27 September 2007

What I Did Today (or, Manual Labour)

I actually hauled myself out of bed at 6:15 this morning, a non-school morning, to go print stuff in the lithography studios at school. I had a couple of assignments to work on for tomorrow's class and I wanted to get going before the hordes arrived. It's really nice to work in there first thing in the morning, even though I am not remotely a morning person. Here's one of the presses (not the one I was using today, but pretty much the same except a little smaller):

My first task was to print my aluminum plate, which I've had ready to go for about a week. Because it's just a thin sheet of aluminum, it has to sit on a plate support to go through the press. Here's the plate all inked up and ready to run a proof:

It came out really well, although there was one spelling error and one backwards "s" (it comes from writing backwards, which I'm actually pretty good at, but it's easier to make mistakes). I'll be able to correct the errors later, fortunately.

Once that was done, it was on to working on a colour reductive print, this time on a stone instead of a plate. The idea is to make an image and print it in one colour, then remove parts of the image, print in another colour, and so on. The assignment is to use at least three colours. My idea is to do the three colours, and then use my aluminum plate to print black over top (or maybe a very dark brown). Here's the stone inked up in the first colour, a mustardy yellow (it looks green because it's rather on the transparent side, and there's still black ink in the stone that refused to wash out, even with the stronger solvent):

It started out well, but then . . .

That black ink that was still in there? It stayed put all though the newsprint proofs. Then as soon as I started cover stock proofs, the black started to come out. Not a lot, just enough to make the yellow look a bit dirty, which doesn't really matter with the image in question, so I kept going. Then I noticed some weird embossing on the rag paper prints. I checked the stone. There had started to appear little areas where the surface of the stone seemed to be caving in slightly. Oh, that can't be good.

So I kept going through 5 rag paper copies. Then I was afraid to go any farther in case the stone broke or something. I had intended to do 6 and then if there was time move on to the next colour. Instead I rolled up the stone in black ink and gummed it down to save for later--after I show the weirdness to my teacher and find out if it's still okay to use.

19 September 2007

Busy Busy

Yes, I am alive. I did manage to get into Relief Printmaking, Tuesdays from 6-10 pm. So I am so very busy and kind of sleepy most of the time, but having a blast. I'm a bit behind where I need to be for Litho (and so will probably be spending most of tomorrow working in the litho studios), but am so far up to date on everything else.

And here's a glare-y snap of my lino block from my first relief assignment. It's darkened with Sharpie so I could see what I was doing. I'll post a pic of the final print once I actually finish it.

09 September 2007

Gothic Medieval Bookbinding Project

I was rummaging around in my files, looking for pictures I can post on my deviantART page (go, look, I added more stuff today). Anyway, I found the essay I wrote for Intermediate Book Arts last fall, and though it would be fun to post it here, diagrams and all. I'll forgive you non book-geeks if you don't want to read it all . . .

Gothic Medieval Bookbinding Project

The prospect of choosing a book arts final project was at first daunting. With so many possibilities, all of which I want to learn about, how could I choose just one? In the end, I decided on a time period that we hadn’t learned much about in class, but which was an important one for the development of book structure: the medieval period.

Even that decision didn’t narrow the possibilities that much, but realizing that I would not be able to acquire any parchment for an accurate reproduction of an early medieval book, I settled on Gothic bookbinding, when paper would have been more and more common in book production.


Paper was eventually the dominant material for textblocks in Gothic bindings, but was originally thought to be weaker than parchment. Paper was therefore often combined with parchment in a variety of ways, such as the addition of an inner or outer parchment bifolium to each paper section or to the end sections, or a narrow parchment guard to the inner fold of each section (Szirmai 176, Shailor 11-12).

Because of the expense of parchment (and also because I would have had to order it well ahead of time), I chose to use paper for this project. I found a very nice Italian mould-made paper made of cotton with wool fibres. It is quite a thick paper, and thus perhaps not ideal for a tight-backed Gothic binding, but I liked the feel of it.

There are a wide variety of possible endleaves for a Gothic binding – Szirmai provides diagrams of 19 – most of which combine paper and parchment. As mentioned, I did not have access to parchment, and so I stuck with the same paper as the bookblock. The style of endpaper I used is one not illustrated in the Gothic bindings chapter of Szirmai's book (it is, however, shown in the Romanesque chapter, page 147), but which J. Landry mentioned as fairly common in English medieval bindings (pers comm.). It consists of a single bifolium with the outermost leaf cut of short to serve as a waste leaf. Both the stub of the waste leaf and the second leaf would be pasted to the board.


