Megan Winn Turns Bookbinding Hobby into a Career

Megan Winn gathers a stack of handmade paper and begins folding. She creases each sheet with detailed care to ensure a proper fold. After she finishes the stack, she chooses a piece of leather. She pores over her selection of reds and greens and browns. She decides on a rich, dark brown piece.

After aligning the paper with the leather, Winn threads her needle. A metal hook followed by green linen thread weaves in and out of the leather’s surface. After a few minutes, Winn holds the completed book in her hands.

Winn is the creator of Binding Bee, a handmade leather journal company in Indianapolis.

She was first introduced to bookbinding during a summer in college. A friend of a friend had recently learned how to book bind, so she invited a group of girls together for a craft night and taught them the trade. Winn was immediately hooked. She had worked with all kinds of media while she studied art at Anderson University, but bookbinding quickly became her favorite.

Megan Winn pulls thread through a leather journal

Winn didn’t start binding with leather. Later that same summer her mom went to a garage sale and found a box of leathers and asked her daughter if she wanted them for any reason. Winn said yes and began experimenting with binding leather.

She mostly uses reclaimed leather because she’s always been conscious of recycling and reusing.

“That’s always been a part of my life. When I started doing bookbinding, it was just a natural extension to look for materials that are [recyclable],” Winn says.

Winn also likes to showcase the natural beauty of her materials. She tends to use the raw edges of leather for her journals.

When creating a book, Winn lets the materials speak to her. Sometimes she will begin a project without knowing what the final product will look like. She is inspired by everything around her, including the materials she uses.

The name Binding Bee was inspired by an exhibit Winn saw at the Indianapolis Museum of Art showcasing Gee’s Bend quilts. Winn had never wept at an art exhibit before, but the quilts and the story behind them moved her to tears. The exhibit featured a video of a quilting bee which showed women singing and working late into the night making quilts to keep their families warm. Winn felt the quilting and the bookbinding come together in a sort of magic moment and “pop” that was the name—Binding Bee.

Some of the journals displayed at the CCA Gallery

Running a business that solely sells leather-bound journals is tough work. Winn says, “You’ve got to hustle.” But she’s been able to come out on top. She has a solid group of customers in Indy. Winn has gotten to a point where bookbinding is her only job.

Her success didn’t happen overnight. Winn has spent many weekends traveling to art and trade shows to get her name out and has tried her hand at wholesale.

“It’s a challenge to figure out the best use of your limited amount of time,” she says.

Winn’s husband often travels to shows with her, so she doesn’t have to sacrifice too much family time for her work. Her journals are also currently in the CCA Gallery in Carmel.

“It’s finding that good blend where you’re able to make enough money to sustain yourself and can still balance life,” Winn says.

Life is like a constant dance for Winn. She says it changes every year. Each year with Binding Bee has looked different. That’s what keeps it exciting.

Photography by Miller Kern.