me as an artist,” she said.

Julie Schleier of Parkersburg has been Royer’s mentor in the bookbinding business. Schleier owned a bookbinding business, Book Doctor, in Dallas before moving to West Virginia. She was a bookbinder for 30 years, took classes for several years to learn the skill, taught others about bookbinding, and continued to repair books until a few years ago.

She said she is thrilled that Royer is interested in bookbinding and enjoys helping her to perfect her skills. “Heather is eager to learn to do bookbinding the right way,” Schleier said. “I am a stickler for how to do it.”

“Bookbinding is a dying art,” Schleier said.

But there is a demand from those who want their grandmother’s cookbook, family Bible, storybook or first-edition book repaired, she said.

The most common problem Schleier encountered as books age is the hinge between the spine and cover wears out. Water and bugs can damage books, she said.

It is difficult to rid a book of a smell when mildew attacks it, she said.

Ray Swick of Parkersburg, retired historian and curator for the West Virginia State Parks and Forests, had a difficult time finding a bookbinder before learning about Royer.

Swick said Royer did a wonderful job of repairing his “Autobiography of Amos Kendall.”

Royer is now repairing the “Memoirs of Madame Junot (Duchess D’Abrantes),” a series of six books that Swick owns.

Besides repairing books, Royer also creates scrapbooks, photo albums, journals and sketchbooks.

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