That’s My Bookshelf is the nom de plume of a bookbinder who is a bit of a unicorn – a rare breed who, in a few short months, garnered more than 200k followers across TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, yet prefers to remain anonymous.
She doesn’t want to be famous, create a business, or earn money from her tutorials. She just wants shelves of beautifully bound books designed with the old-timey aesthetic of a Penguin Clothbound Classic.
An early love of books
An avid reader, our bookbinder’s story (we’ll call her TMB, the initials of her social media handle), goes back to her childhood, when books were her major companions and best-loved entertainment. She wasn’t allowed to watch much television, but then again, she barely had time as she studied ballet at a professional school, aiming to be a ballerina, and played violin. But she loved books and thrilled to a scene in Disney’s 1991 Beauty and the Beast that showed a jam-packed, beautifully arranged library, with two floors and a rolling ladder.
“I don’t have a double floor library, or rolling ladders, but I’ve started a lovely collection of books,” she says.
Last year, she saw a TikTok bookbinding video and thought, “that looks like fun.” So, she watched a few YouTube tutorials, made some journals and sketchbooks, and honed her bookbinding skills.
Then, for Christmas, she received about 20 Penguin Clothbound Classics and was smitten.
“They look so beautiful on a shelf,” she says. “I thought, ‘I have a ton of bookbinding supplies, maybe I could do the same thing so everything would match and make the dream of a Beauty and the Beast library a possibility.”
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo rebound in the style of Penguin Clothbound Classics by That’s My Bookshelf.
She started with the Game of Thrones series, buying a Cricut electronic die cutter specifically so she could design the covers, which she cuts from heat-transfer vinyl and irons onto fabric.
She began posting photos and videos “mainly to have a record for myself of what I am making.”
When TMB told a friend’s teen-age daughter she was starting a TikTok account for her bookbinding, “she looked at me as if I’d grown a second head. But when it started taking off and I was getting lots of comments and followers, including her friends, she changed her tune and now thinks it’s really cool.”
She posted her first TikTok video in May and was tickled to get a few followers. “I was just posting for fun so the first time one of my TikToks started climbing in views was very exciting.”
The experience of TikTok growth
She recently reached 109.9k on TikTok, and when one Instagram reel went viral, that account shot up from about 1,000 to 30k in about a week. “I’m now at 91.8k on Instagram, which is just insane to me. I’ve also started uploading tutorials onto YouTube, so everyone can freely access them.”
But, of course, the bigger the audience, the bigger the potential for trolls, mean comments, and pressure to make each book as perfect as possible. In the beginning, if she made a mistake, “I wouldn’t care, it was just going on my bookshelf.” But now, she says, it has to be nearly perfect “because some people are just not nice.”
“It’s been a learning experience trying to ignore mean comments and just focus on the happiness. A lot of people find the reels soothing to watch. It’s nice to know that even though I am just doing this for myself, it may give someone a tiny bit of reprieve during an otherwise hectic day.”
She loves interacting with her Instagram followers, who talk about and share book recommendations. “It’s also fun to have people tell me that my Reels have inspired them to rebind their own books and then to see pictures of what they’ve accomplished. I enjoy sharing this craft with others.”
If she wanted to make this a business, she easily could, judging from the number of followers who want to either buy her rebound books, commission her to rebind their books or buy her SVG cutting files. She even had one person jokingly (she thinks) offer to fly her somewhere to redo an entire library.
@thatsmybookshelf Rebind #11 of making all my books match the penguin clothbound classics. Tutorials now coming Sunday, life got in the way sorry! #daisyjonesandthesix#taylorjenkinsreid#booktok#penguinclothboundclassics#bookbinding#rebind#penguinclothboundclassicsrebinds#bookbindersoftiktok#bookbinders#fyp#rebinding#bookshelf#handboundbooks♬ Baroque Harpsichord and Strings – Rafael Krux
@thatsmybookshelf Rebinding all my books into the penguin clothbound classic aesthetic. Rebind #24#taylorjenkinsreid#carriesotoisback#booktok#penguinclothboundclassics#bookbinding#rebind#penguinclothboundclassicsrebinds#bookbindersoftiktok#bookbinders#fyp#rebinding#books#handboundbooks#thatsmybookshelf♬ Richter: Summer 3 – 2012 – Max Richter & Daniel Hope & Raphael Alpermann & Konzerthaus Kammerorchester Berlin & André de Ridder
“I’m not looking to make this a business,” TMB emphasizes. “There are tons of incredibly talented bookbinders who do this for a living and produce beautiful book art. Many have studied for years to hone their craft. I have no desire to be a TikTok star, open an Etsy store, or make money off them. It’s just my fun random crafty thing.”
The design process
Sometimes, she says, the hardest part of the bookbinding process is designing the cover. She starts by reading the book “to get a sense of the book’s vibe” before picking the colors and images.
“If I have an idea for the cover, then (binding the book) is really fast.” For instance, while reading Andy Weir’s astronaut novel The Martian, “I knew immediately I would put potatoes on the cover because that’s the driving force of the story; he would have died without potatoes.”
The rest is fairly simple, she explains, and includes removing the cover, prepping the text block (adding endpapers, a bookmark ribbon, the spine, etc.), cutting book boards, gluing things together, and designing, printing, and weeding the vinyl (the most tedious part, she says). It takes her five to10 hours to complete a book.
TMB is such an avid bibliophile that even while rebinding her books, she is listening to audio books. “It’s a great way to power through books and multitask,” she explains.
So far, she’s re-bound nearly 40 books and has about 700 more to go, which is a rough guess because “I keep buying more books.”
With such a big collection, how does she pick a bind-worthy book? “Maybe it’s one I just read and loved so much I know exactly what to do for the cover and I want to do it right now. Otherwise, there’s no rhyme or reason for which I do.” Although some followers cringe when she rips off a book cover, it doesn’t bother TMB “because I know I can fix it.” And besides, “it’s my book, I’m not ripping your book.”
But, she adds, “when I see people dog-earing pages or randomly tearing out a page from a book, I cringe.”
There are, however, some books she won’t re-cover, such as those with illustrations, such as maps, on the inside cover (“it seems stupid to rip off the cover; I’ll wait for the paper version to come out”), or if the cover art “is so beautiful, I wouldn’t want to take that off.”
And even when she rips off a book cover, she can’t just toss them. Book jackets and paperback covers are saved for making bookmarks and many used book boards can be recycled into new covers.
Lessons in Chemistry, rebound in the Penguin Clothbound Classics aesthetic. A stack of rebound books.
Getting comfortable with mistakes
She’s learned a lot along the way and is not afraid to show her mistakes to her followers. At first, she says, “I made the same mistakes over and over,” such as cutting end papers too short and book boards too long, using too much glue, or ironing catastrophes.
“I still mess up with the Cricut all the time,” she admits. But she incorporates those “mistake” lessons in her tutorials, unabashedly telling followers: “here’s how I messed up, here’s what I did wrong, don’t do this, do it that way so you don’t make the same mistakes I did.”
Her biggest learning curve, she admits with a grin, was learning to cut straight lines. But she perseved, tried various rulers and grid-marked cutting mats, and is more confident. “I trust my eyes most of the time but I triple-check my measurements. And I learned I can sand down a bit of the edge instead of recutting a board.”
With those 700 books – and still counting — on her shelves, she’s still a long way from her fantasy library. And that’s fine with her. “This will be years in the making,” she says. “But this is my fun craft. This makes me happy.”
Roberta G. Wax