Bookbinding According to Diderot

On Thursday I made my usual pilgrimage north, only this time to Dartmouth College for a class on 18th century French binding before going to Women's Studio, and this time with two little babies the size of lemons inside. We wound our way up and tried not to be homesick. It's hard to put a finger on it but the road is different, the signs are different, the trees are different, the temperature is definitely different. It smells like summer and it smells like New England. Dartmouth looks like what my child self thought college would look like, before I went to MICA and Columbia and West Dean. 

In two days, ten of us (three from Yale, three from Dartmouth, three independent binders, & I) made models of mid- to late-18th century French trade bindings like the ones below. The style is recognizable from a mile away:  mid-brown calf, sponged or sprinkled, at least five raised bands, a characteristically-tooled spine, red edges, French curl marbling in yellow, red, and blue. Not that there aren't variations but one so often sees exactly this pattern. Structural features include a double comb lining, at least in theory; a particular lacing pattern; rounding, backing, and cutting in boards; sewing down the gutter of the marbled pastedown/flyleaf. "Always," I say, opening one of the example books and not finding any sewing. "Always," I say, reaching for another, shutting it just as fast. "Always!" I say, finally finding one that followed the rules. 

(I took a few pictures in the beginning, before I got too distracted and forgot to take more, so the rest of the "during" images will have to wait until someone else passes some on.)

For textblocks, I adapted an 1827 binding manual helpfully digitized by Google. Most of us have enough blank bindings to last a lifetime of thoughtful journaling and it really looks the part when the insides match the outsides, even if on bright white machine-made paper. I opted for the shorter and fatter of the 1820s options, Manuel Complet du Relieur, but there is also an amazing one in the form of a "didactic poem" if anyone wants to practice their 19th c. French binding rhymes. A few colleagues wanted copies to bind on their own, not being able to make it to the workshop, so I had some extras printed and will offer them here for sale soon along with notes on how to put it all together.

The marbling is the most beautiful marbling, from The Marbler's Apprentice—hand-ground pigments, lovely colors that don't sit heavy on the surface like acrylics. Pergamena sent the leather, which they managed to split to super super thin. I always think when covering of the first skin I ever bound with, which I picked out based on color and grain without Maureen around—turned out it was, according to her, the thickest, toughest goat that ever did live, and I spent the better part of a day paring it. It was a revelation when I learned about splitting machines. 

Somehow in only two days we sewed on raised cords; laced on boards; rounded and backed; scraped, burnished, and lined the spines; plowed; edge-colored; endbanded; pared; covered; and sprinkled. The only thing left is to put down the ends, which needed open drying time so had to be done at home in order for people to travel efficiently. (Bonus points for titling, tooling, and polishing at home, which I have all intention to do and probably won't.) And we still had time for bagels & ice cream.

New (top) and old (bottom). Don't mind the generous sprinkles on mine! 

Upcoming Classes at Women's Studio Workshop

We're happy to announce two classes at the 2016 Summer Arts Institute at the Women's Studio Workshop in Rosendale, NY! I did an artist's book residency at WSW in 2009 and fell for it hard; it's been a few summers since I taught my last workshop there and I'm excited to be going back. Looks like we'll also be the first class on the new Vandercook that they've just moved in!

Letterpress Intensive

July 18-22
Tuition: $750 ($700 members)
Lab fee: $25
Class limit: 6
There’s nothing, for a writer or designer, like the feeling you get when you realize letters can be tangible things; that you can hold your words in your hands; that even the space between words is a physical object. Spend a week with WSW’s collection of lead and wood type and learn traditional hand typesetting and letterpress printing. Bring your words or someone else’s plus a dose of curiosity and discover the magic of letterpress! We’ll start with a communal broadsheet just to learn the process, then students will make their own broadsheets or simple pamphlet bindings. Those also enrolled in the following week’s workshop—Bookbinding: Case Binding with Rounded Spine—can use their letterpress work for the bindings in that class and continue to use the letterpress studio. No prior experience in printing is expected.

Bookbinding: Case Binding with Rounded Spine

July 25-29
Tuition: $750 ($700 members)
Lab fee: $45
Class limit: 6
Student Material List
In this class you’ll learn how to make a traditional case binding from start to finish (although without cutting all the corners that modern machine binding does!). This is the style of your average hardcover book, with cloth covering and a rounded spine. You’ll learn the basics of paper selection, sewing, rounding & backing, edge trimming, and casing-in. Those who are a little faster will have time to learn more advanced techniques—such as hand-sewing endbands—or start a second book and really consolidate their skills. Use your book for a sketchbook or journal or just to learn the process so you can go home and make them on your own. We’ll talk about ways to get around any lack of equipment. Those enrolled in the letterpress class from the week before have the opportunity to incorporate their printing in these books.

Fontainebleau Aldine at the Montefiascone Conservation Project, Part II

Now pictures of books instead of gelato: the model we made in Monte was of an early 16th c. book in wooden boards, bound à la grecque by the royal bindery for Henri II, now held at the John Rylands Library in Manchester. It is a pocket-sized book from the Aldine press, bound in full dark maroon goat leather with gauffered edges. By the time of the Diderot encyclopedia, these edges were old-fashioned and no longer made, but it's hard to imagine not liking them! The endbands are Greek-style in pink and white over two cores, but then with a simple front-bead sewn over the top one in blue and white. The leather was blocked and tooled in blind and gilt, with lead white painted in some of the shapes created by the tools. And then braided straps were attached at fore-edge, head, and tail, that attach to brass pins on the back board: all in all kind of aesthetic overkill for my taste given the beautifully simplistic printing inside, but fun to make.

