I am a self-employed bookbinder working from my home studio in Somerset. I work to commission creating unique bindings on books using a variety of skills including: leather work, embroidery, metalwork and carpentry, and try to write as much as I can about it here!
This little binding was made for an exhibition being put on by Designer Bookbinders as part of London Craft Week at Maggs Bros. Ltd (48 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DR) between the 8th and 12th May 2019. Shown in the 'modern department’ of the Bedford Square store with other modern bindings surrounding the room, it was in very good company!
This is a binding I had had on the go for a very long while, it is rare I get to do speculative pieces so it was a pleasure to work on something a little different. A relatively small book measuring 186mm x 127mm x 15mm with a series of instructional knots making up the contents.
“Gilcraft” was the pen name for Francis Gidney who was an early leader of the Scouting movement in the UK. He used this name when writing articles and also in several instructional books and booklets for both adult Scouters and boys, such as this publication of “Knotting”. Published in 1942 by Morrison and Gibb Ltd, London and Edinburgh.
The original was in a soft covered in green cloth. The book was pulled and re-sewn onto three tapes. It then went through the forwarding process.
Within the book were numerous instructional diagrams in how to tie a variety of knots. Amongst the contents was the following: How To Use Ropes, The Tenderfoot Knots, Five Hitches, Some Special Knots, Six Stopper Knots, Six Plaits, Splicing, Blocks and Tackles, Lashings, Lifting Weights and Holdfasts.
I started by scanning each of the pages so I had images of each of the illustrated knots, an example below.
I then traced the ones I liked best, twenty eight in total, onto separate pieces of tracing paper. Following this I drew a grid onto a piece of paper and worked out where each would best sit on the cover and joined the rope ends together.
I was then able to trace this pattern onto another piece of paper. I chose sage green leather for the cover and planned to embroider each of the knots in a different colour thread onto this. I selected a colour palette of greens/oranges/greys and metallic threads and cut off small pieces of each and stuck them to my master drawing. This was to ensure no two of the same colours were too close to each other, or appeared twice on the front or back covers.
I was then able to transfer the pattern onto a tracing paper sheet which became the template I worked from for pricking the embroidery holes through the covering leather.
Each knot was then sewn onto the covering leather. I merged the colours into one another where they met by using a whipping stitch, creating an interlocking pattern.
It was necessary to have the pricking template close at all times to try and keep track of what all the pre-pricked holes belonged to!
I use very fine needles to do my hand-embroidery, they are “Gold Eye Sewing Needles: 10 Betweens”. I am always losing them (and occasionally then tread or sit on them around the house - ouch!) so I have now stocked up on multiples to keep me going…
After quite a few hours of sewing, the embroidery was completed and the leather was then ready to be stuck to the book block.
The leather was dampened, pasted out and stuck to the book block. It was left to dry overnight before sticking down the leather joints and doing the infills on the inside of the boards. This then had a layer of Zerkall paper stuck to it which was sanded flush in preparation for the paper doublures.
Two of the knots I chose on the cover were illustrated wrapped around wooden dowels. I therefore opted to use teak veneer to illustrate these two elements. Shown in the image below is where I cut away some of the covering leather so that I could inlay the wood veneer into the space. Once glued down it was then flush with the surface. This strip of wood had to be cut into three parts and was bevelled with sandpaper at the edges of the board.
I also included some small additions of gold wire on two of the knots on the front cover. This wire was attached by drilling through the boards with a tiny drill bit, feeding the wire through and bending the ends into channels on the reverse. These ends were then concealed with the infills.
The book was also blind-tooled along the lines of the ropes using a hand-made finishing tool.
The following is a list of knots that appear on the cover. I made this up as I wanted to work out how many letters and therefore spaces, were required to write each one:
I wanted the names of each of the knots with a reference page number to appear on the doublures. I used tiny handle-letters to tool the names onto individual paper discs (in a colour to match the thread they had been sewn in on the cover). These were then stuck around circles of different sizes, with the gap filled in with a partial line of stitching, again, in the colour to match that of the cover embroidery.
The sample board was a useful tool to try out my ideas ahead of doing the actual binding. Initially in my head I thought I would like to blind tool the space between each of the knots however after doing so I thought it would look far more refined to tool within the rope lines instead. Plus, I thought I wanted to use an off-white paper for the doublures, however decided to use the same hand-made green paper as that of the endpapers in the end. This sample board is number 52 in my series.
And so the binding was complete!
DETAIL OF FRONT COVER
DETAIL OF HEADBANDS
The book was housed in a tulip wood box with the title of the book on the lid. The tulip wood had a channel routed into it to hold the panels for the lid and base in place.
The box was lined with the same hand-made green paper as used in the binding. Spacers were made and covered in black felt to hold the book securely inside the box.
I also added a “TIE YOUR OWN” pouch in the box lid. This was made with a magnetic fastener to hold it closed. Inside I put a square of card with some thick threads wound around them so that the knotting instructions inside could be tried out - in true Scout style!
More images of this binding are now on my website here. Plus, I will get some pictures up of it in the Maggs exhibition space!
I am pleased to announce the completion of my most recent binding, a copy of “Lines: Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a tour: July 13th 1798″, or, in short, “Lines”. The book is a 2002 publication by The Old Stile Press of a poem written by William Wordsworth which is often abbreviated to, “Tintern Abbey” although the building doesn’t actually appear within the poem. It was written by Wordsworth after a walking tour with his sister in this section of the Welsh Borders on the banks of the River Wye. The abbey fell into ruin after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century.
