The Craft and Trade of Bookbinding

The Lonely Tree

I have always appreciated the multi-dimensional aspect of bookbinding. It is neither solely a creative outlet of beautiful works of art, nor solely a trade producing an object that must be usable and durable (and saleable): for me it us both of those things at once. I love that as bookbinders, we are creating something that is nice to look at, to touch, and to hold (and listen to: I love the sound when I snap a book closed, or the sound of a finger tapped on a closed book’s cover, dok dok dok), but also serves a definite purpose as an information repository, a place to pour out one’s heart through words or pictures, or as a vehicle transporting one to another world via a great story—books are there to be used.

In days gone by, bookbinding by hand was a big trade, with lots of workers all performing separate tasks in big factories. All this has now been mostly superseded by some amazing machinery (and amazing people who run them), and has now become a niche trade with only a few companies around maintaining the old ways, some of whom also maintain the old books. Mostly, hand bookbinding has become an art-form, a hobby for people like me and perhaps you. Nevertheless, I believe it is still important that we who practice this trade–craft as a hobby learn the skills, techniques, and methods of traditional tradesmen and women.

Since starting my Bookbinding and Restoration course at Sydney Institute of TAFE, this trade aspect of bookbinding has really been made apparent to me, because that’s how bookbinding is taught: as a trade. So we learn all the ‘right’ ways to do things, practices that with practice (!) will become second nature, and will result in a high-quality, well made book. We are not really given much opportunity for creativity (unless you’re a rebel like me and use random bits of waste paper as end-sheets!) but it is only the first semester of the course. I am not complaining. As I mentioned above, I think it is a good thing to know all the rules and the right ways of doing things—after all, doesn’t one need to know the rules to break them?

I yearn for the chance to create a book beautifully bound in leather with a beautiful design tooled into the covers. I also yearn to create books that are well-made and that will last. I look forward to learning the more decorative skills, but I look forward with as much eagerness to learning better bindings, and to bettering my skills.

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The Making of a Diary for Someone Who Doesn’t Use Diaries

And That Someone is Me

I gave a sneak peek a little while ago on a project I was working on. Well, I completed it, and have used it for about 6 or 7 weeks. It’s a school diary with a difference, and represents my efforts to get more organised and to manage my time better.

So far, it has been a moderate success—I have actually written in it and made notes and to-dos, which is more than I can say for any other diary I’ve owned in the last 10 years. I however need to move from using it more as a record to using it as a planning tool.

The Design

There were a few things that I considered (not specifically) when I was planning my diary. They were:

  • what I wanted the book to look like, inside and out
  • that I wanted something which would be useful and realistically so
  • and that I didn’t want it completely utilitarian, but a little bit fun.

Form

I designed my diary to look funky and colourful, unlike the drab, monochrome, boring diaries that you buy off the shelf. The look is something that is very important to me, being a visual person. When deciding what colours to use, I used the four process colours of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (black)—the CMYK colour model. Whenever I can’t think of colours to use, or I don’t have anything specific in mind, I end up using CMYK. I used another colour—Orange—for all the writing lines and grid lines etc.

Function

I also kept it functional and focused on its purpose of being a school diary with a difference. I decided early on that I wanted a week-to-an-opening view: being realistic, I knew what I was like with diaries, so I kept it simple. I came up with a layout where the days-of-the-week are on the verso and a space for notes and to-dos is on the recto. The verso is divided into 6 sections: a heading which tells me the term and week-number, and the month, and one for each day of the week. The days-of-the-week are further divided into spaces for each lesson of the day. Also, for a bit of fun, I included some cool ‘days’ like World Migratory Bird Day on the 14th of May (OK it should have been the 12–13th but my diary doesn’t do weekends and the original source I got the date from was wrong!), and Star Wars Day on May the Fourth. I also have a personalised timetable and a larger notes and to-dos section at the front of the book, and an assessment record at the back.

In terms of the binding itself, it is case-bound and quarter covered with Limette Duo book cloth and Kraft paper (I love Kraft). I’m really pleased with the result functionally. The hinges work really well—I was a bit more generous with them this time around, allowing the standard 2-and-a-half thicknesses of board‐and the whole thing is nice and square.

