By Allison Miller
Carrboro Commons Co-Editor
While living in Florence, Italy, in the 1970s, Susan Soleil decided she wanted to learn a European craft and apprenticed with a bookbinder.
In September 2008 she brought her hand-binding skills to Carrboro when she opened The Soleil Book Bindery at 304 Weaver St. In her second-floor studio, Soleil repairs books, does custom binding and creates journals and albums.
“You can’t fake true craftsmanship and quality,” she said. “When you want a book to have…quality craftsmanship and quality materials, you come here.”
Soleil moved to Carrboro about a year ago after wanting a change from the cold climate of Rochester, N.Y., home to her and her bindery for 32 years.
In her studio sit big metal machines — for cutting, stamping and pressing — and several tables. Rolls of dark leather are mounted on the wall with rolls of cloth propped up on the wall beneath them. On a high shelf sit mementos from her life: urns containing ashes from her cats, 1950s cowboy toys from her childhood and souvenirs from Key West where she has close friends.
On one table, sit books with crumbling spines and worn covers, awaiting repair. Her most popular repair requests are family bibles and children’s books from the early 20th century. She charges between $40 and $200 based on the extent of the work needed.
“Anybody who brings a book to repair, that book is really special to them,” she said. “I never work on books that are going to be resold.”
Gene Gurlitz, a retired movie production designer who lives in Pittsboro, brought a book from his childhood, “Lassie Come Home,” to Soleil for repair several months ago.
“It was a book that was given to me when I was 11 years old, and that was almost 65 years ago. It was a gift to me from an aunt,” he said.
He wanted to give the book to his 13-year-old grandson, but it was in bad shape prior to the repair.
“The book was unreadable because it was in shreds,” Gurlitz said.
Soleil repaired the binding, fixed the cover and trimmed the edges of the pages to make them square and sharp, he said.
“She did quite a wonderful job,” he said, adding that his grandson enjoyed the book.
Soleil also does custom binding, turning pages brought to her by customers into books. She does small orders, from one copy to 200 copies, and her pricing starts at $12.
The process of turning loose pages into a book includes gluing or sewing them together, cutting binder’s board — a flexible cardboard-like material — down to size to create the book’s covers and the spine, attaching the pages to the binder’s board and covering the book with cloth or leather.
Bess Averre, a retried accounting teacher from Raleigh, wrote a book of stories about her sister and went to Soleil to get two copies made into books, one for her and one for her sister.
Averee chose a maroon color for the cover and, along with her husband, typed up the stories and added photos to the computer document. Averee gave the completed pages to Soleil, and she turned them into the final product.
“It was a birthday gift for my sister for her 70th birthday, and I wanted to do something special,” Averre said. “My sister was thrilled.”
In a process similar to the custom binding, Soleil also creates journals, notepads and photo albums. They range from about $5 to $125. She has made several albums for Chelsea Clinton, Soleil said.
In her studio, she opens a colorful drawer full of papers; the designs include butterflies, rose petals and dogs.
She works with customers to pick out paper or material for the project. For example, a map page would make a nice a journal cover for a park ranger and the rose petal paper makes a pretty wedding album, she said.
“I really like the customer to be involved,” she said. “I love being part of that process. I love that I have the skills that are applicable and that I completely understand the thought behind it.”