Frances and Nicolas McDowall from The Old Stile Press actually live on the banks of ‘the Sylvan Wye’, about two miles upstream from (‘above’) Tintern Abbey. Taken from The Old Stile Press website:
“Having lived for more than fifteen years amidst ‘these steep woods and lofty cliffs, And this green pastoral landscape’, we felt the time had come to tackle the work that we have come to regard as 'our’ poem.
We can almost see William Wordsworth’s footprints on our riverbank. Even before we came to live here we felt a deep affinity with this poem. Wordsworth helped us to understand and to accept the 'sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused’ of which we have always been aware. The images involved Nicolas editing photographs which had been taken on our stretch of the river but Frances too spent long hours at the vat to make paper for the entire project text, endpapers and binding.
Spring water on its way to the Wye is an essential part of this paper making process and plants grown beside that stream were used in the endpapers. Altogether a very personal project!”
The original cover of the binding pictured below:
Although there is no mention of Tintern Abbey by name in the poem, the title of the book is very specific. The whole point of the poem is the location and the time, it tells the reader exactly where the speaker is and exactly when it was penned. The influence of this bit of nature “a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” had upon Wordsworth’s development influenced the cover design I chose for the binding.
I searched for plans of Tintern Abbey online and found some wonderful architectural drawings that were published on March 22nd 1884 in, The Builder. The Builder was a journal of architecture published in the UK in the 19th and 20th centuries. It began publication in 1843 and absorbed another journal titled Architecture.
I chose to base my cover design on a plan I found of the “Detail of West Entrance”:
I decided to split this plan in half and tie the front and back covers together by using Lines (therefore directly relevant to the title of the book) to link across the spine. This design was then mapped out onto a piece of tracing paper to use as a master template for working on the covering leather.
I then went on to depict the “Jamb and Arch Moldings” from the West Entrance on the endpapers and doublures, the pattern of which was directly influenced by another drawing in the series from The Builder.
I outlined the shape of this architectural detail onto my endpaper and doublure and cut out the shape with a scalpel. I designed it so that the pattern would run across the endpaper and onto the doublure, this was mirrored between the front and back covers.
I wanted to fill in the ‘void’ with a striped effect, similar to the detail seen on the plan. At first I experimented with drawing lines with ink however I wasn’t pleased with how it looked so instead turned my attention to using gold leaf.
I adhered some gold leaf to very thin lens tissue (9gsm) using PVA glue. This was then cut into very small strips (around 1mm wide) with a scalpel.
These thin strips were then glued to a piece of Japanese paper using fine pointed Tweezers to help position them into place. I had marked out the outline of where I need to fill with a pencil, plus added in some guidelines so that the strips remained straight across the whole expanse.
I left one end of each of the gold leaf strips unglued as I wanted them to lay on top of the blue doublure/endpaper paper once stuck in place, in order to avoid the look of a straight ‘cut’ line this end. These were individually stuck down at a later stage.
The Japanese paper was stuck together with the blue paper and pressed. I used a paper template to position further cut paper detail on the surface and also to pierce through and mark points for a small amount of embroidered detail.
The paper for the endpapers was laminated to a gold effect handmade paper. I made sure that the embroidery I did on the endpapers was really neatly tied down on the reverse as I knew when these papers were laminated together the threads would be visible, as below:
The text block was only three sections and was made from thick handmade paper. The paper was an important part of the making process for the book itself as an excerpt from the Old Stile Press website explains:
To begin, therefore, with the paper. Of a purity so important to the process, ‘the waters’ taken and used by Frances were indeed ‘rolling from their mountain-springs with a soft inland murmur’, as they pass our house on their way to the Wye itself. Also the inclusions (Reed &c.) that give such character to the endpapers and the cover were all picked ‘on the banks of this delightful stream’.
I chose to bind this book using stubs as this was a good solution to dealing with the thick sections. I worked out the number of stubs I needed for the thickness of the book and sewed the book up onto four tapes. The endpapers were made to the full width of the book so no stubs were needed for them.
The text block was rounded and backed and the endbands were sewn. The spine was first lined with some Aerolinen and then a strip of goatskin which was stuck to the spine, skin side down. This was sanded flush and a two-off one-on hollow was attached.
The boards were laced on and back-cornered and the edges of the boards were all sanded to a long bevel.
At this point I was able to accurately measure the exact size of the leather and therefore the outer edge of the design. I used strips of suede that I had edge-pared from the back of miscellaneous skins using my Brockman paring machine. I don’t throw any of these away as I have discovered they work really well as onlays. I like the colour variation they provide and when backed to lens tissue this stabilises them well.
In particular for this design the suede onlays gave a great mottled look, in my mind mimicking the look of stained glass. They were stuck down to the covering leather through a template using PVA glue.
Once the onlays were stuck in place they were back-pared. I was then able to get on with the embroidery process. Initially I used the tracing paper template to prick holes through with my needle pricker to mark out the lines I needed to embroider.
Given the multitude of embroidered lines making up this design I did the initial linear work using my sewing machine to speed up the process.
Once these guide lines were in place I ‘whipped’ around each of these with threads of differing colours to add definition and colour variation.
Further embroidered detail was added using cotton and metallic threads.
I also added extra detail to the surface of some of the suede onlays using a fine-nibbed pen.
Once all of the embroidery was done I marked out where the brickwork was going to be by pricking around the outlines through the template. I was able to add some sewn detail onto some of the bricks at this point before the leather was glued onto the book.