The holes for sewing a Gothic book could be either pierced or cut (Szirmai 176) – I chose to pierce them using a template to make sure I had them spaced and lined up properly.

According the J.A. Szirmai, Gothic books could have anywhere from two to nine sewing supports, with three to six being the most common (180). Because my book is small, I decided on three supports plus a kettlestitch at each end. The three supports are evenly spaced, as the optical illusion that necessitates a larger space between the bottom two supports on a raised-cord binding was either unknown, ignored, or of no concern at the time. Even as late as the 16th century it was common for books to be placed flat on a horizontal shelf, and when they were shelved vertically, it was as often as not with the fore-edge out (Petroski, 118-9).

The most common sewing supports on Gothic bindings were double cords and split thongs (Szirmai 183, Shailor 56), and since I wanted raised cords showing on the spine, I went with double cords and chose linen over hemp for strength. I sewed with a straight stitch rather than herringbone, because I wanted to pack the sewing which would help stabilize the rounded shape of the spine and create wider opening arch when the book is opened (Szirmai 272). I did the packing of the sewing after the bookblock was sewn and chose to pack each cord separately rather than doing each pair of cords together. It is possible to create a decorative effect by emphasizing the separate cords in this way (Landry, pers comm.).

The thread I used was 12/3, fairly thick to compensate for the relative softness of the paper and the thick sections.


I had originally approached this project wanting to investigate endbands that were sewn at the same time as the sections were sewn. I had read about this in a number of bookbinding books (for examples see Burdett 143 and Johnson 85) but had been unable to find out how they were done or to find any examples. As I researched endbands, I did eventually find diagrams of integral endbands (Cockerell 110, Young 112). Szirmai describes a number of examples of this type of endband, but mentions that it was almost unknown on earlier medieval bindings (203). Integral endbands became more common on Gothic bindings (but still only account for 4.3% of the Gothic endbands Szirmai studied), indicating that they are a later innovation and not the original method of making endbands, as many writers would have it. Landry's experience with English bindings also indicated that integral endbands are the exception, and may have come from very few (or even just one) workshops (Email).

Although I am still curious about integral endbands and the origin of the misconception about their antiquity, I finally chose to use primary wound endbands with a back bead – Szirmai's Type II (206) – sewn with the same thread as the rest of the book. The endbands were tied down through the centre of each section.


The most common woods for the boards of medieval books are oak and beech, with oak being almost the only wood used in England (Szirmai 217). The boards were usually quartersawn, partly because that was the usual way of making planks for a long time, and also because quartersawn wood is less likely to warp, which is an important consideration for book covers (Landry, pers comm.).

To make the book boards, I used oak and cut it with a Japanese saw to almost the final size, then planed down the edges. Szirmai illustrates sixteen different ways to shape the outer edges of Gothic book boards (219). I chose to gradually round, or cushion, the outer edges – the rounding at the spine provides for a smooth path for the cords to travel, and the gradual rounding feels nice in the hand on the other three edges. The inner spine edge of the board is more strongly rounded to help force the spine of the book into a rounded and somewhat backed shape (Landry, pers comm.), and the other three edges are beveled.

There are a number of ways of lacing the cords into the boards (Szirmai shows several on page 223). I used one of the more common ones, with the double cords of the sewing supports laced in from the outside and back out from the inside, and the single cords of the endbands simply laced in from the outside. A channel for the cords is cut from the spine edge to the first hole on the outside, and between the two holes on the inside of the boards.

Once the cords are pasted and laced into the boards, they are pegged in with dowelling (Shailor 57) while the cover is at a 45ยบ angle to the bookblock. Then the dowels and cords are cut off flush with the boards and the covers are forced closed which creates the rounded and backed shape of the spine (Landry, pers comm.). Szirmai has presented evidence that at least some workshops used a hammer to round and back books (194), but I decided to follow the my teacher's experience and besides, I had backed with a hammer before, but had not yet tried backing by forcing the spine into shape with the boards.

Once the boards were on and closed, the book was measured for making a template from which to cut the leather, and then put in a finishing press to keep it closed while the leather was prepared.