Personality

I just had to express my personality when designing this diary, and make it unique. As mentioned above, I included interesting ‘days’, and I did other things, like put in a photo of me and my wife, and give it a title page: The School Diary of Jacob Degeling. For a bit more fun, I included some grids for when I’m bored during meetings etc.—they are a 2mm square grid and an isometric grid.

Trial by Use

Something that I am very interested in is to see how my binding stands up to everyday use. So far structurally the book is doing well. The only thing I might change next time I bind a book like this is to use a thicker spine hollow (the piece of cardboard that covers the spine) because the thin card I used is deforming at the head and tail, and it shows the lumps and bumps from the sewing and the tapes. The paste I used to attach the Kraft was a bit thin, so some parts of the paper are starting to lift, especially where it overlaps the book-cloth. I’m just going to leave it to see what happens.

There is a little bit of wear and tear on the cover, most notably the Kraft is starting to fray a bit around the edges, there are a few coffee cup rings on it, and the quarter-cloth is getting a bit dirty from me holding the book by the spine. Also, I got some honey from a sandwich I ate one day on it which a mouse has just nibbled off over night taking some of the paper with it.

I’m pretty happy overall with my new diary. And I think I might just get used to having one around.

Thanks for reading, and happy binding!

Crafty Day With My Wife

We had a birthday to go to today (sorry Tobi!) but my wife Sharon and I have been very busy lately so we stayed home, and ended up having a crafty day. She was making some felt flower brooches and beading, and I’ve been working on some books. One is a rebinding of a paperback, and one is a new blank book. Thank God for lazy days!

Book Binding and Restoration Class

Geometrically Compartmentalised

I ♥ Learning

I am 5 weeks into a Book Binding and Restoration class at Sydney Institute of TAFE. The instructor is Carolyn Kenney, a binder with a long history in the trade. She is the second instructor I have had, having first started with Rosemarie Jeffers-Palmer at Amazing Paper in Enmore. One of the wonderful things about learning from multiple people is seeing different ways of doing things. Already I have learnt a few different, more efficient methods for things such as a method of tipping end papers that work for many at a time.

We’ve started off pretty simply, and are getting into sewing soon with a Japanese-style stab-bound book (first introduced to me as an Oriental Side Stitch). If you want some inspiration with your Oriental Side Stitching (or stab binding), check this out on Becca Making Faces’ blog. It is amazing.

Last class, we finished rebinding a paperback, and continued to create a case for an adhesive-bound printout of the free e-book Bookbinding and the Care of Books by Douglas Cockerell. An ePub format—among others—e-book is available from Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg is an awesome resource, and if you want to bind something instead of blank paper, print an e-book from PG and bind that. You will probably find a PDF version set up for printing on commonly sized paper—for example, Pride and Prejudice is available as a PDF imposed 2-up on A4, so that you can just print it and fold it and there you have it!

I’m not sure what legal issues—if any—stand in the way of using the PG stuff in your own work. I think you are free to use any e-books as you like. Can anyone shed any light on this?

A Lovely Gift

One of my compatriots of the course gave me a surprise the other day when at the end of the lesson she presented me with a beautifully crocheted cardigan vest with a hood for my little boy. It is so cool. As I told her, I love handmade things, and the knowledge that she took time out to create something for my little son personally is really special. It’s a little big, so I can’t wait for him to grow into it. Thanks Eleni!

TeX, or Tech, or Whatever It’s Called

A little while ago, I hit on this excellent page, outlining the process of printing a text and binding it. This was my introduction to the arcane and mysterious world of TeX. TeX is a system that allows the user to typeset a document into a high quality book. It is a cross-platform, free, and open source bundle of software. It is not as easy as plugging a Pages publication (or something from the other word processor) into it and, ‘Hey, presto!’, you have a book. It is pretty much a programming language all in itself, so there is a pretty steep learning curve: only the most intrepid computer savvy nerd will want to go there. I generally use it for imposing pages for creating booklets where that option is not available on the printer itself.

