Monday, March 23, 2009


When I see a design binding I carefully look at the design and details of the piece and often find myself stopping and thinking how did they do that? I will look over an area where the last time I worked on a book I struggled a bit and wonder if they had similar problems. So I am posting the details of how I did a particular binding. Successes and failures and the way mistakes were handled.

Water is a book commissioned by Designer Bookbinders and printed by Incline Press for an international bookbinding competition set for June of 2009. A group of the books where sold unbound or “in sheets” to binders through out the world at a cost of 100 GBP (approx. $200). Then binders had about 10 months to complete the bindings and send them back to England for judging.

The text is made of short poems and prose with the theme of water giving a wide range for designing the binding. I began by looking for materials and ideas for the design. I first worked on a drawing of a shore line of a lake with a circular ripple going across the water. I had just purchased some hand dyed fabric from Ghana that had blues and dark oranges with a pattern that I felt would suggest water movement. I thought this could be used as a cloth doublure. I had blue and terra cotta goatskins from Harmatan that worked with the cloth.

I worked on the drawing for some time but was not happy so I kept redrawing and began the sewing and binding of the pages. It was sewn on flattened cords that were laced onto the covers. The covers were made of .080 Davey board lined with a bond paper to help stabilize them. I wanted leather hinges so I added several sheets of plain bond paper folded in a section that was equal to the thickness of the leather hinge. A section was tipped in with PVA along the spine of the book in the front and back of the sewn textblock. They will be removed later when the hinges are pasted in.

The top edge of the pages were trimmed slightly, scraped and sanded smooth for decorating with the other edges left with their uneven deckle and torn edges. For the edge decoration I cut out several sizes of circles of blue low tack painters tape. I used a Japanese hole drill for this. I placed a few circle on the edge and then splattered acrylic paint along the edge. Placed more circles and splattered again. I used yellow, burnt orange and two blues to build up the color. As I began removing the circles not all stood out enough so I traced around the taped circles with a prisma colored pencil before removing them. The design was to suggest bubbles in water.

The headband was sewn with blue and light brown silk threads on a single core.

Water-drops, drips, ripples, splashes and waves. I started looking for new ideas. My lake image never came to be. I keep coming back to waves. I drew out a design that I liked and then redrew it many times to fit the book. As the binding continued I made a plaquette to begin working out the design. A plaquette is a practice board covered in the same leather and other materials you are using on your binding.

I had in mind a fabric doublure within a recessed frame on the inside boards. I did this frame with heavy card stock glued around the edge of the back of the plaquette. I pared an oversized turn in to cover the raised frame.

With the plaquette I first tried tooling the drawing. I used Sid Neff’s technique of cutting a pattern out of 3 ply Bristol board and then tracing along the edge with a brass stylus.

Because the stylus is drawn along the pattern piece tooling with leaf cannot be done. This movement of drawing across the leaf would tear it. Foils can be used with this technique because of the Mylar layer protects the foil when transferring it with the heated tool. I used a silver foil on the plaquette. I was happy with the basic design but not with the look of the foil work. I then tried airbrushing white highlights on the waves but still I was not happy. Back to the drawing board.

I made another plaquette where I tried raising the design by applying 1 ply mat board pieces. Then I covered the piece in leather (.06 mm split skin) and used dense foam to press the leather into the relief design. I pressed the damp pasted out leather onto the plaquette in a nipping press for 10 minutes then removed the piece and worked over areas with a Teflon folder to sharpen the edges in areas and then did the turn ins.

The boards for the binding were shaped by sanding the edge along the top, bottom and foreedge and laced onto the book. The spine was lined and a one on two off hollow was added. The final lining was a piece of Stonehenge paper with the edges beveled and sanded before being glued down to the hollow.

The drawing was redone to work better with cut shape and the pieces were cut out and applied to the cover. The crests of the waves are the highest point and were built up with additional pieces of mat board under the main shape. I tore the edges of these built up pieces to taper the edge then sand the edge to have a gentle rise to the piece.

Where the raised pieces crossed the spine I tapered them to end at the joint so the thickness would not prevent the book from fully opening.

I went over the covers smoothing down the areas around where the cords laced into the boards, notched the board corners at the head and tail and slit the tube for the leather turn ins. I then capped up the book and began preparing the leather.

The leather was cut to size with the turn ins oversized (1 3/4 inch) so the leather would cover the frame area on the inside of the boards. The turn ins were pared thinner using an Scharfix with the paring done flat without a bevel so the areas covering the frame would be even.

This photo shows the set up in the press. The book is supported from below with a pressboard held in place by a weight on the shelf under my press. I use compressed foam along with pressboards to give more even pressure across the uneven surface. This will be the set up when I press the leather over the design

To cover the book I used the German technique of attaching the leather in sections. This is described in Bookbinding & Conservation by Hand, by Laura S. Young I first damped the whole skin with a sponge and pasted out the spine area letting the paste absorb in and then brushed the spine area of the book with paste. I had marked out the position of the book on the flesh side of the leather before pasting so I could center the book when covering. After I had the leather in place and rubbed down along the spine I placed the book in a finishing press with the sides of the unattached leather draped over the press. I then carefully worked the damp leather over the raised areas across the spine. I then let it dry for a few hours.

I pasted up one side of the leather at a time and used a foam pad with pressboards in my nipping press to attach the leather to the cover. After pressing I worked over the edges of the raised areas with a Teflon folder.

I finished the second side and then opened the book to set the joints. The back cover opened well but when I opened the front cover the leather puckered and popped away from the front joint, I had not pulled the leather tight enough across the joint when covering.

