"How long do I have to leave it in the press?"

This is one of the first questions almost every new bookbinding student asks, and my answer is often a shrug. We're talking about folding sections: no matter how hard you press with a bone folder, you won't convince the paper to go all the way flat and stay flat at that spine fold without a bit of muscle in the form of a nipping or standing press. "Until it's flat when you take it out," I say. If you don't get the spine folds to lie flat, you often end up sewing the book too loose, and you'll have problems later. They look at me expectantly. "An hour? A day?" I shrug. 

And so I give you some very very lax folding experiments, for a visual of what kind of change you might expect over what kind of time. (I sort of want to do this properly now, and measure the change in swell, and use different papers to see, and measure the amount of force exerted by my press, but I'm not sure how much I'd get made fun of for that.)

Here's the unpressed textblock below (folded with a bone folder); it wouldn't even stay stacked so I had to use a weight at the fore-edge to get this image. This is 120 gsm Conquerer, 4 bifolia per section, grain parallel to the spine. You can expect a sharper initial fold for thinner paper, fewer bifolia per section, and with grain parallel to the spine, and the overall swell of the textblock will be less with fewer sections.

Unpressed textblock

Unpressed textblock

In order to press the textblock, you can put weights on top, preferably with a board inbetween to avoid impressions, or you can put it in a press. It needs to be perfectly lined up so that all the folds receive pressure and so that you don't get any indentations. If your textblock is particularly bouncy, it will be hard to get it stacked like this, so you might find it helps either to flip half of it (so you have one stack, but half the folds are on one side and half are on the other), or to separate it into a few stacks.

This one has already been pressed so don't look at the sharpness of the folds but see here how you can alternate the spine folds so that you get a more manageable stack.

This one has already been pressed so don't look at the sharpness of the folds but see here how you can alternate the spine folds so that you get a more manageable stack.

If you use a weight for pressure, use as heavy a weight as you can manage! I don't have a photo handy but when I mean business I have two cast iron 56 pound weights which I painted to make sure no iron will ever get in contact with an object (leaving a mark or a rust stain if damp) and they also have felt bottoms so they don't scratch the boards I put under them. The weights shown below are boxes I made around lead type scraps, covered with cloth and with felt bottoms. If I'm not in a rush I usually weigh down springy textblocks like this for a little bit before I try to press them properly, just to make it a little easier to get in the press. Using a smaller weight lets you actually hold the textblock in place while you apply the pressure, whereas once it's in the press, you can't really get your fingers around it. These would never apply enough pressure on their own to get the spines really flat, but they'd be better than nothing, of course. 


Have access to a press? A big one? Have a lot of textblocks to press? You can press as many as you can stack and lay side-by-side while still keeping the stacks tidy. You can make a book/board/book/board sandwich until it's too heavy to carry. (Again, though, for more springy textblocks, probably one layer is more manageable as the more you add, the harder it is to press everything without something moving.) Go easy on the press as you screw it down, because you don't want everything to shake and get out of alignment in your enthusiasm for pressing. Do you see how mine are a little out of perfect alignment in the second photo below? I went for it, because I couldn't get them straight the first time, and after an hour or so I took them out again and squared them up properly since some of the air had been knocked out and it was easier.

press 2.JPG

The textblocks below have been pressed for an hour, a day, and a week. I left them in there for three weeks, I think, to get them perfectly flat—the answer to the question is "as long as you can." 

Binding club

Some recent West Dean graduates & I started a binding club: we take turns researching a binding and showing the structure to the others. DIY professional development. First meeting: a trial run of the 18th century French model we'll be making at Dartmouth at the end of this week. We also managed to fit the three of us in my little studio and still have room to make a mess!

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.

The Making of an Herbarium, Part III

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:

The Making of an Herbarium, Part II

My herbarium is coming along between treatment proposals and lecture writing: I chose really beautiful handmade paper made by Chris Petrone of the Womens' Studio Workshop, with nonpareil marbled endpapers from Payhembury. I dyed Pergamena vellum green for the tapes. I've worked on a few green vellum account bindings and the color is really satisfying. And then I took a last look at the deckle edges—lovely but uneven & difficult to turn—and plowed them right off. I found immense satisfaction in putting the trimmings in my vermicomposting bin, though! The worms will eat them, which enrich the soil, which will grow new plants, which will become pressed specimens for the herbarium. It's too perfect.

I wasn't sure what to do with the head edge, and colored it yellow with gamboge first, but on second thought rubbed some Prussian blue in and made them the same green as the vellum supports. More or less exactly the same green. That was pretty satisfying, and with a little wax & burnishing they're super shiny. Endbands are green, blue-green, & a pale blue over alum taw & vellum cores. I made the vellum long to lace it into the case with the sewing support slips. 

The next step is done, making the case Bradel-style, to be covered in white vellum. I was planning on making it go transparent by soaking it in potassium carbonate & pressing hard, à la Edwards of Halifax, but no matter how I've tried to do it, I haven't managed to affect any change in the skin. Plan B has just come to me in writing this, though, so stay tuned for covering & lacing in. 

Now, if only the sun would stay out a little longer, & get my plants growing faster...