Erin Ciulla

Integrating modern ideas into traditional bookbinding

Melinda Gallo
June 4, 2009

Florence is home to many expats: those who have longed to live here, those who have found love and moved here, and those who have come to Florence and felt immediately at home here. Many people arrive here at a point in their lives when they seek to redefine themselves: whether they were not completely happy, were searching for something new, or were looking for love, it seems that those who come to Florence are reborn. Florence will always be the ‘cradle of the Renaissance’ for the art world, but it also welcomes people of all walks of life who are seeking to follow their hearts.


Even though Erin Ciulla has a Sicilian father and lived in an Italian neighborhood in Canada, she never planned on coming to Italy to live out her passion for making books. After completing a degree in material art and design with a specialization in fiber at the Ontario College of Art and Design, she came to Florence for a year of postgraduate study. She was given access to studio space to work independently on her craft: creating artist's books and miniature books. Because she knew she would be in Florence for only a year, she didn't make much of an effort to get to know the locals. However, she did discover Art Studio Fuji where she met an American bookmaker who taught her different stitches and techniques. As with most crafts, much can be learned in school, but most of what an artist needs to learn is from on-the-job training.

At the end of her year in Florence, Erin moved back to Canada where she planned to make books for a living. However, once there, she felt that she had lost some of the inspiration that she felt in Florence, and craved to be stimulated artistically again. After seven months, she decided to move back to Florence where she hoped to have a career in crafts instead of being a part-time artist. This time, she went to an Italian school for two months and signed up for a three-month internship at a bookbinding shop, Il Torchio (

She had searched out different bookbinding and paper shops while in Florence and was already familiar with this traditional one on via de' Bardi.

Il Torchio's then owner taught her some of the more traditional techniques of being a bookbinder. She learned how to use the telaio (sewing loom) and the torchio (press), both manual machines commonly used by artisan bookbinders. Then, after Erin's internship was over, the woman who owned Il Torchio decided to sell her shop. She offered it to Erin, whom she considered the perfect choice: she is committed to making books using the traditional techniques. Erin is now the owner of Il Torchio and strives to keep the bookbinding craft alive in the Oltrarno.

Over these last couple of years, Florence now feels like home to Erin although she still enjoys visiting her family and friends in Canada. Apart from the high tourist season, when crowds of people fill the streets, Erin finds Florence very relaxing. She loves that one can travel down different streets to discover new paths. She finds that navigating Florence is like being on a ‘treasure hunt where there are different things to see and different things to find.' Each area of Florence, she says, has its own personality and characteristics that she enjoys discovering.  

One of Erin's artist's books, an antique suitcase containing miniature books she made with handmade paper containing reminders of her first year in Florence, is currently touring galleries throughout Canada until 2011. In Florence, she continues to integrate new ideas into her work and aspires to incorporate more of her own creativity into her traditional Florentine bookbinding shop.


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