Binding: Full Goat Leather Sewn on Double Cords

I have been fairly slow in providing updates on the various projects that I have completed over the last year. This is try of all of the books that I completed in Binding III and IV during Fall 2012 and Spring 2013. I have finally found time to take pictures and descriptions of these various projects. It must be the waiting around for this baby.

One of the most intensive projects of the semester is a full goat leather binding sewn on double flexible cords. For the textblock of the book, I used a 1902 first edition copy of Bookbinding, and the Care of Books by Douglas Cockerell, which is one of the standard handbooks on bookbinding. The textblock and paper were in good condition, as was the binding. However, I found the binding rather boring and ugly, so I decided to give it a facelift.






The textblock was sewn on a sewing frame using two small linen cords to make a double-flexible sewing. These cords were then used to lace on the boards, creating a solid structure which would all be covered at once by leather. This differs from other books that I previously made in which the cover and textblocks are constructed separately and then brought together at the very end.

Another new process was sewing a three-color endband. I love sewing endbands, but these took some time getting the tension just right. It is something that takes lots of practice. After the endbands were sewn and the boards were attached and lined, it was time for leather paring. In order to reduce bulkiness and make the book more refined, leather thickness is shaved away along the edge and joint area using a knife and spoke shave. Thus, there is less thickness in the turn-ins and along the board edges.

Then comes covering. This book was especially stressful because it was the first time covering in full leather. It is important to get good adhesion, especially along the spine. The corners can also be tricky because they are cut at a 45 degree angle, folded around to meet, and carefully worked over the boards to make the joint seamless. At the head and tail, the leather is worked over to create a flattened cap area. The cords are emphasized using band nippers, and the book is tied up and left to dry. The final steps are trimming the turn-ins and adhering the pastedowns. It is a long process, but well worth the effort for the beautiful book at the end.


Current Projects

One of the only good things that has resulted from the delay in starting on my thesis project is having “lots” of spare time to complete other unfinished book projects. I thought I would do a little show-and-tell of my desk to explain some of the books that I am currently working on.


This is what my desk looks like on a clean day. I do usually have all of these different projects hanging out, although they will get shuffled around a lot.


Starting in the corner is The Mansion. This book is from last fall semester, so I had my final on it in December last year. I am making good progress. I only have one more book that needs cover paper attached, followed by linings on the inside of the covers, and casing in the textblock. Hopefully it will be done by the middle of September. Just below that is a full leather binding that I am working on. This is an independent project to keep up some of my skills. I finished the endbands earlier this week, and should have the boards attached in the next week or two. That will just leave the leather and a few little steps.

The paper below that in a miniature book that I printed during the spring. I have some issues and still need to complete some design work and printing. This specific book still have a long way before the edition is complete. Along the wall at the top is my Peru mini book about textiles. I am mostly done with this edition, and just need to do some trimming to attach covers and make spine pieces. Should be done before school starts.



The pile in the middle of the cutting mat is the Petra mini book. These are copies that still need to be sewn. I have about 40 copies sewn, just under the recycle sign. These still have lots of steps, but should be done by the end of September or earlier. The large pile in the center of white books and the two in the press are the generations book. These are rather old (since Spring 2012) drumleaf bindings. I only need to attach the spine pieces, attach the cover paper, and tip the pages, so I am planning on completing these by September as well. The small grey pile is a slip case mockup for the four mini books that I have made. This is more of a side project, but I would like to make the 20 or so slipcases by December.

And the pile of black and green books is my repair pile. These are mostly projects that I am working on for my dad. I am planning on making a new leather case for the top one. The spine has been cleaned, but I can’t decide if it needs to be resewn. The middle book is one of my Book of Mormon copies and just needs a simple repair on the front cover where the spine and board have slit. And the bottom book needs lots of help. It got wet and has some mold issues, so I need to clean the pages and make a new cloth case for it.

So those are some of the projects that I am currently working on. It is good to get some things finished, but hopefully I will have thesis news to report soon and be able to start on that project. Until next time, enjoy.

Binding: St. Cuthbert Gospel

The other structure that I completed as part of my historical structures class this semester was a model of the St. Cuthbert Gospel. This book is also known as the Stonyhurst Gospel or the St Cuthbert Gospel of St John. It is a 7th century pocket gospel book written in Latin with a highly decorated leather binding. It is the earliest known Western bookbinding to survive, and is also the earliest decorated Western book. The book is composed of 94 vellum folios, and measures only 5.4 by 3.6 inches. The text is the Gospel of John in Latin, with virtually undecorated pages.

The names for the book comes from Saint Cuthbert of Lindinsfarne, North East England. Cuthbert was made a saint for healing people during his service as a monk and bishop. The book was placed in his tomb in the years following his death in 687, and was probably a gift from an abbey to be placed in Cuthbert’s coffin.  When his coffin was opened several years later (probably about the time the book and other relics were placed with the body), his body had not started decomposing yet, which only furthered his fame as a saint. Cuthbert’s body was moved several times, and eventually the relics that accompanied the body were removed and placed on dispay, including the Gospel. The book was eventually given to Stonyhurst College, where it was held until the British Library purchased it in 2011-2012.

The British Library has described this book as “the earliest surviving intact European book and one of the world’s most significant books”.

The book has front and back cover leather decoration and three different sewn endbands. The pages are Crane paper and I used museum board for the covers.




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