Ever since I was an art student, and a lecturer introduced us to the concept of artist books and gave us examples to pore over, I have stockpiled ideas for artist books I would like to make, but as an adult have never done a course in bookbinding. As artists you spend all your money on tools / materials, and time making work. It is difficult to take pause to learn new skills to make entirely new things. I am incredibly grateful to a-n for the amazing opportunity of the Professional Development Bursary to learn so many skills.
As a child I was lucky to have as my atheist godmother D (Diana Hardy Wilson, a Calligrapher) at the opposite end of my road. I used to love spending time with her in her flat looking at her collections of wooden type, plan chests, book presses, inks, and papers. One day she taught me to make a little red book. It was A6, single case bound in bookcloth, with cream coloured cartridge paper with an Indian metallic ribbon page marker with red and green threads. Although at the time I did not know what these things were called, I have a strong memory of making this book, and D once gave me a bone folder for Christmas, which I still have.
As an adult, to step into The London Centre for Book Arts (LCBA) was such an exciting experience, to see a beautifully equipped workshop entirely dedicated to people inside lovingly crafting books on such a sunny day. The first course I took was the hardest; due to summer commitments I did the Round-back Case Book Binding course before a beginner’s introductory course, or intermediate Single Section Case Binding course. It was a large group of us each learning the skill to pursue different purposes. A group of three women from a specialist stationary company were there on staff training, and would later be marked on their books by their boss.
Everything went relatively well until I made my first mistake sewing through the wrong hole in one of sections causing things to go a little lopsided. I had to start again, and quickly became behind the group. At the beginning of the course I decided I wanted to make a beautiful notebook, so when we got to the stage of selecting our end papers I greedily bought a vintage Edward Bawden design which is dead stock, and should probably only be used by the very skilled, and picked a green book cloth to match. The dimensions of my end paper were different to the groups, so this dictated the dimensions of everyone else’s books…I was becoming a bit a of a problem pupil. As this was a round-back case binding, we had to take the stitched and glued spine once dried and holding the book bash it with a fluted hammer to form the curvature of the spine, and the horseshoe of paper’s open edge. I struggled with this and the teacher had to finish this for me. When it came to making the cover, I folded the bookcloth in a very peculiar way around the corners of the greyboard, causing more problems that had to be remedied. Casing-in (gluing and manoeuvring the bound pages into the cover) is when things went from bad to worse, everything became skewed and the spine was not aligning with the cover. As everyone finished their books I had to be rescued at the end by the teacher who looked at it and agreed it was hopeless. We surgically cut the end paper, and badly patched in some scrap we had, and mis-match Edward Bawden’s beautiful pattern. I felt very ashamed, and left the course humbled by my lack of experience. Well, at least I made all my mistakes on the first course; I reckon it’s like the first pancake, a sacrifice to the gods. To the untrained eye I made a passable notebook.
Here is a small bookbinding glossary:
- Head – Top of the book
- Tail – Bottom of the book
- Headbands – Little ribbon / cloth strips visible between the spine and the top of the bound pages
- Section – Pages that sit inside one another and are stitched together
- Knocking up paper – Making paper sit aligned through banging the edges against a surface
- Awl – Tool to make holes for sewing pages (sometimes called a bodkin or pricker
- Bone Folder – Generally made of cow bone, these are used to fold and score paper and covers. They can leave marks on covers / paper
- Teflon Folder – A synthetic Teflon version of the bone folder. They are more expensive and less likely to mark
- Clip-point Shoe Knife – Small wooden handled knife used for slicing paper
- Brush – You will need a variety, but a typical all-round brush would be a long handled hog bristle, bridled (bound with wire) brush with 1.25 inch diameter
- Spring Divider – An engineering tool used to accurately measure and mark respective lengths
- Engineer’s Square – Metal ‘L’-shaped tool used to mark and measure right-angles
- Scalpels and Blades – Swann Morton no.3 handle with 10A and 15A blades are preferred by LCBA
All materials used in bookbinding should be worked with their grain: Head-to-Tail
Long grain – The paper grain runs from the Head to the Tail down the Longest side of the paper
Short grain – The grain runs Head to Tail down the Shortest side of the paper
To test the grain direction – cut a small square of the paper and test the way it naturally bends when lightly pushed against in the palms of your hands.
You can also wet a small piece and see which way it bends, or tear it, and it should tear easily along the grain.
16 pages for a Section is a good average. If paper is thicker you could reduce this to 8 pages. If you fold a piece of paper in half, you have created 4 pages.