Once all of the embroidery was complete the front of the leather looked like this:
And the back like this:
It was then time to stick the leather to the book - always the bit I find most daunting after spending so many hours working on it before it goes onto the book! I dampened the front of the leather using a water atomiser. Once damp I turned the leather over and applied paste. I did three applications of paste to make sure that it had absorbed well into the leather.
Once the leather was on and the headcaps had been formed I left the book to dry under a light weight for 24 hours changing the blotting papers regularly.
Once completely dry I applied a run of water to the spine joints using a water pen to dampen the leather at this point before attempting to open the covers. The covers were opened and the text block, along with the leather joints, were released from the paper and cling film wrapper that was keeping them away from the moisture created during the covering process. The leather joints could then be stuck down in position.
I had bought some gold wire that I wanted to attach to the boards on the topmost line of the abbey design. I blind-tooled a groove into the leather at this point using a gouge with the correct curve.
Small holes were drilled right through the board using my Dremel and a very tiny drill bit. I used these holes to anchor the wire to the front of the board using a thread.
The thread moved up from the back of the board, over the wire, and then back through to the back of the board to hold the wire in place.
Once the wire had been sewn on through the boards, the boards were infilled with watercolour paper. An additional layer of Zerkall paper was glued down and sanded to level out any bumps and then the finished paper doublure was glued down in place. Final pen detail was added to the onlays at this point.
I then spent time working on the bricks. I scored lines into the surface of the leather using a fine bone folder and a T-square in order to get them even and regular. These brick outlines were then marked in using ink to build up the pattern. The lines were also run across from the front cover design to the back to link both together.
I used variety of methods to illustrate the bricks; gold leaf stuck to leather (using glaire and heat to fix it in place), embroidery (French knots and stem stitch), suede onlays, leather onlays and blind tooling.
I wanted to add a title to the spine so punched circles out of the gold leaf-faced leather. This was then carbon tooled with the book title and stuck to the book spine.
Finally the book was blind tooled to add a decorative look to the book as a whole.
Once the book was complete it was time to photograph it in all of it’s glory!
I now do all of the photography of my bindings myself, and thankfully have a wonderfully light conservatory in my house in which to take these photos. Later this week you will be able to see more images of the book on my website here.
The book was housed in an oak box, with a simple ‘line’ and title on the lid which was tooled on coloured suedes and embroidered to match the book cover.
A detail shot of the front cover:
The endpapers and doublures:
The title page:
And in conclusion, an excerpt from the tail end of the book, penned by Nicolas McDowall:
The images, too, even of for some tastes they may lack the literalness that would come from drawings or wood engravings, are all derived, as is my won’t, from photographs…which were taken on our stretch of the river.
I have felt a deep affinity with this poem since youth, when I never for a moment imagined we would one day live here. I have always been a ‘lover of the meadows and the woods and mountains’, and it was Wordsworth who helped me to understand and accept the ‘sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused’ of which I was so profoundly aware, then as now.
a bookbinder requires a vast array of different skills, some of which
can be utilised in ways other than making books! I worked at
the Victoria and Albert Museum for seven and a half years as a
mount-maker before leaving to become a full time bookbinder but still
keep in touch with my colleagues from the museum. An ex-colleague and
friend of mine, Rachael Lee, who still works at the museum as a Textile Conservation Display Specialist in the Textile Conservation Department has spent the
last year and a half, alongside many other people from the museum and abroad, working
towards the opening of the current Frida Kahlo exhibition entitled,
Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up.
exhibition presents an extraordinary collection of personal
artifacts and outfits belonging to the iconic Mexican artist Frida
Kahlo. It explores how Kahlo used make-up, jewellery and in
particular indigenous Mexican clothing to create her identity. The
majority of objects, including medical corsets and Kahlo’s
prosthetic leg, are loans from the Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico
City. The colourful collection of clothing and objects were hidden
away for 50 years in the museum, Frida’s former home, and found in
2004. The home was converted into a museum after her husband, Diego
Rivera’s death. The
objects have never left Mexico before so it’s very exciting that
the V&A is exhibiting them.
Rachael worked closely on the mannequin development with two different manufactures to create a new figure that evoked the feeling of Frida Kahlo. A 3D printed render of Kahlo’s head was created and turned into fibreglass, it was then seamlessly merged with the rest of the body to create a complete figure. The mannequins weren’t designed to be too realistic or an exact copy of Frida, but a likeness of her with recognisable features, such as her braided crown of plaits. This unique style of display figure couldn’t of been achieved using commercially available mannequins. A paper finish was chosen to cover the surface of the mannequins in order to slightly abstract the figures and give a neutral effect.
brief was to make individual head treatments, or headdresses, for three of the Frida
mannequins going into the exhibition and was initially sent images of these
to give me an idea of what the Senior Co-Curator, Claire Wilcox,
wanted to recreate. I was asked to make three dimensional
paper flowers to attach to the mannequin heads to resemble iconic images of Frida, however I was told that the headdresses didn’t need to be exact copies of these
reference images. Frida had many different flower adornments and
often wore fresh flowers in her hair so my initial brief was to
“create something beautiful but at the same time subtle. There are so many interpretations of Frida, we want ours to be respectful and
“The Resplandor” (Self-portrait as Tehuana)
The exact costume pictured below, still exists as part of Kahlo’s wardrobe and was to be mounted onto a mannequin as portrayed in this self-portrait. As only the face of the mannequin and the flowers on the head were going to be seen, I needed to make the same flowers and arrange them as seen in the portrait.
and 3. “The Seated Fridas”
The flowers for these two mannequins were to sit across the front of Frida’s head, with some also fitting neatly behind her big plait. The mannequins were to be displayed seated next to each other holding hands in the exhibition, so they were going to have the flowers in their hair displayed as mirror images of one another.
first task was to make some sample flowers to send over to the V&A
for the team to look at against the mannequin heads, at this point I had
only seen photos of the heads so it was important to do some trials.
