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ES-Bookbindng-art - 2/4/08


"Embroidered Spine Bookbinding" by Master Sven Odin Eye.


NOTE: See also the files: bookbinding-msg, Battl-o-t-Bks-art, medvl-libres-lnks, parchment-msg, early-books-msg, Blk-Walnt-Ink-art, leather-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



First published in the "Siren".


Embroidered Spine Bookbinding

by Master Sven Odin Eye


The first books were preferred by the early Christians because they so little resembled the Pagan scrolls. There are leather bound Christian books existing today which date to the 300's AD.  We tend to think of vellum/parchment manuscripts as being wholly medieval, though they existed before, and to some extent were still produced on a limited basis up to modern times.


Many materials were used in manuscript production, although their pages were generally the calf, sheep or goat we know to have been so common, but their bindings were far more diverse. Almost any kind of tree that grew in the European fields or forests was used at one time or another for the boards, and almost any kind of animal of any size has had its hide used for book binding. The medieval Scandinavians even used Seal and Sharkskin binding!


The first known embroidered bookbinding was in the 1100's. There is a surviving English example made in the 1300's.  Queen Elizabeth personally embroidered some of the covers for her personal books. Well, as many of you know, such creations can take cubic hours to produce. But I have found a (pardon the expression) mundane way around this. I use manufactured trim to quarter bind small quarto (8-1/2" x 11) sheets folded twice) books.


First you need to peruse the Merchants at various SCA events. Truly I have been to a number of fabric stores (clerks asking each other "Who is that old graybeard skulking around the trim?") but not found any wide enough there. I consider 3-1/2" to be the minimum width of trim one would wish to use on a quarto size book, although with extreme diligence and forethought you might be able to get by with less (read – tricky lacing of the cords onto the boards).


My favorite style is a Rose trim, it comes in Red Roses on Blue and Red Roses on Yellow. Of course it has green leaves and such, but those are the predominate colors. For a pleasant color match, the blue background looks sumptuous on Black Walnut boards and the Yellow looks radiant on White Oak boards, really.


Modern bookbinding instructions tell us to line the embroidery with paper before using it, I find that to be a very poor procedure and suggest a better alternate method.


In separate missives I have explained the entire book binding process. (See the end of this article.)


The first thing you need to do here is to cover the spine with a piece of cloth, a nice natural (or white) linen is excellent, I've used cotton muslin too. You cut the piece to the exact length of the spine and wide enough to cover about 1/2" of the boards. Set the cloth on clean scrap paper and brush on the PVA glue, I use my thumb to spread it out evenly. (If you are going to include a bound in ribbon bookmark glue it onto the spine before placing the backing cloth over it). Now glue the cloth down to the book, smooth it out by hand and wait until it is almost dry or at least mostly set before proceeding.


When using the trim rather than leather you need to cut it about 1/4" longer per end than you would the leather. Make sure that the piece you have cut out will center the best part of the trim design in the center of the book spine. Yes, I know, with this particular pattern you end up wasting about 1/3 of the trim, and at about $8 per yard it does hurt us penny pinchers a bit. It would be less wasteful with a more uniform pattern, but I haven't found one yet (PLEASE tell me when & where you find such!) After slathering on the paste you roll the edge over about 1/4" per end. This is like a basic sewing seam on a garment, but held by paste. Now be sure and paste the turned in part. Proceed to bind as with leather. Use a ruler along the edge of the material. It helps you to push the material up to this edge to keep it real even. Work the material down around the cord ribs and such and smooth it all out by hand, let it dry overnight before further handling.


WARNING: the thicker trims have a fair amount of flexibility and will stretch a bit here and there making it easy to use. Many of the thinner trims have very little (if any) stretch and will not fit right. The cords stand off the back of the book, this pulls up the trim, so the outside edge line on the cover has these divots where the trim will not go. Test your trim on a mockup before trying to apply it to your book. Some folks like the scalloped edge effect this creates.


Now let us talk a bit about aesthetics. Many folks prefer to line the inside facing cover with a paper joint. I do not. When I give someone a handmade book with the joint they say "Oh, how nice." When I give them a handmade book that opens to the raw boards and the obvious lacing of the cords through the cover, their jaw drops. Excuse me, but I want my family (and friends) to know how much care and work went into this production for them.


I'm sure it has occurred to many of you, if you wished, you could embroider and bind with a full cover. A monumental work to be sure, but it would be SO grand!


For specifics on book binding see my missives on that subject, don't have them? Send me your snail-mail address and I'll send you the missives on the sewing frame, sewing the book and binding it. If you have half as much fun at this as I do you'll find you have a new life-time hobby! Send your address to Master Sven Odin-Eye, 1044 NE Sunrise Ln., Hillsboro, OR 97124.




Bookbinding, It's background and Technique, by Edith Diehl. Originally published in 1946, originally reprinted in 1980 by Dover Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-486-24020-7


The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding, by J. A. Szirmai. Originally printed 1999, reprinted  2000, by Ashgate Publishing Co. ISBN 0 85967 904 7

The Thames and Hudson Manual of Bookbinding, by Arthur W. Johnson. First US paperback,  1981, reprinted 1998, by Thames and Hudson Inc. ISBN 0-500-68011-6


Copyright 2007 by Master Sven Odin-Eye, 1044 NE Sunrise Ln., Hillsboro, OR  97124. <wdlndbks at aol.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org