I quickly damped the front of the leather across the board and along the joint and carefully pulled the leather off the front board. I flatted out the leather and repasted and waited for it so soften up a little. I scraped off the paste and repasted with a thin fresh layer and recovered the board. I had to keep the joint tight but not stretch out the leather. I pressed again and worked over the design and opened the cover to set the joint and it looked much better.

I did not turn the leather over the edges of the book at this time but let the book dry over night. I pressed the book between the foam under some pressure for the first few hours to make sure the leather would not shrink and pull away from the raised areas. Then layered the cover with soft felt and pressed with a lighter weight over night. Through all this process of covering I used heavy Mylar sheets between the cover and the text block so the moisture would not enter into the pages and cause cockling of the paper.

After the book was dry I checked to see how the leather molded around the raised area and double check how the board opened and if there where areas where the leather detached from the book. The alignment of the leather on the front cover was a little off from pulling it back off and re covering but over all things were good.

I then dampened the edges of the leather with water. After allowing a few minutes for the water to soak in I pasted up the edges and finished the edges and endcaps. I allowed to book to sit out for several days to see if there was any pull on the covers. There was a slight pull on the boards but I decided to do the leather hinge first before correcting it in case things changed.

The extra sections added to allow space for the leather hinges were removed and the hinge area was cleaned out of any left over glue or leftover paper. The leather was cut and pared to size allowing extra with to cover the inside edge of the frame. I removed the false sections and cleaned the hinge area of any left over glue and paper. The leather hinges were cut and pared to size allowing extra width to cover the inside edge of the frame

After several more days of drying the slight warping of the boards was the next issue to fix.

I trimmed out the leather and cut a piece of flax paper (University of Iowa B9) I knew would have a good counter pull to the leather on the boards. The paper was cut about a 1/4 inch smaller than the opening. I sprayed the paper lightly with water to allow it to expand with the moisture and then glued it up with PVA. I stretched the paper within the opening and then put Mylar sheets inside the covers and pressed the book overnight. The following day I removed the book and set it out with the boards open to continue drying and to see if they would stay flat.

As I looked at the overall look of the design of the cover I felt the waves needed to stand out more. I took the plaquette and tried to sand away the top edges of the leather exposing the light color below to highlight areas. I did not like the look so I darkened the areas behind the wave, which I liked more.

Using a paper copy trimmed slightly smaller and blue low tack painter’s tape I mocked out the waves. I then air brushed the background just above the waves using acrylic paint.

For the title I tried several different type styles and sizes. When I found the one I liked I foiled stamped it on to a piece of Mylar that I used to locate where to hand tool the title.

I then made a paper pattern of the lettering and placed it on the book. I first tooled through the pattern and then removed the pattern and retooled the impression. I was a little shaky and left a double impression on one of the ends. I dampened the area to see it the impression would soften out. It lessened but I had to dampen and carefully work over the area again. I then retooled with entire impression with a warm tool while the leather was damp.

After glaring the impression and placing the aluminum leaf I heated up my lettering pallet. When I picked up the pallets I accidentally touched the printers type to the hot stove and melted the edge of the letters. I noticed the type when I checked it to see if it was right side up. At this pint I cursed many times and had to clean up and put things away. I was too upset to finish.

Feeling more calm the next day I reset the type and finished the title. After this I decided to buy some brass type to replace the printers type I was using. Next time there should be fewer problems doing a short title on a book.

I sanded smooth the inside frame for the doublure. I tried using the cloth on the first plaquette I made but again was not happy with the result. The frame area was not deep enough and since the book did not have any of the terra cotta leather the cloth no longer went with the rest of the design.

I went through all my decorative papers, but nothing looked right. I went to my favorite art store Wet Paint and found a Japanese chiyogami paper. I finished pasting in the doublure and flyleaves and let the book dry for a few days under a lightweight.


  1. Err, this is pretty frickin' awesome. I've always had an appreciation for the fine art of bookbinding, and now that appreciation is even finer. Gorgeous, really.

  2. Amazing Jana, absolutely amazing to watch the entire process from beginning to end, from concept to completion. I am in awe!

  3. This is a great new blog! I love the clear descriptions, photos and tips. It serves as a wonderful tutorial. Thank you for creating it and sharing your technical ideas, challenges and solutions. I will share this with friends.

  4. Jana, I love your interpretation of the book! Interestingly enough, I just bought a copy of Water in sheets, but not for the competition. I just have always loved water, the seashore, etc, and thought it would be a fun binding to do, once I get some inspiration :) I'll look forward to seeing more of your bindings!

  5. Fabulous work, Jana: great writing and excellent photographs make for a compelling read.

  6. What a very generous gesture - to share your journey, including the 'oops' parts.

    A wonderful insight to the type of binding I think I shall never achieve, but so much admire in those with the necessary skill level.

    many thanks
    cecilia sharpley

  7. Beautiful work, and great to hear about how you did it and the ups and downs of the whole process. Very insightful, and I shall look forward to seeing what you get up to next! Best wishes, Sara.

  8. Thank you for creating this type of blog. It's a terrific concept, and I look forward to visiting regularly. And thanks too for this first, wonderful, post.


  9. What a wonderful post! You explain things beautifully, and the photos are excellent.

    I particularly like the way that you documented and described the various approaches that you tried and abandoned.

    Please do keep blogging!

    Abi Sutherland
    (evilrooster bindery)

  10. I am in awe. Not only of the beauty in your work but in your generous sharing and documentation of your processes. Thanks!