Category Archives: Bookbinding techniques

Workshop and Interview with Lori Sauer

I recently had the opportunity to take a class with Lori Sauer here in the bay area. The topic was stub bindings, or bindings which use  narrow hinges, flaps, or concertina folds to attach signatures and/or plates (images printed as single sheets). She is a fine bookbinder working in the U.K.,though she is originally American. Her work is highly skilled, her designs are subtle, and she teaches workshops established under the name BINDING re:DEFINED. You can see some of her recent work here.

I am always interested in meeting other bookbinders far and near, and the topic of her workshop intrigued me. In the past I’ve been frustrated by stub bindings, since I most often see them as books coming into my studio in need of repair.  Puzzled as to how to put these books back together, I study the interlocking stubs, trying to reverse engineer the sewn and glued areas laboriously. I also vividly remember my utter bewilderment about the set book for the Designer Bookbinders’ Water competition. So many plates! Some folded, some flat, and intermingled with folded text signatures; what to do?

In the stub binding workshop, we all discovered there are many ways to construct bindings needing stubs. Stubs can be glued or sewn; concertinas can be glued, sewn, or even nested. Stubbed structures can have hard casings for covers, or can be laced into their covers, or can use traditional binding techniques and be purely decorative. What drew me to the workshop was the possibility of looking directly at the problem of stubs and seeing what solutions would present themselves. There is very little written about stub bindings, possibly because they often seem to be made on an ad hoc basis to resolve the truly odd structural situation.

The class was very well-organized, with plenty of well-documented methods and techniques to try. It was fun for me to construct all the different models Lori demonstrated, and come up with potential design challenges each could solve. We did not make any finished books in the class, but getting to see the finished models she brought was inspiring. In particular, I was struck by the incorporation of fine binding techniques in her models. I will continue to puzzle over stub bindings, but now in a good way.

Some serve a purpose such as attaching plates; some are decorative

Some serve a purpose such as attaching plates; some are decorative

Lori was gracious in agreeing to answer a few questions for my blog about the practice of making stub bindings and about her new appointment as President of Designer Bookbinders UK. I’m so grateful for what I learned from her, and if you are interested in taking one of her workshops, I encourage you to check out the website bookbindingworkshops.com.

What got you interested in stub bindings?
I was asked to speak at a Society of Bookbinders conference a number of years ago on a structure and stubs was the suggested topic. I knew very little about them but accepted, thinking it would be interesting and a challenge. I discovered there was very little written about them so talked to as many people as possible to get information. I only located one article from the 1950’s by Thomas Harrison. The remainder of my lecture consisted talking about and showing experimental work and books I had made from descriptions or photographs.

How do you decide whether and how to use stubs in your binding work?
As with all bindings, a text-block is assessed individually before deciding on the appropriate binding. I will decide to use a stub if there is a narrow gutter margin or if the sections are especially thick, printed cross-grain or if I have plates in the book that need a full page spread across the centre fold. I also like using it because the pages will always open flat and this appeals to me enormously.

Have you been able to study any historical examples of stubs used in bindings?
I’ve only been able to look briefly at historical bindings while visiting some private libraries in the UK. I’ve also been able to have a close look at an old atlas binding lent to me by a friend. Others I’ve been able to take apart and reassemble in work that’s come in to me for repair. My plan is to spend time in the British Library doing some research specifically on stubs. I think there is a lot to be discovered.

What are some of your favorite paper stocks to use as stubs? What are the characteristics that make a particular stock work well?
I can’t say that I have a favourite paper stock, I tend to choose as I go. It needs to be a paper that folds well and is strong. Conventionally, stubs are discreet so the papers were often lightweight and folded many times, they are meant to be tucked away. For modern usage a stub can be used decoratively as well as structurally so choice of paper gets more complicated. It’s a book-by-book decision for me.

Are there other binders doing similar bindings whose work you admire?
There is a lot of contemporary fine binding in Spain that is done on stubs and some of the results are stunning. I sadly don’t know any of the names.

