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Nashville, Tennessee 37211

Crowing Hens Bindery is a one-woman bindery and letterpress print shop that specializes in traditional handmade blank books, letterpress printed stationery, limited edition fine art prints, unique book jewelry & letterpress-printed decorative papers. As the owner of a Nashville-based private business, I do my best to honor the heritage of fine craft and art that saturates my community and region. All of my products are designed and made by hand in Nashville, Tennessee from high quality materials available using traditional bookbinding techniques. I aspire to create beautiful, useful work that becomes a part of your everyday life.

Blog

Bookbinding, printmaking, and toolmaking are elements of my business and my profession but they're not necessarily in step with today's fast paced digital culture. 

This blog, "Meet Mary" will be an opportunity for me to demystify my work and allow me to describe my products and their manufacture in greater detail. Whether I'm working on a production run for a new run of springbacks, developing a new line of decorative papers, or experimenting with new techniques or materials for boutique tools, my goal is for you to be able to see my work in progress and get to know me as a person, craftsman, and small business owner.

Filtering by Tag: bookbinding

Welcome back, #Booktober

Mary Sullivan

Every year when the leaves begin to turn, the air becomes crisp, and we wait for morning frost on the grass, I know we've come to my favorite month of the year, October! Why October? Well, it's birthday month for me and my two siblings and Mom makes the most incredible chocolate chip cookies ever—that is if she can keep us from eating all of the dough first!

Plus, there's Halloween. Love Halloween. I can also start to at least think about digging out my sweaters and scarves, make a list of the things that I could knit (but never seem to have time to) and then, of course, I bind a lot of books. I mean A LOT of books. I call this time Booktober.

My absolute favorite binding is the Springback binding. This is a demonstration of how a springback operates before the custom laminated card spring and split boards are covered by leather and decorative papers. 

My absolute favorite binding is the Springback binding. This is a demonstration of how a springback operates before the custom laminated card spring and split boards are covered by leather and decorative papers. 

Right around October, for those of you who aren't in the craft/trade show circuit, you may not know is that there's a short lull between the slew of shows during the hottest, miserable months of the year and the gradual pedal-to-the-metal snowballing of shows that begin to fill nearly every weekend until the end of December.

I do a lot of bookbinding demos at trade shows and festivals towards the end of the year. Last year at "Dickens of a Christmas" in historic Franklin, TN I dressed in Victorian garb and sewed books on a frame, a traditional production binding method used at a time when the trade was becoming more mechanized.

I do a lot of bookbinding demos at trade shows and festivals towards the end of the year. Last year at "Dickens of a Christmas" in historic Franklin, TN I dressed in Victorian garb and sewed books on a frame, a traditional production binding method used at a time when the trade was becoming more mechanized.

During this brief lull, as an artist and small business owner, I begin to prepare for this high-selling time by checking inventory, advertising, filling orders, and of course making new work. It's a season that many small businesses like mine depend on, to finish out the year on a high note. It's a time not just to sell work, but also to make connections, meet lots of new people, and connect with the people that use my books. 

The majority of my work is useful and perishable. Not perishable in the sense that it will spoil or that my books will fall apart, but perishable in that I design every book to be thoroughly and lovingly used to the very last page—written in, drawn in, carted around in a satchel, and tossed on counter tops at the coffee shop. The bottom line is that I build my books to last. Nothing makes me happier than being contacted by a former client who's just finished the last page and is back for a second or third journal.

During the month of #Booktober, I step outside of my usual bookbinding comfort zone by using different materials and methods of binding. This  watercolor journal  uses a walnut-dyed, handmade flax paper as a cover, thick watercolor paper, and decorative stitching on the spine! 

During the month of #Booktober, I step outside of my usual bookbinding comfort zone by using different materials and methods of binding. This watercolor journal uses a walnut-dyed, handmade flax paper as a cover, thick watercolor paper, and decorative stitching on the spine! 

These are the sorts of things that I think about in October, as I'm powering through my last production cycle of the year. Binding new books, working with beautiful materials like leather, linen blend cloths, and gorgeous papers in a range of hues and jewel tones that I haven't had a chance to use all year. Booktober is an opportunity for me to let loose in the bindery and mix all of these wonderful materials to make books that would otherwise never come into being.

