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.
I’ve been tackling one of the last skills I’ve yet to learn in the book making process: paste.
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).
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.
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…
SOME OF THE TOOLS…
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.