You are the incoming president of Designer Bookbinders UK (congratulations!). Do you have any goals for your term that you’d like to share?
I’m looking forward to my time as President of Designer Bookbinders. We were formed around the premise of being an exhibiting society with the members there as support. I feel things have moved on and we can do more than just put on great exhibitions. DB has a highly respected international position in the bookbinding world and I would like it to be more actively involved with its international counterparts. This might involve an exchange of lecturers, workshops, demonstrations or articles in newsletters. With screens and keyboards at our fingertips it is so easy to give and get information and it’s important that we all share in this craft that we love. This not only benefits us as binders but also benefits the members who support us, domestically and internationally.

There are some other things in the pipeline and they all take time. In the meantime, like everyone else, I want to put my head down and make bindings.

Stubs close up

Incorporating end sheets, sewn signatures as pamphlets, glued concertinas, and hybrids involving all of the above

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Nifty Folio Repairs

Hello again and apologies for the long absence. Since I last added to this blog, Book Island broke loose of its moorings and took float, settling just a few cattails from its former position. Improvements include more space for my growing family of bookbinding equipment (more on that in a later post) and for holding mini-workshops; and proximity to a large vintage Wedgewood gas stove. There are many tradeoffs to living and working under the same roof; working for oneself also has its pluses and minuses. Not having to commute long distances, and being able to do things like let bread dough rise or soup simmer while working at the bench are things I would identify as pluses. Of course, it is a more solitary lifestyle; and there’s the whole tax/admin angle that has to be dealt with. In any case, it’s where Book Island is at right now. After sharing some tips on guarding and folio repair, I will include some snapshots of the new studio and workspace.

One of the great advantages to having formal training in bookbinding was the multitude of sidebar-type techniques we all learned. Being in a two-year, full-time bench-centered program afforded my class a fair amount of time for goofing off in the nerdiest way imaginable. In teaching us paper and book repair and conservation, my teacher gave us lots of bonus extra tips and methods for saving time and making a better result. Some of them may be in wider use than I am aware of, and some I go through phases of using heavily and then not using for a long time. One of these is something I have nicknamed the Folio-Mat. Like many studio aids in bookbinding, it is simply fabricated from a few pieces of scrap materials you probably have laying around not currently helping anybody, but it is completely out of the question to discard: binder’s board, buckram, mylar, and your favorite archival spun polyester. Oh, and don’t forget the Scotch 415 double stick… Yes, from these humble beginnings, you too could create wonders! Observe…

Step one: Place a strip of pasted repair tissue on the center line of the board

Step one: Place a strip of pasted repair tissue on the center line of the board

Step two: place the folio or signature to be guarded on the tissue , amtching up the fold line with the center of the repair tissue

Step two: place the folio or signature to be guarded on the tissue, matching up the fold line with the center of the repair tissue

Step three: lift the buckram flap, and fold the whole flap over the folio or signature, thus bringing the otherwise wiggly half of the pasted repair tissue cleanly over the fold

Step three: lift the buckram flap, and fold the whole flap over the folio or signature, thus bringing the otherwise wiggly half of the pasted repair tissue cleanly over the fold

Step four: lift the buckram and return it to its original positions, and-voila!-your folio or signature has an unwrinkled, completely flat guard. Trim height to size when dry.

Step four: lift the buckram and return it to its original positions, and-voila!-your folio or signature has an unwrinkled, completely flat guard. Trim height to size when dry.

The Folio-Mat (trademark pending) allows you to easily unite two leaves separated by time and neglect in order to prepare them for sewing. I recently had to guard an entire textblock this way and was able to save some time. It was much easier to jog the separated leaves to the foredge, avoiding much of the stepping out leaves often do when regrouped into signatures. This paper was quite soft and fragile, having been in a mostly-disbound state for many years (burns and fading could be seen on the edges of the pages sticking out from the stack). To say this book was in tatters would be an understatement. I’m not sure the pre-treatment photos quite express the causes for trepidation I felt when approaching the repair… I’m sure we’ve all been there. It was very rewarding to see how it came out, however.

Before treatment, foredge is in tatters.

Before treatment, foredge is in tatters.