CHB papers

To share this manic binding time with the world, I also share photos, quotes, and "did you knows" on social media. This year, I'm also doing something a little different. Every day in the month of Booktober (starting Monday the 3rd), I'll list one unique blank book for sale and share the live link to that one-of-a-kind book on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Every day a new book will be offered up and once it's gone, it's gone. I'm looking forward to #Booktober. Won't you join me?

Be sure to follow me on social media to get your hands on the daily #Booktober offering!

Facebook: www.facebook.com/CrowingHensBindery
Instagram: @crowinghensbindery https://instagram.com/crowinghensbindery/
Twitter: @crowinghensbind https://twitter.com/CrowingHensBind
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/crowinghensbind/

Art, Wine & Springbacks!

Mary Sullivan

Join me Tuesday evening, June 28th from 7-11pm at the legendary local wine and entertainment hub City Winery in Nashville, Tennessee for 'TREND' an exclusive arts, fashion, and music event hosted by RAW:Artists Nashville featuring the city's most buzzworthy up-and-coming creative talents! Tickets are only $15 each and tickets purchased on the Crowing Hens Bindery RAW:Artists page will also be entered in a drawing to win a deluxe handmade springback journal—an $85 value!!! 

*One entry per ticket, multiple tickets equal multiple entries. Tickets purchased elsewhere on the site are not eligible for this drawing.

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Talking shop in the shop.

Mary Sullivan

Julie Sola's store, Fat Crow Press at the Idea Hatchery in East Nashville.

Julie Sola's store, Fat Crow Press at the Idea Hatchery in East Nashville.

For the past few months I've been filling in at Fat Crow Press, the retail store of Julie Sola, a like-minded printmaker and former coworker from Hatch Show Print. On top of being an entrepreneur, a printmaker, an author, artist, and seamstress she is also a veteran wardrobe manager for touring musicians. Think Kiss, Madonna, Motley Crüe, Kanye West & Rod Stewart. When she’s on the road I manage her store on the weekends. Because our printmaking processes are identical I bring my own blocks to carve so that customers can witness the process, ask questions, and learn more about her work and printmaking in general.

One linocut in a forthcoming series of prints loosely inspired by state flowers, trees, and insects.

One linocut in a forthcoming series of prints loosely inspired by state flowers, trees, and insects.

It’s been a wonderful experience for me in so many ways. I have some place to be, something that self-employed craftsmen often struggle with. I get into the retail mindset, a role I had not practiced since working at Hatch Show Print. I get to imagine how I would eventually run my own brick-and-mortar store. But best of all, I get to talk shop.

The most recent block I finished this past weekend while tending Fat Crow Press was this block for a postcard.

The most recent block I finished this past weekend while tending Fat Crow Press was this block for a postcard.

Half of being a bookbinder, printmaker, and craftsman is doing the work. The other half is promoting it. This includes learning how to explain your profession, how and why you do it. You become an educator, a proselytizer of craft practices.

Sometimes you get a clean slate, a curious person who has had no exposure to your craft. Those encounters are magical. As you explain the process, you glimpse a twinkle behind their eyes and realize that you are opening up a world of possibility to a person who had no idea that it even existed. And then you meet those interested people who truly get it. They’re either in the club, they’ve watched the ball game, or they simply appreciate what you do because they recognize that it is important.

I met one of those people this weekend. This gentleman and I talked letterpress, linocuts, and bookbinding. I didn’t have to defend my craft against e-books or e-mail. He didn’t shove me in the mainstream and make me swim against today’s current of technology. The man got it. He came into the shop not once, but twice to show off Julie’s work to his friends and to chat with me some more about my bookbinding. I gave him my card, we shook hands, and he was excited to send me his letterpress printed business card that he had recently commissioned. Smiles, it seems, breed smiles and it was the highlight of my week. Until Monday.

Coffee, check. Feet up, check. Full hummingbird feeders, check. Let the birdwatching begin!

Coffee, check. Feet up, check. Full hummingbird feeders, check. Let the birdwatching begin!

