The Joys of Sewing Text Blocks


In the process of a series of 12 books. 4 more sewn last night, I’m very excited! Six of these books will be 100% cotton laid paper. From personal experience and speaking with other bookbinders, the sewing of text blocks and attaching of headbands are the most labor intensive (IE the least fun) part of the process, and are the hurdles we binders seem to have to jump in order to get to the fun parts of the process.

Taking an hour to turn a stack of folded paper with holes poked through each signature into the recognizable text block of what will become a full book is however extremely rewarding, and I have noticed that others who bind will frequently post photos of their text blocks with a sense of pride, having actually finally done the necessary work (frequently poking their fingers in the process).

One does run in to snags and snares, even when being quite careful in the process. After three hours of sewing, I took a pause, and when I resumed I accidentally brought my string outside rather than through my frame  which cause the situation above.

With the blood drawing pokes, the snags, and the attention to detail necessary to complete the task, it can be quite an intense process.

Especially when you’re watching the SuperBowl at the same time.


Huguenots of Virginia, 1: Benjamin DeJoux

Benjamin DeJoux is, in my not so humble opinion, a wonderful person with whom to start if one wishes to understand the plight of the Huguenots (French Protestants) who came to America.

The son of a protestant pastor in France, he came from a culture of pastors and religious people who had been fighting the Catholics in what is now central and southern France and Western Italy. DeJoux made a name for himself as a young man, arguing against the Catholic authorities in public forums, and fought for the Gospel and the good of his fellow man until his last days in Virginia.


The Son of a Waldensian Vaudois Preacher Man

Benjamin De Joux was born in the region where his father Philibert spent most of his career as a pastor, in a region known as the Pragela. Philibert was a pastor of what the French call the “Vaudois” tradition, most aptly described in English as Waldensian, a small sect of Christians who had been fighting the Catholics since the 1100’s, being Protestant before Protestantism was cool.

The Success of the Mission of the Pragela

Right about the time De Joux was ordained at the small town of Finestrelle in what is now Italy,  there was a persecution by the Catholics against the Vaudois in the Pragela, and DeJoux, being only 19 years of age at the time, published a 200 page essay reasoning against the action of the Catholics. The book was published in Switzerland, as though the Edict of Nantes granted the protestants of France some peace and refuge, they did not have the right to publish.


The Success of the Mission of the Pragela was written partially in satire to demonstrate the futility of the actions of the French Catholics, and it served to launch DeJoux in to regional fame. He served on behalf of the Huguenots in many councils and continued to publicly challenge the Catholics on the point of the harassment and persecution of the Huguenot population. Such debates continued right up until he was forced to leave France.

The Revocation of the Edict Of Nantes

The Edict of Nantes was a document issued by the French king Henry IV in 1598 in an attempt to bring peace to France by granting the French Protestant Huguenots certain rights; the document issued in a period of moderate tolerance that would last more than a generation. Louis XIV revoked the edict in 1685, essentially giving French Catholics free reign to harass and persecute their Protestant brethren.

As you might guess, this caused the flight of a substantial number of French Huguenots, many of whom were part of a new middle class that was beginning to arise in Europe.

Benjamin DeJoux could count himself among the numbers of those who were forced to flee, especially after his many years of conflict with the Catholic powers of the time.

By the time DeJoux was 40, he had years of experience serving as a leader of the Vaudois, fighting with elegant language against fierce and powerful oppressive powers. As the religious landscape of France was rocked by the sudden and tremendous shift in policy, DeJoux would continue to lead, fight for what he believed to be right, and do all he could to look out for his own.



The Protestant International and the Huguenot Migration to Virginia


Les Jesuites Dans Le Dois

The Israel of the Alps

An Historical Sketch of the Itialian Vaudois

Paste Paper

I’ve been tackling one of the last skills I’ve yet to learn in the book making process: paste.

My first attempt at paste papers

Wheat paste is easily made from… well- wheat, and water… and sometimes a little salt.

You can apply the same staying power that creates that rock hard wet flour crust on your baking dishes when they’re left in the sink a little too long for a fraction of the cost of glue.

Said paste my also be combined with paint and dies to create a strong, two tone design. Such paper was frequently used as a cheaper easier substitute for marbling end papers (the inside papers attached to the hardcover cardboard of the book).