Spine is tattered and battered, with many loss areas to outer leaves

Spine is tattered and battered, with many loss areas to outer leaves

Post treatment: top edge lines up much better, and you can see the bright yellow inked edge

Post treatment: top edge lines up much better, and you can see the bright yellow inked edge

no more tatters!

no more tatters!

Lovely illustrations now come through

Lovely illustrations now come through

Spine functioning normally

Spine functioning normally

Book lays flat and can be read without damage to the pages. Success! Thank you, Folio-Mat.

Book lays flat and can be read without damage to the pages. Success! Thank you, Folio-Mat.

More fun from Book Island:

New space with expanded equipment family: Ursa Minor (little nipper) on the far left, next Ursa Major (big nipper); Kensol now has its own homemade table with two castors. Workshop table is new too, as are the rudimentary tool kits mostly aquired from the Japantown mall. Come visit!

New space with expanded equipment family: Ursa Minor (little nipper) on the far left, next Ursa Major (big nipper); Kensol now has its own homemade table with two castors. Workshop table is new too, as are the rudimentary tool kits mostly acquired from the Japantown mall. Come visit!

 

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Time for some pie!

…Or rather, time for pie to be transformed into something beautiful. Something gorgeously well-ordered. What on Earth am I talking about?? For a hint, here is a definition:

pi

noun

  1. The name of the sixteenth letter of the Classical Greek, Classical and Modern Greek alphabets and the seventeenth in Old Greek.
  2. (mathematics) An irrational constant representing the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter; approximately 3.1415926535897932; usually written π, where pi x diameter = Circumference.
  3. (context, typesetting) Metal type that has been spilled, mixed together, or disordered. Also called pie.

And, the exciting transformation:

IMG_3025Organizing this type is something that has taken me several years. Some of it is fairly worn, but it is all brass, and thus ideal for the hot stamping known in bookbinding as tooling, or finishing. Countless hours have been spent in sorting the various sizes and styles shown here, and even then, about half of the entire box in the bottom right of this picture comprises letters with no match. The other half of that box is punctuation which probably belongs in one of the other boxes, but I’ll have to leave that last part of this project for another day.

Sometimes it is difficult for me to explain to my clients why I cannot stamp their name in their chosen font on the book cover I make for them without having a die made. Perhaps the photo above might explain a little bit about the process of titling a book cover. As you can see, the tiny brass letters are fixed in size and shape. To a bookbinder, the meaning of the word ‘font’ refers to a set of these pieces of brass; it is not something that you highlight with your mouse and change from a dropdown menu. Very unfortunate, to some extent, since it does not allow for creative layout possibilites which respond to the particular needs of a specific project. For that, one must contract to have a die made, usually from magnesium, or for high volume production jobs, from copper. There are environmental risks involved in this process that the city of San Francisco has deemed unsafe; thus there are no companies that perform this service here. And once it is made into a stamping die, the magnesium is a health hazard of sorts as well– it is extremely inflammable, so for a bookbinder to store old dies is dangerous. G-d forbid any bindery with magnesium dies in storage should catch fire, for it would explode to high heaven. In a fire, brass type might melt. Which would be sad. But not dangerous.

Brass type is often the preferred choice for me because it also reduces waste; it is nearly infinitely reusable. A magnesium die is generally used only once, at the time of a single project. Of course, having a magnesium die made can be more fun because the possibilites are nearly limitless. Brass type lends a traditional, cultured appearance, where making a die allows more creative control. Here’s an example of a project I worked on which required a die.

sanfranciscocenterbookdodocaseipad22Dies are best made with type and line art– very little shading or solid blocks of color will come out well with a die. Theoretically it is possible, but for best results, line art and type are recommended.

The topic of book decoration could go on for volumes, and this is just a blog. There are lots of points of departure on my links page over on Book Island in case you’re interested.