All of the flowers were to be made from the same colour paper as the
mannequins to tie it all together visually and so not to distract
from the clothing.
started by making four trials pieces: one rose, one abstract
leaf, one daisy and one leaf.
FRONTS OF TRIALS:
BACKS OF TRIALS:
to the fact that the finish of the
heads was to be a distressed paper finish with an uneven texture,
it was decided that the trial flowers therefore looked a little too pristine
next to the head. When sending the trials off to the V&A I
explained that the edges could be made to look ‘more frilly’, by
altering the templates and tearing the paper petal edges and it was decided
that this would be a good alteration to make. The samples were also
too large against the head so they were all to be scaled down when
making the actual headdresses.
Below shows the trial flower on the left, and the modified flower on the right with the torn petal edges and it is smaller in scale.
this initial feedback I then received a parcel back from Rachael with one of the Frida mannequins heads in it, a pack of
papers, a pot of paint-wash and some sample card that had been used on the mannequin
heads, plus extra images and instructions to work from.
Other similar papers were also supplied for me to use to help create subtle variations in the tone of the flowers. Below shows two roses, the left one has the outer petals made from paler paper that was subtly coloured in the same paint-wash as the mannequin heads.
was also decided that for The Resplandor the curator wanted to trial
a bit of gold leaf inside some of the flowers, so they would shimmer under the museum lighting. I stuck a small amount of gold and silver leaf on one of the paper leaves to give an indication of how this might look.
Once the trial pieces were analysed and the alternations noted it was time to commence with the making of the headdress components, described in stages as follows:
MAKING UP THE ROSES FOR THE TWO SEATED FRIDAS
I cut out the petals using a template. These were in four different sizes so I could make up different sizes of rose. The side edges were cut with scissors and the top edges torn into a curve.
The petals were kept in pairs and glued together slightly off-set with some PVA, as seen in the top-most group of petals in the below picture. Once dry they were then folded into a pleat at the base of the petals and glued again to create a more three-dimensional shape - see the bottom group of three petals.
Once formed they were then punched twice with a Japanese hole punch at the base of each of the petals.
For the two Seated Fridas, the mannequins were going to re-enact the scene from one of Frida’s most notable paintings, The Two Fridas; herself and her double, holding hands, with exposed hearts connected by a shared artery. Claire
Wilcox wanted one mannequin to look very Victorian and the other very
Mexican to enhance the outfits they were due to be dressed in.
I was therefore asked to try painting inside the paper roses, the Victorian flowers were to have a sepia tint
inside and the Mexican flowers to have a red/pink tint. The didn’t want a solid colour, just to have some colour inside the petals/leaves so that the flowers still looked like paper and match the mannequins. The first trial was discarded as the colour was too bold.
So a more subtle colour wash was chosen, using watered down acrylic paints building the colour up from the bottom of each petal in stages.
RED/PINK FOR THE VICTORIAN-LOOKING FRIDA:
SEPIA FOR THE MEXICAN-LOOKING FRIDA:
Once the petals were coloured and dry it was time to make up the roses. The centre of each rose was made by winding some wire around a small ball of newsprint. This was then wrapped in a square of the grey paper and wire was wound around it at the base to hold it together.
The petals were laid out in size order. For the largest of the flowers there were six small, five medium and six large petals making up each flower.
I tied some linen thread to the wire.
I then worked around the flower centre attaching each of the petals in place by threading a curved needle through the punched holes.
Each Seated Frida headdress had one large, three medium, two small and one petite rose, so the same process was repeated to make up each of these and again for the sepia flowers.
The exposed wire stem of the flowers was wound with masking tape in order to allow for it to then be covered in paper to match the flowers.
Paper leaves were also cut out and stuck to the back of each flower. Once glued they were curled using the edge of a pair of scissors to give them more shape.
The stems were all then wrapped in a coiled thin strip of paper and fixed with PVA glue.
PLACEMENT OF ROSES ON MANNEQUIN HEAD
Once all of the roses were made it was time to concentrate on their placement on the mannequin head.
Starting with the petite rose in the front centre, holes were drilled right through into the mannequin head for the flower stems to push in to.
Given I only had one head to work on I had to mark the positions of each flower so Rachael and her colleagues could repeat the placement (in reverse) on the other head. I also left it up to them to glue the flowers in position once the parcel got back to the V&A as it was safer to send the flowers and head back separately.
MAKING UP THE ELEMENTS FOR THE RESPLANDOR
Following the completion of the Seated Frida headdresses it was time to work on the more complex Resplandor head. The iconic image showed Frida with the following on her head: 1 x rose, 1 x daisy, 1 x large flower, 7 x bougainvillaea, 7 x large leaves and 9 x small leaves.
I started by working on the daisy, creating the centre first. I cut a series of thin lines using a scalpel across the centre of a strip of paper.
The two outer, uncut edges were then glued together and held with bulldog clips allowing the cut strips to curve in the centre. This strip was then coiled around a piece of wire to create the textured centre of the daisy.