I started on converting Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice into a TeX document a little while ago, with the idea of binding and giving it as a gift for my Mum, but never actually got to the printing and binding stage. If you want, you can email me and I’ll send you a copy. You’ll need a working install of TeX, and a bit of knowhow and a certain amount of bull-at-a-gate-ishness.

Anyhow, I got bogged down with technical TeX stuff, in particular: getting a nice typeface to use (in this case Minion) which was not at all easy, and the way the pages were imposed, and how laser printers’ duplexing units (that allow printing on both sides of a sheet of paper) often are hopelessly inaccurate at getting both sides of the page to line up correctly (the registration). If anyone know how to improve this, please let me know!

I really want to give this a better go, because I can think of so many gifts I could make by printing classic novels. Imagine a set of hand-bound Charles Dickens or Jane Austen novels! The mind boggles.

A Random Post

So this was a not-so-directed post; or, a little bit random. I’ve been wanting to post about TAFE for a while, so I’m glad I finally got to do it. The impetus for that of course was the excellent cardy Eleni crocheted. Next time I post about TAFE I will wax lyrical about the wonderful experience of using an electric guillotine.

Pamphlet Stitching For People Who Want To Try It

OMG My 2nd Tutorial

OK so this is my second tutorial, and it comes straight after my last post which was also a tutorial. Freaky. I like sharing my knowledge, so expect to see more. And, please comment and help me improve in any way—if it needs it. I love getting comments anyway so comment away!

Pamphlet Stitching is Easy

As you may know, this stitch is intended for thin, single-section pamphlets, and can be used in a few simple binding structures. I have used it in the past for other things as well, like birthday cards for my wife and our wedding invitations, both of which consisted of a heavy (200gsm+) cover and a lighter sheet of paper as the single section. It is very easy to learn and adapt to your own needs.

All Pamphlet Stitched Up

Above is an illustration I created to enable the visual among us (like me) to see what to do instead of interpreting a confusing list of in-this-hole, out-that-hole instructions. I started to type out a list of instructions, but it started to get long-winded and probably not very easy to follow. However, if you want me to I’ll include them.

On thing I didn’t include in the diagram is the final knot. You should use a reef or square knot. My colleague gave me this little ditty to remember how to tie it: right over left and under, left over right and under. Right and left in this case refer to the right an left ends of the twine or thread. Make sure that you start the knot with the thread ends on either side of the long stitch so that the knot ends up holding onto it.

To do a 3-hole stitch, simply cut out the last loop to the left and right in the above diagram; to do more holes, just add more in-and-out loops. It is possible to sew an even number of holes—you’ll just end up with an uneven number of stitches either side of the knot. In either case, don’t try starting sewing at the last hole.

What You Need for a Very Simple Book or Card

You will need the following tools and materials:

  • Text paper—1 if you’re making a card, more if you are making a book.
  • Cover-weight card. For the cover. About 200–300gsm is good.
  • Thread, twine, or string—about 3 or 4 times the length of your spine.
  • Bookbinding needle (you don’t even have to use a needle, just make the holes bigger each time you pass thread through).
  • Bodkin or Awl, or something else spiky. The sharper the better.
  • Scissors or knife.

You do not have to have shiny new expensive bookbinding tools—use whatever you have that will get the job done. In the past, I have used bamboo skewers to pierce the holes for little pamphlets, and some plasticky type of string instead of linen thread or whatever. Also, you do not have to be too exact with your sewing-hole placement—random can be quite cool.

With the paper and cover stock, make sure that your grain is in the right direction. I mostly cut A4 in half parallel to the short edge to give me 2 A5 sheets, which I fold in half again to give me an A6 notebook. Because A4 office paper is usually long-grain, this means that I end up with short-grain A5 sheets which are perfect in the grain direction department.

Steps to Success

  1. Gather your tools and materials

  2. Fold your text pages and cover in half

  3. Pierce your holes (freehand it or measure-and-mark it)

  4. Sew the pages together using the instructions above

  5. Et Voila! You now have a little notebook, created in four (4) steps.

The End

I hope you liked this little tutorial. It actually turned out to be a two-in-one: how to do a pamphlet stitch, and one idea about using it.