Wheat paste. Super strong, easy to work with, and very forgiving.

This cheaper easier process was especially common for the few printers operating in the American Colonies before the 19th century, as well as for printers after the founding of the republic. Wheat as well as inks and dyes were much more common and less expensive than the handful of relatively specialized chemicals necessary along with larger amounts of more variations of paint necessary to create marbled papers.


This made paste papers attractive to many colonial printers, though their origins are in France, Germany and Italy in the late 1600’s. Many examples from Pennsylvania exist, but they can be found in other printings through the 18th and 19th century. The University of Washington has an excellent page with the history, explanations and many examples of both marble and paste paper.

Wood block image by the Henkel press, New Market VA c. 1800

New Tools, New Skills…

Part of the fun of this hobby truly is all the toys.

When one learns about antiquarian material culture, one begins to learn the history of how so many things were made, so many lessons learned, so many hours spent working so other can work…


I have a French cobbler’s hammer which I use as a backing hammer- I can now explain the difference between backing hammers, beating hammers, and the French, English and German variations on each (it’s really fascinating! so many shapes…); I have learned about the history of paper making and how it developed over history then here in America (nobody manufactures linen laid paper anymore!) and I’ve learned about the various specific gilding tools binders used to make the beautiful gilded and blind tooled marks on their leather (and how expensive all these tools are!). Pairing knives are used to thin the edges or entirety of the bits of leather, stones are use to provide a hard surface for beating and cutting, hard maple is used to make a variety of presses for the process… and of course you must have your bone folder for folding paper and your needles and thread to even get started-not to even mention making wheat paste and marbled paper.

Oh- and you’ll need your sewing frame too.

And your patience. Don’t forget to bring your patience.

It is an amazing thing to find one’s self immersed in history just for the sake of developing a skill to the most authentically possible one’s basement can afford on a limited budget.

A lot of the information I’ve been learning will be available in this site soon.



The tools for gilding I’m referring to are basically brass stamps (called pallets or simply tools or stamps for the smaller variety) that one places over a hot piece of metal (historically a small  stove made for the purpose, for my purposes, ye olde hot plate) and the burned into the leather that covers the final book. Gold leave can be placed over the leather first to burn the gold to the leather and make a gold-gilded stamp, or one may practice “blind tooling” which is to simply burn a mark onto the leather and let the differences in color and texture pronounce the shape.

There is a very particular technique used in this process, which is not extremely difficult but does take some study and practice- and patience.

Did I mention patience?

Starting a business…

In the vain of so many makers and crafts-people, I’ve been working hard to start my business.

Bookbinding is not one trade, it is many. It is paper art, sewing, leather working, wood working, painting, gilding and exercising lots of patience in between. I’ve been building… building presses, building sewing frames, building tables, and making books.

The books I’ve been making have mostly been to order, and all the money thus far has gone to buying more tools and supplies… leather, a paper cutter, wood, book board, paper, thread and other things.

I’ve got many books, pamphlets, bibles, and Christian texts I’d very much like to print, and have been working on finding and cleaning up images.

All of this has been building for two years now, and I’m very excited as I’m finally at a place where I can truly start to make authentically accurate books for outright sale.

I look forward to letting everyone know when that happens. I’m going to make a round of wood pulp paper leather covered journals so that I can buy supplies to make a book that will represent a finished facsimile of a 17th or 18th century book.

Linen chord, cotton laid paper, 1/2 oz. leather, hand made wheat paste.

All I need now is my own Gutenberg press.



Significant Influences…

James Moore- 18th Century Bibles

Paul McClintock- From Common Hands

Richard Norman- Eden Workshops

The Colonial Williamsburg Printer and Bookbinder’s Shop (special thanks to Don)

Jeff Peachy- Bookbinder, toolmaker, artist and author

Allen Barton- Priest, Bookbinder, Art Historian, Liturgiologist 

Laurent Coulet

Michael Pyron- Restoration Book Binder

About 1,000 rare book traders on social media and discovered via Google searches

Virginia Antiquarian Booksellers Association (book fair)


Over the past few years there have been so many conversations; I’ve read so many books and articles and looked at so many fine examples of books. These are just a few of the more significant influences on my studies so far.