A series of petals were cut from a template, these were then made more three dimensional by cutting and gluing the tips of the petals together.
Following the trial leaf I did at the start of the process with gold and silver leaf added on, the curator decided she wanted this on all of the Resplandor petals and leaves. I had to make sure that the gold and silver leaf was only going to be on the front face of each of the elements as it was important that no metal was going to be in contact with the object.
The costume was going to be seen through the reflection of a mirror in the exhibition so the gold and silver leaf needed to be quite bright and bold to stand out.
I cut gold leaf into squares on my gold cushion and lifted it up using a piece of cotton wool that had some grease on it to attract the leaf. I applied a wash of PVA glue to each of the petals and then placed the gold leaf onto these in turn and waited for them to dry. Once dry I rubbed off the excess to give a more distressed look.
The same applied for the daisy flower centre, dabbing glue onto the paper and then pressing silver leaf squares down into the detail of the paper swirl.
I then attached the petals to the outside of the flower centre. It was decided that more gold and silver leaf was needed on the flower so I added more to the flower all over.
Next I made petals for the rose, a different style rose to that of the Seated Fridas. These had gold and silver leaf added and were then attached around a flower centre ball of paper.
The completed rose and daisy with their distressed mix of metal leaf on the front face:
Next I made up a series of leaves in two different sizes. These were constructed of two layers of paper stuck together with a piece if wire sandwiched in the middle to use as the stem of the leaves.
Again, squares of gold and silver leaf were stuck to one side and then rubbed down to give a more distressed look.
As well as the flat leaves, I also made up a number of bougainvillea-style elements, combining two or three curved leaves into bunches to build up the look.
Finally, there was one large flower to make. I used the same base centre and petals as the Seated Frida roses but added in extra long wires to the centre so they stuck out past the petals. The ends of these wires had small curved paper elements stuck to them.
For the outermost petals of this flower I first covered a piece of paper with a block of silver leaf. From this I then cut out individual long petals.
These were stuck to the outside of the centre flower and secured with a small piece of twisted wire. This wire was then concealed with some outer paper leaves.
The completed flower definitely shimmered with all of the detail and leaf on it!
Again, I had to work on the placement of the elements once the pieces were all made. Rachael and her team needed an accurate plan of where everything needed to be placed so I broke the elements down into four rows, marked each piece up and wrapped everything separately to try and make it as clear as possible.
Thanks to Rachael for the following photo showing the Resplandor head with all of the elements attached before it was then dressed with the object.
I am hoping to get access to some of the professional photos taken of the exhibition to better illustrate the final results of the headdresses but in the meantime all I have is the ones I took myself (you might spot me in the second of these two pictures!)
Frida ‘European’ (LEFT)
worn to a New York gallery opening
wore this dramatic outfit to an opening in New York in 1933. The
velvet evening cape has embroidered ribbon appliqué and two silk
bows attached to its long, pointed tails and is professionally made.
She paired it with a silk devoré
skirt with ruffled hem made from imported silk, which may have been
sewn by a local dressmaker. The origin of many of Kahlo’s
European-style clothes is uncertain.
1900s, possibly made in France (cape); fabric from France..
Spot the difference in the above! As explained in the previous post, the reason for me doing my sample boards is they are a test run ahead of working on the actual binding. In this case, I finessed the lapwing on the book by using a wider colour palette overall and also added feather outlines to the back of the bird which I felt made a huge improvement.
So, onto the covering stage of the binding process. I spritzed the front of the leather using a water spray in order to prevent stains appearing as a result of the pasting out of the reverse after covering.
The back of the leather was pasted out three times and left for the paste to soak in each time.
Thankfully the leather went on to the book well and I was able to turn in the edges and form the headcaps before leaving the book to dry for 24 hours. I regularly changed the blotting papers in order to draw out the moisture over this time.
Once completely dry I was able to open up the book boards and work on sticking the leather joints down. The leather joints had been glued into the endpaper before the book was forwarded so I took off the waste sheets that had been protecting the text block to free them.
I laid the book down on my bench with both boards open. I then cut bevels at the corners of the turns-ins and the leather joints so they would lie flush when the leather joints were glued down. I applied PVA glue to the leather joint and rubbed it down using my fingers before closing the board and letting it dry. Once dry the same was done to the other board, then the boards were infilled, sanded and the printed paper doublures were glued down.
Once the book was complete it was time to work on the wooden container I had planned to house it in. I wanted the title to appear on the lid of the box so carefully cut the letters out of the same colour leather.
Once they were cut out I backed the voids with gold leaf that I had stuck to Japanese paper (the same as I had done for the ‘highlight’ leaves on the paper doublures).
It was important to cut the letters out especially carefully as I wanted to use them to make a label for an outer conservation box I had ordered for the wooden box to live in.
The box itself was machined from tulipwood with a routed channel in the lid and base in which a decorated panel was fixed. It was lined with felt and spacers added on all four sides.
Finally, I will end with some pictures of the end result! More pictures of this binding and box can also be found on my website.
Part three of this blog post details the embroidery I did on the British Birds binding, the bit I always enjoy the most! As described in the pervious installment, I chose to keep the background detail behind the birds to simple lines embroidered in green to match the covering leather. This was to stay in keeping with the illustrations within the book.
The drystone wall ran across the design, changing in size for perspective. The larger part of the wall was detailed with outlines of individual stones and as the wall went into the distance this changed and each stone was represented by a small French knot.
