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Worker 1 and worker 2: trials and tribulations of edition binding

I am worker 1 and I roped my partner Watkins into being worker 2. I go to work everyday, while he has binding opportunities at home. He is more of a paper artist, but has learned some bookbinding, and when it comes down to it, is much more finicky about it than I am.

We have to bind two editions of 15 or so books. It is printed on glossy/semi matte paper and 400 pages weighs quite a lot.

So we sew.


Yes we used a sewing frame each. Watkins, as a beginner sewed relatively loosely. I, as an intermediate binder, sewed relatively tighter than he. We did 6 each.

The paper we used was very slippery. The sections were six sheets. Was that too many? I couldn’t round mine. I went to my day job and left worker 2 to do the rounding. He rounded his with some ease; he tried one of mine and swore a lot.

So, as boss lady, I decided that we would back half of them. I rounded (finally) and backed one of my own, and it was hard work. It did not please me. Like, where where my 90o turns? Now let me be honest with you. I don’t actually do much binding. I don’t have time. If you follow my blog, you might have guessed that I only bind a few books a year. So even though I teach bookbinding, I don’t do much of it myself. BUt intellectually, I know what needs to be done. Those who can, do, those who can’t, teach….

I’m not being negative; I’m being realistic.

So, to get back to the production line.

I left Watkins in the bindery today to back his 6 books plus one of mine. This is the result:

Shirts neatly folded

Shirts neatly folded in his drawer. What does that say? He told me he had to leave the bindery before he chucked something on the wall.

It took him 5 hours to back 6 books. I had warned him that setting the book in the press would be difficult. He was cursing and swearing as the textblock moved about. He was cursing and swearing as the sections seemed to move of their own accord.  I gave him this job because he can back far better than me; yes, he had done it before. But neither of us had experienced this paper. The lesson here is that if you have shiny, slippery paper, you will have a hell of a time backing it. Bookbinders out there, if you read this, please send me your advice!

img_0211 img_0212

You must admit that for a beginner, that’s pretty good. He was very hard on himself. As the Q & A  person, yes I could find fault, but neither of us have the experience to make the perfect backing; we simply haven’t done enough of them.

I was sewing endbands last night:


See, I was crafty; I decided that if I couldn’t round the books, I’d just keep them straight. I don’t believe there is any shame in that. This is certainly a learning process.

  1. don’t use shiny paper
  2. check your sewing
  3. practise on something not important
  4. practise some more.

Any advice gratefully accepted. The books will look great at the end of the day, but their journey will have been long and painful.







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London Day 3: all about European bindings in 1460 in one week…

Day 3 and I’m onto my fourth fire alarm. Not a drill, but fire scare. One at the V & A, just as I had left my stuff in the cloakroom, 2 at Senate House and one at Waterloo Station, just as I got off the train.

I am here to study. And my head is exploding – yes information overload. We have three sessions a day in the dark, listening to the Prof. Actually it really seemed more like he was downloading his knowledge, or part thereof, because I am sure his brain has so much more information stored away.

The Prof warned us that he spoke fast, and boy did he! None of us could keep up. His enthusiasm was catching; I understood every word he said, but will I remember it? I have notes and hope I can decipher them.

Day 1 started with introduction to the booktrade; how the binder fitted into the book trade, what pressures the new printing press brought onto bookbinders. This whole period really was make do and mend kind of mentality. Trying to get the most out of everything; not wasting any material. Session 2 covered illustrations about binderies and bookbinders. It is from these images that we can compose a history of what workshops looked like, and how they worked.

The first day ended with drinkies and a mixer. A great way to continue cementing ties.

Day 2 started with the session on stitching. There is sewing and there is stitching. There is a difference between text block and bookblock. There is primary and secondary stitching. I learned all about greek style binding and the kapitalbund, which is particular to southern german binders.

The next session was about non-greek bindings. I should have started country pages on this day. I waited until the third day to classify the information according to country of origin. This might make the rewriting of my notes a little difficult.

We also looked at deceptive techniques, ie false raised bands on less sewing supports, why edges weren’t cut and the different types of spine linings. In the afternoon we sat in a small room in Lambeth Palace looking over a variety of bindings.

Me with Morgan and Dianne

Day 3 was devoted to temporary bindings. You could say that the majority of bindings were in some way purposefully temporary: either the bindings were sold as text blocks to be taken to the binder later, or bound cheaply in order to reduce transport cost, and sometimes never actually got to the binder’s and were therefore left in that temporary state. We studied the usefulness of longstitch bindings and how flexible and durable they are.

After that it was onto laced-case bindings in parchment and vellum, with different types of boards before moving into the world of adhesive case binding.

Are your eyes going cross eyed already? We haven’t even gotten to session 6 yet!

Session 6 was the visit to Senate House library. All this meant was that books from the rare stack were brought to our room and we were able to get a close look at the different binding and sewing structures; we did not handle the books. The Prof had made some displays for us to touch:

I want to make some when I get home.

Day 4 was devoted to boards. It appears the Germans liked wooden boards that warped concave because it was more pleasing to the eye. We talked about sca’boards, laminated boards and pulp boards.  Of course from there we needed to visit board attachments, and I was very glad I was a bookbinder at this stage. Even though my experience is very limited, it was absolutely fascinating to see the different methods of lacing in boards, and the different kinds of slips you could use.

The session on endbands was fascinating; if only I could have taken photos of the slides and written at the same time. (No we were not allowed to record him in any fashion – I asked!) It was at this point that I started taking photos of the slides. I hope that when I rewrite my notes I will be able to find the correct photos to insert. To get back to endbands; who would have thought they had already invented stuck on endbands! I just thought it was a product of modern manufacturing. They usually used alum tawed animal skin with a core, which they then glued on and sewed over.

That day’s library visit was devoted to the Wellcome library

Sculpture at the Wellcome Institute

Actually, we went to the Wellcome Institute rooms, which were next to the Library. I must say that the library visits were not what I expected. We basically swapped our hot dark room for another hot room. I thought we’d actually get to walk around these libraries we were visiting as well as looking at their collection items.

By day 5: I was tired of sandwiches and bought soup at the canteen. Our bunch developed a nice rapport, and we talked a lot in the breaks. This day’s sessions centered on covering materials and covering techniques. We were able to physically experience goat skin, hair sheep, parchment, calf, russia calf. We looked at books with paper covers; wrappers that had ink tooling. In the 3rd quarter of the 17th century, for example, purple paper as a cover was very popular. It is interesting to note that different cultures cut their corners in different manners.

Now is your head a bit weary. At the end of this day I went to tango, and it was a relief.  I will be giving a few talks on my trip as part of my fellowship acquittal. I hope that I can remember interesting anecdotes the Prof told us.

This course certainly was a challenge and an eye opener. It’s given me, yet again, renewed interest in bookbindings, and I am hoping to spend some time in our secure stacks trying to apply some of this knowledge to items in the National collection. Phew!

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