James was educated in Scotland and attended the Glasgow School of Art from 1965 to 1970, specializing in Printed Textiles. Bookbinding was her subsidiary subject, and upon graduating, she decided that she wanted to pursue that subject rather than the highly competitive field of textile design. She went to work at the Cockerell Bindery at Grantchester, just outside of Cambridge, where for over two years, she worked on the repair of paper and vellum, sewing and headbanding – the traditional women’s occupations! However, she continued textile design on a freelance basis during this period, but wishing to further the fine-binding side, she left Cockerell’s and took a break from bookbinding by working in a restaurant in Bath. While there she was invited by James Brockman, with whom she had worked at the Cockerell Bindery, to help set up the Eddington Bindery at Hungerford, where she stayed for four years, running the bindery for the last year.
In 1977 she made the decision to set up her own workshop, first of all in Oxfordshire and, in 1979, in North Yorkshire. Since then, she has taken on both conservation and design work. With the advent of her son in 1989, James has worked a shorter week and now takes on almost exclusively commissions for fine-bindings, including the Booker and Whitbread literature prizes. When time allows she likes to develop her own design ideas and particularly explore colour and the colouring of leathers. She holds occasional three-day residential courses in her home studio, and found time from 1990 to 1996 to be President of Designer Bookbinders.
Before sewing, the book had its edges coloured red and then gilt. The endpapers are handmade paper, with an airbrushed treatment and have leather joints. The little coloured onlays are made of different Japanese papers, also airbrushed. The book is sewn on unbleached linen tapes and has red and white silk headbands. False raised bands are used on the spine and covered with red and white spotty leather. The boards are covered with white calf, airbrushed grey, with onlays of various colours of airbrushed and painted leathers. The box is covered with white calf, airbrushed grey, and edged with red airbrushed calf. It is lined with orange suede and has a button and plaited silk closure.