Leather was the most common covering material in medieval bindings, with vegetable-tanned calf and alum-tawed pigskin becoming more prevalent on Gothic books (Szirmai 225). Since I hadn't had a chance to work with it before, except as sewing supports on a sewing sample book, I originally chose to use alum-tawed pigskin. It became apparent, however, that the leather I had chosen was not going to work.

Because the book has laced-in endbands, the leather needed to be cut to have more-or-less V-shaped cutouts on the top and bottom edges. The resulting central tab would fold over to create the headcaps and the area at the point of the V would be molded around the endband cords and board edges. I wanted to leave most of the wood exposed.

This kind of leather was stiffer than the vegetable-tanned leathers I had used before, and has a tendency to chip. Even with very sharp knives, I found paring the alum-tawed pigskin very difficult. In fact, after pasting and applying the leather to the spine, it was still quite stiff. Even after removing the leather, paring it some more and re-pasting, it was still quite difficult to get it to adhere to the spine and boards. PVA on the turn-ins helped it stay, but after a night in the press the covering was still too stiff to open the book properly.

It was apparent that the alum-tawed pigskin would have to be removed and another leather chosen. I moistened the leather and carefully peeled it off, then scraped off some PVA that had remained stuck to the boards. For my second try, I used calfskin, which we dyed brown. It was much easier to pare and mould around the endbands than the alum-tawed leather.

Once the leather covering was on, the book was placed back in the finishing press and tied up with string on each side of the raised bands as well as on each side of the kettlestitches. This was to help shape the bands as band nippers were unknown in medieval times (Landry, pers comm.). Tying up would also help adhere the leather to the spine.

The final step in making this Gothic medieval style book was to paste down the endpapers.


Burdett, Eric. The Craft of Bookbinding: A Practical Handbook. 1975. London: David & Charles, 1978.

Cockerell, Douglas. Bookbinding, and The Care of Books: A Text-Book for Book-Binders and Librarians. (1953). Revised edition. London: Sir Isaac Pitman, 1962.

Johnson, Arthur W. The Practical Guide to Craft Bookbinding. 1985. London: Thames and Hudson, 1990.

Landry, J. Personal communication, November and December, 2006.

-----. Email. November 30, 2006.

Petroski, Henry. The Book on the Book Shelf. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

Shailor, Barbara A. The Medieval Book, Illustrated from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto Press, 1991. Rpt of The Medieval Book: Catalogue of an Exhibition at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University. New Haven: The Library, 1988.

Szirmai, J.A. The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1999.

Young, Laura S. Bookbinding & Conservation by Hand: A Working Guide. New York and London: R.R. Bowker Company, 1981.

07 September 2007


I added a link to my deviantART page in the sidebar. If you read this blog regularly, you'll have seen most of the things there (though I can think of at least one thing I put there that hasn't appeared here, plus I'll be adding more both old and new). It's all part of my plan to finally start getting some of my work out where people can see it, even if I'm not as good an artist yet as I'd like to be.

06 September 2007

Little Journals

Rowena commented in an earlier post that I have a lot of energy. I don't really, except for bookbinding. Making books seems to energize me, so I'm trying to keep making lots of quick little projects so I can use some of that energy for other things, like work and school.

Anyway, on the previously-mentioned bookbinding blog My Handbound Books, I found a link to Carmencho Arregui's website, where there are instuctions for the Arregui-invented Crossed-Structure Binding (CSB) (of which there are multiple verisons). Of course, I had to try these. I did three sewing variations of the CSB Basic, using some book pages I had cut and folded eons ago (several years, believe it or not). I'd folded the pages way back before I knew anything about paper grain direction, so the grain actually runs the wrong way on the pages. Since you don't need much, if any, adhesive for this binding structure, I figured it wouldn't matter too much, especially since it's just an experiment. Anyway, I'm not unhappy with the results.

Even though it was my favourite colour, I think the dark green one is the least successful. I didn't have anything on hand that I wanted to use as a fancy closure, but I might add something later on (I'm wondering what I did with those sea-creature shaped charms I bought a couple of years ago).

Even from the back, the blue one's my favourite. I remembered, when stitching the brown one, how much of a pain in the butt sewing leather is. Especially when you don't have the right needle. Also, next time I think I'll glue the straps in place first, then sew, to make sure they stay where they're supposed to be.