Behind the lapwing, as shown in the previous post through the work I did on the sample board, I added sprigs of heather.
And behind the curlew I depicted the bird walking amongst some long grasses.
Once the background detail was complete it was time to work on the birds. Firstly, the large standing curlew got the embroidery treatment. I started by building up the colour with some small stem stitches with threads in colours to match the onlay behind.
Once these patches were blocked out with small stitches, I added some speckled detail on the head of the bird using a double length of machine cotton.
Once all of the colour block was done on the main body of the bird, I added feather outlines using a darker thread.
Within each of these outlined feathers I added further detail in the centre of each using a lazy daisy stitch.
More detail was added to the beak and legs, plus a small white French knot was sewn into the black of the bird’s eye to bring it to life!
The back of the leather showed the number of stitches that went into creating his feathery look.
The same method was applied to the flying curlew, using smaller stitches on the base and building up detail on top.
I had company in the form of a newborn baby throughout this process - thankfully at her early age she slept a lot and embroidering the leather was a pleasant task to do with a dozy baby on my lap!
As with the curlews, the lapwing had his feathers built up in the same way. Having worked on a lapwing for the sample board, and therefore having had a “test-run”, I thought of improvements to the way I should embroider the second one. I was able to add finer detail and adapt the way I used the threads a bit on the actual book leather. For example, I used a larger variety of colours and added outlines for some of the feathers on the lapwing’s back.
Metallic threads were also woven into each of the birds before completion to add a little sparkle to their feathers!
A little white thread was also added to the clouds to add a bit of textural detail to them too. And with this done the embroidery stage was complete!
COMPLETED FRONT OF LEATHER:
COMPLETED BACK OF LEATHER:
The next, and final, installment sees the leather going onto the book and the end result…
The curlews, skylark and lapwing were each broken down into block colours in order to plan out their onlays. I chose a lovely shade of green to have as the covering leather to compliment the birds and to achieve a background colour I was happy with.
For the sample board I chose to illustrate just the lapwing, so worked on two lapwing onlays simultaneously (one of the sample board and one for the book). The onlays were each cut out with a scalpel, giving each one a slight border so that it could be stuck to the next in a patchwork off the book.
The small onlays were stuck together off of the book using a tracing paper template as a guide.
Finally producing two lapwings!
One of the birds was stuck down onto the sample board leather using PVA glue. The colours were then muted down using a very thin wash of white acrylic paint. Once this had been done I was able to back-pare and then embroider the leather.
I first worked on the background detail, in a green thread to match the colour of the leather. In the book all the full-colour illustrations of the birds were shown against a muted grey, line-drawn background so I wanted to compliment this on the cover design.
Stitches were gradually built up over the whole surface of the sample board leather including coloured stitches all over the bird to give it a more feathery look and feel.
‘Heather’ detail was also added around the lapwing.
A drystone wall was included in the design drawing (including a four-bar gate) using French knots to give the impressions of the stones. Once the embroidery was complete the leather was stuck onto the sample board with paste and the edges turned in.
A section of the printed feather paper was selected to use on the sample board. In addition to the printed feathers, a single feather made from gold leaf was also added as a highlight. This was done by cutting out the feather shape from the endpaper and then backing the void with some gold leaf that had been adhered to Japanese paper. The shaft of the feather was embroidered with thread.
Once stuck down this board became number 47 in my sample board series!
And so once I was happy with the sample board I was able to move onto working on the book itself. In the way I had laid down the lapwing onto the sample board using my tracing paper guide, I did the same for on the covering leather, rubbing it down with a Teflon folder to ensure even adhesion.
The two curlews and the skylark were also glued down in the correct positions.
I painted some strips of suede with white acrylic paint in a mottled pattern to use for clouds. These were also cut out and laid down in place.
The whole of the leather was then back-pared on the reverse in preparation for the next stage, the embroidery. This is detailed in the next blog post, part three.
No, I haven’t been super productive in the last month and made another binding, this book was completed during 2017 and handed over to the client a year ago today. Now is it’s moment to shine though, with everything I have had going on over the past year I didn’t get around to writing about it or even adding it to my website, so here it now is!
This book was handed over to the client in April of 2017 just before I moved house. My family and I spent 3 months living in Bristol before we were able to complete our move to Somerset. There I was thinking I would have loads of time on my hands during this period to sort out my computer, including editing the photos of this binding, but time slipped away….
Birds are a subject I adore and I was really thrilled to get this commission. The book to rebind was a 1969 first edition publication of, “British Birds” (For the Readers Digest Association Ltd and The Automobile Association). This particular copy was special as it was signed by the illustrator, Raymond Ching, who completed all of the full-colour portraits through the text block. The book had been selected as the client had a passion for birds, twitching as a hobby.
The original book was bound as a case binding, the cover of the book featured a large illustration of an owl from within the book. The client specified that he would like his three favourite birds to feature on the cover design; a Lapwing, a Curlew and a Skylark.
LAPWING (back cover):
“The lapwing, or peewit, derives both its names from the sounds it makes. In spring it performs a striking aerobatic display, climbing steadily with its wings making a throbbing or ‘lapping’ sound while it utters its wild song ‘p’weet-p’weet, peewit-peewit’. Then it plunges down, over its territory, rolling and twisting apparently out of control. Its call-notes are variations on the ‘peewit’ theme.”