Mondays are typically my day off when I work on the weekends. And I had a full schedule of coffee, cats, and bird watching until I checked my work e-mail. And there he was, this man. Not only had he taken my business card, but he had also looked up my website, browsed my store, and contacted me.

Denim & Sienna Scribe, one of many new ruled and blank springback journals that are now available in my online store, featuring hand painted pastepapers and Italian linen-blend cloth. 

Denim & Sienna Scribe, one of many new ruled and blank springback journals that are now available in my online store, featuring hand painted pastepapers and Italian linen-blend cloth. 

I have spent this past year building inventory, applying to trade shows, teaching, and building a website and an online presence. It’s a lot of work for a one-woman-show, especially in the first year. Product is made, trade shows are packed and unpacked. The studio waxes and wanes in tidiness, and occasionally the online store gets restocked. After a full year of production I have bound hundreds of books and pulled thousands of prints. And Monday, thanks to this man and his interest in a springback journal with ruled pages, I finally photographed and listed my latest inventory.

Thank you, sir for that friendly and unknowing kick in the grown-up pants. I hope you enjoy your new journal. Tell your friends, make them jealous, and pass along that business card. You, sir, have made my month!

April Fool's, 2011

Mary Sullivan

Four years ago today I was accepted into the University of Iowa Center for the Book’s MFA in Book Arts program. At the time I was living in Nashville, Tennessee and well into my fifth year working as a letterpress printer, designer, and occasional cat bather at the historic American letterpress Mecca, Hatch Show Print.

Hatch Show Print's storefront at their previous location on Lower Broadway in downtown Nashville, TN.

Hatch Show Print's storefront at their previous location on Lower Broadway in downtown Nashville, TN.

I began my career at this 130+ year old Nashville institution in 2006 after graduating from Maryville College with a BA in Fine Arts. I had a fair amount of experience in relief printing but none with letterpress. Hatch Show Print has a reputation for their intense and much sought after internship program. Eager to learn, I was invited by then Production Manager and all around illustration extraordinaire, Agnes Barton-Sabo to join the ranks.

Brad Vetter teaching a group of summer interns.

Brad Vetter teaching a group of summer interns.

At Hatch Show Print there is no time to dip your toes in the inky pool of letterpress job printing. The internship program is designed so that the pool is instantly knee deep. Within the first few weeks interns are designing with type in hand, talking directly with clients, and rubbing elbows with some of the most talented letterpress printers and artists that I have ever known. My letterpress instructor, Brad Vetter, had already been working at Hatch for several years and was an expert designer and artist in his own right. He was responsible for training us interns so that we could gain hands-on practical experience in a fast-paced, high volume letterpress job-printing environment.

We worked fast at Hatch, almost too fast to capture on film.

We worked fast at Hatch, almost too fast to capture on film.

At the time I started my internship, it was an unusual time of transition at Hatch. Several veterans of the Hatch empire had moved on to pursue other endeavors, and positions slowly became available. It was November when I found myself atop the 20ft rolling ladder putting away some of the larger type in the archive when I looked down to find the base of the ladder suddenly surrounded by the entire Hatch entourage. “We’ve given it some thought and want to know if you would be interested in working here.”

What do you say? “Thanks for the offer, but I’ll need to think about it.” NO. When offered your dream job, (especially when you’re precariously high off the ground) you say, “Seriously? Yes, absolutely!” Talk about climbing the ladder of success!

Our last staff photo before I left for Iowa in 2011. RIP, Huey the Hatch Cat.

Our last staff photo before I left for Iowa in 2011. RIP, Huey the Hatch Cat.

That day started what would become over the next five years to be my most formative job experience to date. Had I not worked at Hatch, I doubt that I would have been introduced to bookbinding at all. I wouldn’t have discovered a desire to own my own business, and I certainly wouldn’t have applied to the UICB’s MFA program. It is now nine years after I started working at Hatch Show Print, and four years to the day since I received my acceptance letter for grad school. I am fortunate to count both of these institutions on my CV, and the next time I see a ladder, rest assured I’ll be on it, not under it. I’m no fool.

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