So I think it was a reasonably successful experiment--and a good way to use up the various leathers and suedes I've collected that can't be used in "proper" leather bookbindings. I'll definitely be revisiting this structure again, though first I think I'll try some of the small projects in the two bookbinding books I was given for christmas. Or was it my birthday? At some point, I'm going to work on some more elaborate medieval books, but I'll need to buy more supplies first.

05 September 2007

Mail Day

Well, yesterday was a good mail day (except for the credit card bill). Today is still too new to tell.

There were two packages from the US via FedEx and one from the UK via regular slow mail. They contained:
  • Preview material for Jackass: The Game. I am to write a preview. I strongly suspect I am really, really not the target audience for this game, but I shall do my best to write a fair preview.
  • Review material for Dead Head Fred. This is the retail version of the game, which I will review in-depth. I already did a preview and enjoyed it very much. I think it appealed to the mad scientist side of me.
  • All four volumes of the 1975 run of The Book Collector, which I bought primarily for the Spring issue, as it has a fabulous article by Graham Pollard on Anglo-Saxon bookbinding structures. Plus they were listed on ABE at around the same price as some sellers listed single issues.

So, all-in-all, a very good mail day (except that bill).

03 September 2007


Wait, three posts in one day?! Indeed. I found these photos on my digital camera when I was loading the little book ones for the last post, and I had to share them. You'd think the cats were content or something.

Bast really likes warm, fresh laundry.

Poe's not really that fat, but he's big and tends to spread out sideways when he lays down.


I really, really want a t-shirt that says "Will Work for Books." I might just have to find some way to make one.

Back to School

Yes, back to school week is here again. So, am I spending my Labour Day running around finding pens and pencils and paper and the appropriate art supplies? Of course not.

Today, I'm blogging. I did a couple of short news posts for work. I blogged a game review (Pirates: Legend of the Black Buccaneer, the game so obviously not a rip-off that they had to put a disclaimer on the box.) (But I liked it, actually.) for my Gamer Advisory Panel blog, which is so neglected that they don't send me demo disks anymore. Pout. And I am blogging here.

Later, I'll work on finishing a couple of small book projects. And I'll get in some video gaming. I'm working on the first Untold Legends for PSP right now. It's an RPG, and my character is an alchemist. Oh, and perhaps later I and the roommates will watch Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, since Doctor Who appears to have been booted off today's schedule in favour of a football game. (Really, a football game!) (Football!)

The other day I found a bookbinding blog done by someone in Nova Scotia: My Handbound Books. I should probably drop her a line. Anyway, on said blog I found some interesting projects. One was a simple little book using origami waterlilies as the book block (aka pages). So of course, I made one.

I had to add some text, though--old haikus about water written in pencil crayon on the inside of each lily.

Yes, it's pink. I wanted to use colours I don't like for the first try, in case something went wrong. I might make some more of these. They could be nice stocking stuffers, or even holiday tree decorations. Hmmm . . .

As for the rest of the week, I don't actually have class until Friday. Class officially starts Thursday, but that's my off day. I work 9-12 Tues, Weds and Fri (usually Mon, also, but today's a holiday). I'm hoping to switch this to 9:30 to 12:30, since I don't need a whole hour for lunch, and that extra half hour in the morning makes a big difference. Tuesday after work I'll take in my student loan papers (I meant to do that Friday, but I forgot to take a voided cheque) and get my U-pass (yay, we have U-pass this year; no need to buy bus passes every month).

So yeah. Work three days, a few errands, and then Intermediate Lithography on Friday. Bob will no doubt leap right into the lectures and demos. Printmaking classes seem to be much more intense than just about anything else I've taken.

In between classes and work, I'll be making books. I'm waiting for some paper to come in now for one of the big book projects I'm working on. Then it'll be ready to actually bind. At some point I'll need leather for the cover. The other big project still needs some intaglio printing done, but now that they have the paper in at the student store, I can do that any time. I plan on finishing it in the second week of class, before the printmaking studios get too busy. Then I can start binding that one. But I need to find some wood, and someone who can take one 1/2 inch board and make it into two 1/4 inch (approximately) boards. I'm hoping to find someone in one of my classes who took Wood and Metal and is thus allowed to use the wood shop, which I am not. I will bribe them with candy. Or a handbound blank journal.