CURLEW (front cover, one standing and one flying):
“A loud, melancholy ‘cool-li’, the cry that give the curlew its name, is the clearest sign of the bird’s presence for most of the year; in spring it is often accompanied by a bubbling song which announces that the breeding season is beginning. The males trill the song as they fly in wide circles and glide down on extended wings to claim territories in the breeding area.”
“For Wordsworth, the skylark was an ethereal minstrel, a pilgrim of the sky; for Shelley it was a blithe spirit, showering the earth with a rain of melody; and lesser poets before and since have added their praises until it has become one of Britain’s best-loved birds. Its sustained warbling song, which can last for five minutes without a pause, is usually delivered when the bird is flying high in the air, often nearly out of sight. The skylark is the only British bird that habitually sings while ascending almost vertically, keeps singing while hovering and goes on singing while descending.”
Once the design for the cover was laid out it was time to work on the endpapers. I remembered back to one of the Designer Bookbinders Masterclasses I had done with Rachel Ward-Sale (one of the DB Fellows) a few years before. She taught us how to print from objects onto leather and paper so I thought a would try and print from feathers to decorate my endpapers and doublures for the binding.
Using Fiebings leather dyes I dabbed ink onto the feathers using cotton wool balls.
I then laid these feathers onto paper and pressed them between boards and waste sheets. The first tests came out with mixed patchy results as below.
I did some more tests and recorded them on little sample squares so I knew what the best combination was for printing the larger sheets.
- Sample one was printed on dry paper using neat dye and pressed with a foam sheet.
- Sample two was printed on dry paper using neat dye and pressed without a foam sheet.
- Sample three was printed on damp paper using neat dye and pressed without a foam sheet.
- Sample four was printed on damp paper using diluted dye (mixed with ½ cellulose thinners) and pressed without foam.
Sample four gave the best results by far so this was the method I chose to adopt for printing the rest of the feathers.
I chose to print the feathers largely in brown, but also in green and pink to compliment the colours of the lapwing on the cover.
I used a variety of different shapes and sizes of feather to fill the space.
Once the printing was complete and the paper was dry I embellished the feathers using coloured pencils to give them more depth and colour variation.
I used a variety of colours to add definition and highlights to the base colour that was produced through the printing process.
I was really pleased with the end result.
I was then able to make up the endpapers. I had already pulled the book apart and cleaned the spine fold of each section so then the book was ready to be sewn back together. This was done using the original sewing stations onto six tapes.
The book was then glued up in-between the tapes and rounded and backed to form shoulders for the boards to sit it.
The spine was firstly lined with a layer of aerolinen, and double-core endbands were sewn.
Some goatskin was then stuck to the spine, hair side down, and sanded flush. A two-on, two-off hollow made from archival Kraft finished off the spine coverings.
The book was printed on a dense machine-made paper which made the text block very heavy. It also meant it took a very long time to sand the edges of the text block to a smooth and flat finish!
The front edge of the book was sanded into a curve using sandpaper wrapped around a cardboard tube. It must have taken me quite a few hours over a couple of days getting the last of the pages level with one another!
The next installment of this blog post will focus on the sample board I made for this binding plus how I worked on the onlays.
So the time had finally come where I could say that the book and box were completely finished therefore time for photography to commence! The following images are now also on my website, along with a few more shots of the binding and box.
FRONT DOUBLURES AND ENDPAPERS:
OAK BOX ALONGSIDE THE BOOK:
BOOK NEXT TO THE OPEN BOX:
BOOK IN THE OPEN BOX WITH RIBBON LIFTER:
DETAIL OF THE BOOK IN THE OPEN BOX:
“HYPSIPYLE” LABEL DETAIL:
BOTTOM HEADCAP AND ENDBAND DETAIL:
“THE LEGENDE OF GOODE WIMMEN” PAGE DETAIL:
Not the best photograph but I thought it was important to get an image of me holding the book, one to show the sense of scale and two to prove that I actually did it(!).
And off it then went to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair where it took pride of place on booth E33, the stand of Bromer Booksellers from Boston.
What an honour it was to say that I have bound a copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer, there are not going to be many opportunities such as this and it was a really amazing journey from beginning to end that I have been pleased to share through these series of blog posts.
The text block was made up with pale blue endpapers at the start of the binding process. These had been laminated to a neutral-coloured sheet on the side closest to the text block. Given the extent of the work that went into the cover design it was important to get the right balance for the doublures and endpapers, wanting them to compliment and not overpower what was happening on the front and back boards.
My initial ideas for the doublures and endpapers was to carry on the feel of the flowing vines from the cover. Printed throughout the text in the book were some lovely little leaves which gave me an idea. I had some really pretty etched brass leaves in my stock of supplies that seemed to fit really well so thought about how I could use these to adorn the doublures.
I snipped the leaves carefully off the large strip into separate stems so I could experiment with attaching them to paper.
I did this by first gluing the small leaves to the paper using “4001 Lascaux Acrylic Adhesive 303 HV, Archival Glue”. This is a great glue for sticking absorbent to non-absorbent surfaces, such as metal to paper. I knew about this glue following time time working at the Victoria and Albert Museum as it is archival and had many uses for all sorts of different jobs.
Once glued in place I then tacked the leaves down with a metallic gold thread to ensure they would not come off. The patches of leaves were then joined together using a curved line of embroidery and a flower was sewn to the paper too. Below was the test piece I made to go on the back of the sample board, so only measures about 120mm x 75mm which gives you an idea of how small the metal leaves were.
The paper colour was initially chosen because it matched well to the original book covers, however towards the end of the binding process it was decided that this wasn’t bold enough against the dark colour of the covering leather.