I’m trying to keep the posts up, in an effort to keep my readers interested. More to come soon, including a proper look at what I gave a sneak peek of a little while ago. I am also planning a bookbinding phrasebook section of my website. Stay tuned.

Little Sacks of Weight

Heavyweights II

Weighing in at 750g…

I made these heavy little guys soon after I started bookbinding. My first bookbinding teacher Rosemarie inspired me to create them one lesson. They are great for holding things down (duh), especially when I am sewing sections together. I also use them when something has to dry under weight. I prefer them to a heavy block of metal or a brick because they are soft and supple, they feel nice, and because the make a cool sound when I toss them from hand to hand; they also double as stress balls. They will not dent your boards or whatever when you drop them either. They are dead easy to make; one just has to find a gun shop that will sell one some lead shot. I forget the size I got. Make sure when you do get some that you put them into a strong container—or several—because man it is heavy for its size.

Heavyweights I

How to Make a Heavy Leather Bag of Lead Shot

This is pretty easy so I won’t even explain each step, you’ll be able to figure it out.

  1. Get some lead shot and put about 750g into a separate container.
  2. Cut yourself a template from some breakfast-cereal-box card according to your desired size. Remember to allow for your seam.
  3. If you’re using leather and hand sewing, I recommend pre-punching holes. I marked the holes’ positions on the template so I’d get an evenly spaced blanket stitch.
  4. Cut two pieces of leather, old jeans, or some other heavy fabric according to your template.
  5. If you’re using leather, use your awl if you have one to pierce holes for sewing. Remember to protect your work surface.
  6. Start sewing around the outside of the paper weight with some strong thread. In the picture above, the red and the white stitching is linen bookbinding thread, while the blue is a couple of strands of embroidery floss.
  7. Once you have only about 2–3cm remaining, make a funnel from some heavyish paper (roll it into a cone, then cut a hole at the bottom, and cut the top down so it’s manageable), and pour your shot in. If it all won’t fit, or you need more, that’s cool, just play it by ear.
  8. Complete the sewing
  9. Et voila! You have a heavy bag of lead. Use it for peaceful purposes only.

If you want to make it more secure, you can either use a sewing machine, or make an inner bag out of some thin strong fabric—preferably sewn using a machine—and cover that in the leather or your covering material of choice. Also, I wrote this with blanket-stitching in mind. If you wanted to use another stitch you’ll have to mark and pierce holes according to whatever stitch you’re using.

My First Tutorial

That was just it. Please let me know if it needs editing or a bit of clarification. Just let me know.

PS: I wonder how many Higg’s Bosons a little ball of lead-shot has…

Giles’ Photo Album

Giles’ Photo Album: Spine Detail

My First Foray into Fine Binding*

I made my little godson Giles this photo album during a course in Bookbinding I did at Amazing Paper a few years ago. I had opportunity to create a leather-bound book, and I thought that I might as well create a photo album for my new nephew and godson.

To be different and get away from one of the standard paper sizes, I decided to create the album from 25 black A3 sheets (420 × 297mm) cut lengthways (420 × 148.5mm). The sheets were actually 25mm wider than standard A3 to allow a fold-over and still get a full A3 width. After scoring and folding each of the 50 pages, I placed each one inside the other to create 25 sections, which I then lovingly pierced and sewed with lovely red linen thread. Next I glued tracing paper, cut to give a 3mm square, into each section. After gluing, I rounded and backed, and created the hollow-back, and dressed the spine.

Giles’ Photo Album: Cover Detail

Because of the unusual size of the book, and because I was doing a leather binding, I laced the covers in with the tapes I had sewn on to. I then proceeded to cut the embossing for the front and back covers. The rest of the process was pretty standard, and I won’t go into too much detail.

Needless to say, Giles’ parents loved the photo album.

Giles’ Photo Album: Interior Giles’ Photo Album: Cover

* Insofar as any binding with leather is considered fine