I recently finished binding a dear friend's wife's thesis—sewn on raised bands and covered in quarter goat leather with cloth sides and parchment corners, titled in gold. It was supposed to be a Christmas present for her but he couldn't wait!
F I N I S H E D. A labor of love is still a labor. And when your covering material is so pricey, you don't exactly breathe easily while it's tight in the press, and you have no idea if it's going to work. But it did!
I only just made the connection but I had a flower press when I was a kid, a simple one with a wooden top and bottom, connected with four bolts & wingnuts in the corners, with cardboard and papers between. The lid had pressed flowers embedded in varnish—now this book reminds me of that.
I suspect that the color in the flowers will not last forever, but hopefully longer than it would if they were exposed freely to the air and in direct sunlight. The purple in the anemone on the front board immediately turned a little brown in places just in the covering, though the one on the back hasn't. A little color leached out of one of the crocuses onto the paper behind it—I was expecting more of that, actually, since so much color comes off onto the blotters in the initial pressing.
The boards and endpapers have relaxed a lot since the casing in was finished, but not entirely yet, so forgive them that for now, & sniff at it later if they haven't gone down!
Some last photos from making it:
About the skin, because I anticipate questions: a technique for making transparent vellum was patented by Edwards of Halifax in 1785, though others had done it before in other ways. Halifax apparently soaked the skin in potassium carbonate (pearl ash), then dried it under tension/pressure. We learn to be careful of too much pressure on damp vellum, as well as heat, because of the risk of making it transparent. Well, when I tried the Halifax method, I got that skin wet, wet and warm, wet and hot, pressed tight, stretched tight, rubbed, rubbed harder, all to no avail. It was just as opaque as the day it was made, and no worse for wear either. Plan B was to make inset panels in a full vellum binding, for a snake's head fritillary on one side and the poppy used here on the other, but in the end I was set on my original idea, so I shelled out for a full transparent skin from Cowley. It was worth it.
Aside from a few spots where it is still opaque, this vellum is completely transparent. I could see the scratches in my cutting mat through it. I could see my fingerprints through it. Just a little on the yellow side, so I used a bright white paper to cover the case—the result is a slight creamy color that works well with the flowers. I decided to include the little bit shown above right, where the veins weren't completely drained. A reminder that the skin on the book used to be the skin on an animal.
Handmade flax & abaca paper: Chris Petrone, Women's Studio Workshop (US)
Marbled paper: Kate Bret, Payhembury (UK)
Normal vellum for sewing supports: Pergamena (US)
Transparent vellum for covering, alum taw for endbands: Cowley (UK)
Vellum over boards instructions: Peter Verheyen, Philobiblon
Pressed flowers: mostly from my roof & window boxes
It's been colorful on my desk the last few days: all the flowers came out of blotters livened up the paper-covered case I made for the book. Even normal vellum is a little transparent, and must be backed with paper—this skin is so transparent you can read writing on the back of a piece of paper through it. And so the case had to be covered in paper first, to make it all white, then the flowers were pasted to that, then the vellum pasted on top. A ton of pressure in the press first, to sink the flowers into the boards, then I pasted them into their shallow beds. In the end I thought it would be best not to lay flowers over the joints, although it looked really satisfying, because I doubt they'll stand up to the stress of folding as the book opens.
I think the pale blue iris is the best; it grows no taller than the stem it has here, and is the first to come out. All the veins in the petals and stem came out in such detail. The big poppy on the front board is another favorite—poppies already look like tissue paper when they're alive, and it retained all of that character pressed. Also present (amongst some long-forgotten ones): crocus, primrose, winter aconite, anemone, nasturtium, nigella, forget-me-not, viola, ceropegia woodii, campanula, passion flower, lewisia, heuchera, osteospermum, bleeding heart.
Some small pictures, to tide over until I get the "real" ones off the camera:
A rare chance to do some bookbinding: a bradel binding with parchment spine & fore-edges, marbled sides, leather label.