Recent Project

Something I truly enjoy which most other bookbinders veer away from is Bible repair. The large family Bibles of the late nineteenth century are often unwieldy mammoth objects with heavy double-thickness boards, weak joints, and crumbling paper due to the production advances of the Industrial Revolution. Around now, 150 or so years after their production, these Bibles are widely in need of, ah, joint replacement surgery, so to speak. They are difficult to repair because of their heft, size, and fragility– never a good combination. I enjoy them, however, because they offer me the opportunity to fulfill what I feel is my purpose in being a hand bookbinder: keeping history alive, educating clients about the items they possess, and allowing clients the ability to page through a book they’ve been too scared to touch because it was damaged.

This Bible was a particular pleasure to restore because it was made prior to all the so-called advances of the late 1800’s. Instead of two laminated boards, this book had one thick one for each cover. Instead of deep blind tooling on the covers combined with carved board (which often delaminated), this one used fine gold stamping to decorate the covers. The leather used was not suffering from red rot, and probably never will, since the tannage seemed fairly stable, and the leather still fairly strong. the paper, as well, was healthy, and registered a pH of 6! Amazing. Another thing that impressed me about this book was the sewing. Tens of thin signatures all sewn in a remarkably regular way, as can be seen below. In binderies of this period, it was generally women who did the sewing, and they often sewed without pre-punching the signatures as we do today (though this book was likely sawn). I was kind of touched to see how many signatures there were to this giant behemoth, and all of them sewn perfectly regular.

IMG_2806

Image of Trinity Church in New York City

Every panel on the spine had a different illustration of a Bible scene or story

Every panel on the spine had a different illustration of a Bible scene or story

IMG_3024

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New addition to Book Island

Most of you reading this blog know how much I love bookbinding equipment. One of the special things about this profession is all the extremely specialized tools and machinery we have at our disposal, when we can find it! And usually it seems to take care of itself, once you learn to use it properly. Acquiring a piece of old bookbinding equipment is like receiving a postcard from a simpler time– remove a little rust and a little tape goo, plug it in, and there you have it: a perfectly designed labor saver with steel and cast iron parts machined precisely to thousandths of an inch. Well, finally, it is my time to receive such a gift from the past. This very day with the help of my friends I un-shrinkwrapped a lovely, cherry-red Kensol. It is not (yet) as nice as some I’ve used, better than many others, but at last it is mine. Enjoy some pictures of the new baby and some other examples of titling I’ve done lately.

Bright red paint makes it heat up faster!

Bright red paint makes it heat up faster!

IMG_2582

Setting brass type for heat stamping

First strike a little deep. so I make some height adjustments to the table

First strike a little deep. so I make some height adjustments to the table

Now we're starting to have some fun

Now we’re starting to have some fun

Dos-a-dos (back-to-back in two parts, but bound together) Student Portfolio

Dos-a-dos (back-to-back in two parts, but bound together) Student Portfolio. The only font available that seemed appropriate was too small and narrow for this large field, so I used large spacers between each letter to make the words take up more space. The result is a modern, minimal appearance that complemented the student’s content nicely.

These were done with two dies, one in English and the other in Russian. Scarcely 4 mm tall, they had to line up exactly with each other, yet they were upside down from each other.

These were done with two dies, one in English and the other in Russian. Scarcely 4 mm tall, they had to line up exactly with each other, yet they were upside down from each other.

Leather labels: one stamped with type, the other with decorative leaves (done by hand)

Leather labels: one stamped with type, the other with decorative leaves (done by hand)

IMG_2383

Type was hand-set and stamped on a Kwikprint; all other decoration done with hand tools

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Filed under Bookbinding techniques, My projects, Tool Talk

Ten years!

Ten years!

This was my Grandma Roz’s copy of the Fannie Farmer cookbook. Nothing left of the covers other than a scrap of the spine, I rebound it as a project in the bookbinding program at North Bennet Street School when I was there ten years ago. The book is still going strong through consistent use. It stays open flat enough to cook with without having to weigh down the pages or use some kind of cookbook stand contraption. Humble cookbook repair remains one of my favorite parts of being a book conservator in private practice, forming its bread and butter, so to speak. Anyone who has been to my kitchen knows I love cookbooks! I love to cook, so it’s natural that I like to keep those Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker, Good Housekeeping etc books in good shape for all you home cooks out there.

Fannie-coversFannie-open

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May 16, 2013 · 9:09 pm