We brought sections cut to size on a board chopper, and sewed them with an unsupported link stitch on the first day. The boards were mostly shaped for us—beveled slightly on the outside shoulder, with grooves in the board edge along head, fore-edge, and tail, and beveled at head and tail near the spine edge to accommodate the endband). We just had to plane off a bit in the joint to fit the boards to the textblock. We cut little grooves between the drilled stations to accommodate the thread, and laced them in with the ends of the sewing thread. The shape of the boards helps create a very slight round in the textblock, and then we covered the spine and onto the boards a few centimeters with a nice Irish linen cloth.

I can't get enough of this endband; I'd never sewn such an epic one before. Like normal Greek endbands, it attaches both to the textblock and boards. I can't quite imagine the Fontainebleau binders sewing it, then thinking, "It needs a little something more," and adding the front bead to the top core—but they did.

Then we covered in quite thin leather; mine was from Steven Siegal in the US. Slanted slits are cut at the head and tail to accommodate the endband, since the joint isn't accessible as in a normal binding. The corners were just cut at a bevel and folded over. No worrying about trimming turn-ins even at this time period! I'm afraid I forgot to photograph it before the tooling started, so I just have this one of the cap now covering the crazy endband.

The blocking was something I had to see to believe. Stephania took a rubbing from the original and had a block made, but without a blocking press, we had to improvise. We made a blind impression in the leather while it was still damp from covering by more or less centering the block on top of the board and pressing it as tight as possible in a Dryad press. One side is blind and one is gilt, so we then had to block hot by putting the block on a stove, lifting it off and placing it on the book with pliers, hoping it was in the right place, then running off to the press to give it another squeeze. The first time I did this I miraculously got it in exactly the right place, but the pressure on the press was a little crooked so part of it didn't take the gold. I went back and forth about whether to risk a second shot, eventually did, and got the registration completely off (although the gold looks good!).

I have to say, working with gold leaf in a big room with a lot of people, a lot of heat, and an uncontrollable stove was not the most satisfying thing, but I'm glad we did it so that the book could look more like the original. The original isn't perfect in the tooling either, really, but that never makes anyone feel better about gold that won't stick! The leather I chose was nice to work with for covering but turned out to refuse to go dark for blind tooling (it didn't absorb water very well, I think because of some coating on the surface), so even the blind tooling wasn't as even as it could have been. I had thoughts at the time of watercolor? on a tiny brush to help darken the areas that wouldn't go, but that really does sound like one of those things you're still talking about doing in 30 years. Maureen Duke always quips about the shoemaker's children going barefoot.

Then we drilled holes in the boards and made tiny plaits for the clasps, which drove most people mad but wasn't so bad for me—I brought along leather from the edge of the skin, because I'm cheap, and actually the stretchiness really helped to get the strips through the holes in the board. We trimmed their ends, whacked them flat with a hammer, attached pins in the back board, and then the binding was almost finished—just needed the endpapers to be put down (I did that at home) and the lead white painted onto the boards (I did that in kind of a rush).  

So here's the finished book:

Finally, a grateful thank-you to the Clothworkers' Foundation and the Anna Plowden Trust, both of whom gave me funding towards this course and without whom I would not have been able to attend.

Fontainebleau Aldine at the Montefiascone Conservation Project, Part I

Last week Tristram and I were in Montefiascone, Italy, where I took a class taught by Caroline Checkley-Scott, Stephania Signorello, and Julianne Simpson, and Tristram bought large quantities of Parmesan. The town is a beautiful one on the top of a hill; the Montefiascone Conservation Project is situated in the seminary with views over the lake. We're learning about the Aldine press & making a copy of an Aldine book bound à la grecque in Fontainebleau for French king Henri II in 1517. First, some photos to set the scene.

 The seminary is at the top of a hill at the edge of town, with a view over the lake

The seminary is at the top of a hill at the edge of town, with a view over the lake

 The seminary  

The seminary  

 Where the seminary's press used to be

Where the seminary's press used to be

 Hall in the seminary with trompe l'oeil marble

Hall in the seminary with trompe l'oeil marble

We had class from about 9–2 each day, then hurried home to hide from the sun and eat lunch. We stayed in an old apartment in the center of town with stone floors and massively high ceilings. Then we had afternoons and evenings to explore the area.

Lake Bolsena from Marta, a caldera formed by the Vulsini volcano complex. I only just discovered that you can take a ferry to one of the islands... maybe next year.

It's only polite, when there are so many flavors of gelato, to try ... most of them. My tally was tiramisu, cantaloupe, hazelnut, & pistachio. I think Tristram had chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, and fruits of the forest. 

Cantaloupe gelato

Orvieto Cathedral (14th century)

Colored stone & glittering mosaic stripes on the Orvieto Cathedral

On Thursday we had a home-cooked candlelit Italian dinner as a class in a beautiful garden. A special bonus in all of this was a surprise reunion with Mariko Watanabe, who studied with me at West Dean & is now a book and paper conservator in Singapore.

The class was a really interesting mix of conservators, binders, and people with absolutely no experience making books. I was really impressed with the latter (everyone was); they did brilliant work, particularly under less-than-ideal forwarding & finishing conditions. And on the last day, we all walked off with some version of a Fontainbleau binding!

Papermaking at London Center for Book Arts

We're excited to be doing a few papermaking classes at LCBA, one of which will be open to the public: Introduction to Papermaking. I'll be teaching with paper & print artist Chris Petrone of the Women's Studio Workshop in New York. The first time Chris & I made paper it was for a book that I made at WSW, and it went a little like this:

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And then we collaborated to make this lovely stuff, which Chris made for me to use in a model of an 18th century French bookbinding.

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Meanwhile I ran some classes with a different papermaker called Chris at LCBA last year, for conservation students from Camberwell and West Dean College. Here's Ashley finally successfully couching a sheet:

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Come join us: two papermakers for the price of one! There are six slots available...