Therefore, for both the endpapers and the doublures, a darker colour was chosen being an 80gsm machine made Japanese paper in dark blue called “Satogami”. I was really drawn to the mottled look of how the paper had been made and it was lovely to work with. The Shepherds website describes this paper as, “Ideal for any arts & craft project. Suitable for writing, printing, binding and folding. Excellent lightweight multi-purpose paper. 10% bamboo, 90% wood pulp.”
Once the new paper had been chosen the design of the doublures and endpapers was revisited as upon reflection the etched metal leaves just felt they were going to be too small against the size of the book. I therefore decided to use the same shaped leaves as that of the rose on the cover design of the book to tie them together.
The leaves were cut out of gold-foiled paper and stuck to the Satogami using PVA glue. The curved vine that the leaves extended from was shaped in the same form as one of the intersecting lines on the cover design and placed so that the ends of the lines at the top and bottom of the doublures matched those on the front and back covers.
The line was initially sewn using the sewing machine and then whipped with a gold metallic thread. Detail was hand-sewn on each leaf to create the veins of the leaves.
I also felt that due to the fact the design was made around the names of the ten protagonists I wanted their names to feature on the book in some way. I thought that rather than sewing random flowers onto the doublures, like illustrated on the sample board, that I could make a feature of the ladies names instead.
Using the colours of the onlays I had made each of the flowers and butterflies from I punched out enough 7mm diameter circles to tool the names of each on to. I did two lots for every name as I wanted to extend the idea and put the names in the box too.
The letters were tooled using carbon onto the circles. I worked out which names were going on the front and which on the back by gauging how long each of them were and trying to balance them out.
The discs were then glued down along the curved line using PVA glue.
The insides of the boards were infilled within the leather turn-ins, firstly with a layer of watercolour paper (the same thickness as I had pared the turn-ins), and then with two layers of Zerkall paper. After each layer of paper went on they were sanded flush to remove any lumps and bumps. It was so important that the surface beneath the paper doublure was absolutely flat as any discrepancies would have shown up massively under the final doublure layer.
I painted the outer edges of the book boards with acrylic paint just to ensure there would be no halo of white from the sanding process visible on any of the edges once the final decorated doublure layer went down.
The doublure was then pasted out with PVA glue using a roller and then quickly laid down in place. There was no margin of error here, they had to be laid down exactly correctly which was a nervous procedure. I then also tipped on a layer of the same colour paper at the hinge joint on top of the original paler blue paper to tie the whole thing together.
Getting the doublures down was the very end challenge to complete the book. There was however still the wooden box to think about! I wanted to make an oak box to house the book in as I thought that tied in very well given the original Doves Bindery bindings, done in 1897, had oak boards covered with Pigskin.
I bought some oak and was recommended a carpenter, Marcus Hopgood, to machine the wood and construct the box for me. He worked from a drawing I provided him with. Firstly the oak panels I had bought had their edges planed flat.
The panels were then cut to width on a bandsaw.
The panels I was supplied with were not wide enough to span the width I needed for the lid and base of the box so two pieces were “book matched” together - rather an appropriate term for what the box was going to contain!
Bookmatching is the practice of matching two (or more) wood or stone surfaces, so that two adjoining surfaces mirror each other, giving the impression of an opened book. As applied to wood, bookmatching is usually done with veneer (produced in one of several ways), but can also be done with solid wood.
The side panels were machined with a bevel in order for the lid and base to drop in and be fixed in place.
The box was hinged using three brass hinges along the length, and brass clasps were fitted to the outer edge.
The box was then waxed on all of the outer edges and passed back to me for the next stage of the process.
I wanted to put the title of the book prominently on the front of the box. I had some strips of leather left over from the book cover so backed it with some Japanese paper to stabilise it. I then used a paper template to prick holes through around the outlines of the title letters so that the marks were visible on the back of the leather.
The letters were then cut out using a scalpel. I was really careful with this stage as I wanted to use the leather letters I was cutting out in their own right, in order to create another label for an outer conservation box I had ordered to house the oak box in.
I blind tooled around the letters to tie it together with the cover design and also added three gold leaves, like on the endpapers, along the length. I also painted the cut edges with acrylic paint the same colour as the leather to consolidate them.
The final procedure was to line the box. I did this using a heavyweight paper and a thin strip of leather was also glued around the lid and base joints (as seen below, the darker strip around the inner edge). I was also then able to stick down the second lot of tooled names within the box.
I had designed the box so that there was space all around the book within the box in order to add spacers. The lid and the base of the box had pads made up from a cushioned layer of board that had then been covered in felt. On the base, a ribbon lifter was attached to the base of the pad before the pad was stuck into the box.
Finally, side spacers were machined from oak and also covered in felt and glued to the sides of the base. This was to stop the book from having any lateral movement within the box.
This really was the last stage of the process. Due to the time constraints on getting the box finished and then posted over to the USA in time for my deadline gave me just one day for photography. The next, and final, blog post shows the finished book and box ready for photography!
Thank you very much for your message, I really appreciate you taking the time to write to me. There are so many stages to bookbinding, as you well know having gotten into it yourself! This really was the commission of a lifetime, and although it is a bit of slog to write up the whole design and making process I know I will be so pleased I did down the line. It just seems to keep on going but then that is because there are just so many things that go into making a fine binding. I am really pleased to hear that this run of posts has been well received by people, I am very happy to be able to share the knowledge I have! Best wishes, Hannah