Friday, February 18, 2011

The Time Traveler's Wife - My First Fine Binding

Fine Binding - A full leather book where each step from forwarding to finishing is executed perfectly and expertly. Sewing, rounding, backing, edge decoration, board attachment, leather paring, leather covering, onlay, gold tooling, etc. Everything must be perfect.

Keep in mind -- this is my first fine binding. So perfectly and expertly will surely come with practice and time.

I was not ready to perform such concentrated tasks on a random book. The book needed to be special, motivating. The only book I thought was worthy of this process was my favorite, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I took a shot and emailed the author, expecting no response. She did. I asked if she had any unbound copies left. She did. She forward my message to the right people and a couple of weeks later with tears in my eyes (I know, sounds cheezy) I opened the unbound copy of my favorite book.

Over a month later I have completed my fine binding. There were several obstacles to face in the very beginning because the sections had already been blown out for factory gluing and binding. I got around this by sewing extremely carefully and instead of attaching the boards with german tapes, I attached them with airplane cotton. Worked wonderfully. This being the first of many challenges which I won't go into, I have finally gotten through them all and the work is officially complete.

Of course now I have to make a glorious box to house this piece. Thank you Audrey Niffenegger for being my hero and making a dream come true. It was an honor to fine bind your book. Thank you again over and over.

"To world enough and time"

Doublures and Fly leaves. French split goat skin leather.

Detail of Cover

The Hope Chest

In December I was hired to make boxes. Seventeen leather boxes. Two proofs before the holiday and fifteen more by February. If you have read previous posts you know how much I love boxes and how much I love edition work. Combined = heaven. I got to work in a assembly line style cutting all the board, paring all the leather, applying all the cloth, etc. The boxes are now home to photographs by Cig Harvey. See them featured and view the rest of her brilliant work at

The boxes appear to be full leather but I used a technique that not only saves material and money but gives the right balance of strength and seamlessness. I constructed the trays normally, with Davey board and Brillianta book cloth. I then covered the B tray (which hides the A tray when closed) with a thin layer of leather. The covers are assembled separately and were covered with leather fully then attached to the trays. Voila. When the boxes are closed they look completely covered in leather.

I used Alran leather, which while stretchy if not handled delicately, is buttery soft and smooth and takes gold tooling beautifully.

I want to specially thank Cynthia Belanger for giving my name and information to Cig Harvey. As a proclaimed lover of box-making, this project really was a dream come true. Thank you again.

A Millimeter Apart - The Rubow Variation

The Rubow binding is a variation of a millimeter binding -- a small amount of leather is used but instead of running vertically up the spine it lays across the head and tail of the book. Below is an example of a Rubow binding, my own paste paper and a graphite decorated edge. The black leather blends with the paper but look carefully and you'll see the millimeter of black leather shining over the edges. Wicked classy.

So Much Leather! Too much leather? A Millimeter Story

Back in the day when all books were covered with leather and the whole world was covered in goats things were just fine and dandy. Eventually bliss had to settle for simple. Leather needed to be conserved a bit. Enter: Millimeter bindings.

Millimeter bindings use a little less leather than full covered books because they use pieces that average (while varying in height) 30 - 40 millimeters wide. This method conserves leather while still giving books that swanky stature of being called a leather binding. Traditionally millimeter bindings are covered with paste papers.

Below is a copy of David Foster Wallace's This Is Water and a blank model featuring paste paper I made on my kitchen table.

An Appointment Before the Holiday

In late December between leather paring, text block sewing, and tool heating I received several commissions. This particular one was extremely fun to make. The client requested an appointment book holder for a specific booklet. I made the case with black french split leather and the pockets with black Brillianta book cloth. I stamped the initials with gold foil using a Kwik print press. I really enjoyed the sleek elegance of the black and gold together.

A Tudor Treat

Because the North Bennet second year bookbinders were so well behaved and on point during the Dominic Riley workshop, we finished the Cambridge panel binding a day ahead of schedule. Of course Dominic had so much to share so we chose to learn how he constructed a Tudor Style Plaquette. This plaquette is made my overlapping pieces of leather the create vertical lines and diagonals. Designs can be simple and elegant, fierce and curvy, or systematically chaotic. All beautiful.


The Wonder of Dominic Riley

As a fantastic treat, the spectacular and extraordinarily talented Dominic Riley taught my class how to make historic Cambridge panel bindings in September or was it October? He was with us for an entire week. Too much can be said about how amazing this experience was and how brilliant Mr. Riley is so I cannot get into it. Simply put - all was amazing.

The Cambridge panel binding was a massed produced rough and tough style and so we produced it similarly. It was the first full leather binding I had ever made.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Second Year - Leather

It has been a long time. A long, long, long time. Last September I began life as a second year student at North Bennet Street School. Before I catch you up on my fabulous adventures here's a little review.

"Previously On (the first season of) CTO Adventures..." The first year focused on models. Models of ancient binding techniques and structures. From ethiopian coptic stitch books all the way to glue filled fan bindings, I made model after model and edition after edition. Heaven. No I didn't make heaven. It was just glorious to make a ton of books. Towards the end of the year the class was introduced to leather...

This season, the second year, has everything to do with leather.

The first project of the year was to create a Sampler Plaquette which displayed various types of traditional blind and gold tooling on leather.

The first panel above features blind tooling, which I define as the blank impression of a hot tool into leather. If enough heat from a tool is present and enough moisture is applied to the leather, color can be brought up from lighter colored skins. (See middle decorative tool in the 4th panel above). All lines you see in this panel and across the plaquette were made using pallets. Pallets are pieces of straight line that come in different lengths and point widths.

You may have noticed the fun squiggly line in the second panel. It was made using a special tool called an ascona tool which is crucial for irregular lines. After impressing the shape I cut a tiny sliver of yellow leather which I glued directly on top of/into that curvy line -- this is called an Ascona Onlay. The weird shape of material at the end of the line is a feathered onlay. I pared the leather so thin that only the top grain layer remained hence the feathered effect and name.

Panel three displays a different type of onlay and shape. I created the circles by using gouges (pronounced using the OO from goose, not the OW in cow). Gouges are pieces of circle and are quite challenging to work with. The first circle was made by making a blind impression, then applying a layer of gold, then pasting on the leather onlay, then applying another layer of gold. Phew!

The fourth panel was created using a decorative finishing tool. The left and right impressions show blind and gold tooling but the middle one features a blind tooled onlay over the original brown leather impression. I thought this technique was really snazzy.

The fifth and final panel displays a great deal of gold tooling which involves the application of a type of adhesive (fixor or egg glaire) and a grueling process of getting 1000th of an inch thick gold leaf onto a blind impression, then re-stamping the same impression with the tool leaving it filled with delicious gold.

QUESTION: I see that gold is in the straight lines and the circles. Why can't gold be applied in a line made with the ascona tool?

ANSWER: Gold cannot be applied to a line made with an ascona tool because one uses a rubbing sort of motion to create it. If you rub gold leaf it will crackle and turn into dust. Gold leaf must be applied with a straight up and down motion into any given impression.

Seems simple enough but it was a challenging project that involved hot tools, a few burns here and there, and in the end a pretty rectangle of historic decoration.