for the blog silence, I’ve just moved house (no mean feat with two
under twos!) and I am now living in Bristol. This is a stop gap on
our way into Somerset and country life, we have downsized and
therefore my studio is temporarily residing in a storage unit down the
am taking an enforced break from the physical act of bookbinding in order to take care of Ivy and Winnie (however it is impossible to switch my creative thoughts off during
this time!) and I hope to take this opportunity to also catch up with the
digital side of my life. For months I have been meaning to sort out
my computer as have about a million baby photos to sort through,
files duplicated numerous times and/or in the wrong order, photo
editing to do for my website as well as numerous other onerous tasks.
am also due to take on a new role come September, I will be the
Project and Events Manager (PEM) for Designer Bookbinders so want my
files to be in order before then. The PEM is the switchboard for
information coming in from DB members and going out to the public. I
therefore need to be completely up-to-date with all DB and other
select bookbinding-related activities including dates for meetings,
workshops, fairs and competitions. I will be responsible for
publicising the above whilst trying to gain a stronger international
presence for the society – watch this space for further updates on
the role once I get started!
moving I managed to complete two bindings, it was great to draw a
line under these before packing up my workshop. These were two books
that unfortunately got delayed by my two pregnancies and although
were started many (many) months ago laid dormant for quite a while. I
am very thankful to my clients for being so patient and understanding
during this time and was pleased to be able to hand over both in
person before leaving London. The final task with regards both of
these bindings is to write a blog post about each starting as
first of these bindings was an 1956 Allen Press publication of,
“The Noble Knight Paris and Fair Vienne”. The book is
a romance of thirteenth-century France which was regarded as the most
popular story of medieval times.
into the original book was a promotional leaflet about the
publication from 1956, with details about the text block as follows:
A NEW BOOK
Noble Knight Paris and the Fair Vienne, Translated
out of French by William Caxton
edition, limited to 130 copies, has been produced by hand and is
being published by the Allen Press, the private press of Lewis and
Dorothy Allen, Kentfield, California.
text of Paris and Vienne is a romance of thirteenth-century France,
and was regarded as the most popular story of the middle ages.
Although often copied in manuscript, and frequently printed in the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there are few romances so rare as
this one. From the original Catalane language, it was translated into
Latin, French, Flemish, Italian and English. A noted
seventeenth-century critic stated that “it would be impossible to
find a work more fitted to imbue the mind with correct taste and
elegance of style, or to influence character by the wisdom of its
reflections, or to forearm hearts against those assaults of fiery
passion which blindly precipitate one into the abysses of misery. The
work is truly admirable. The situations are so interesting and the
dénoument is so happy, that their conception would reflect honor on
the best writers of the most renowned ages.”
only known copy of Caxton’s printing (1485) is in the British Museum;
the present edition is based on that copy.
Allen Press is pleased to offer this important and delightful romance
in a hand-made book of the finest materials and craftsmanship. The
book was set by hand in the handsome Romanée types designed by Van
Krimpen for the Enschedé foundry in Holland. The paper (printed
damp) we believe to be the most distinguished sheet produced in
modern times. It is named Val de Laga, and is from the Richard de Bas
mill in France; this mill has provided hand-made paper continuously
since 1326. When we wrote to the manager in Paris to question the
high price, the reply was this, “Unfortunately, you have correctly
heard the price of our fine paper. I do not know how expressing
myself, but our old mill is not a ‘commercial affair,’ it is a ‘thing
of beauty’ as said Keats, and our paper costs to us much than we sell
it (we make only three hundred sheets a day!). That mill was founded
in 1326 and we have no changed the process of fabrication. Every
sheet costs much time: that is why it is dear and beautiful as not
book was printed on Acorn-Smith handpress which was made in
Philadelphia about 1830. On every page there are wood engravings by
Mallette Dean; each (122 per book) has been hand-coloured by Dorothy
Allen. There are approximately one hundred pages, 11 by 8 inches. The
binding consists of an Invicta parchment spine, and sides of French
paper decorated with wood engravings. The books are enclosed in
slip-cases covered in the paper of the binding,
publication date is May 15, 1956. On advance, PREPAID orders, a
special price of $18.50 has been set. After May 15, the price will be
$20.00. Because there are only 130 copies, we respectfully suggest
that orders be mailed promptly.
Allen Press 516 Woodland Road Kentfield California
The book is a love story and I was taken by the idea of Paris the Knight
jousting against his rivals for the admiration of Vienne. I thought
that this would create a strong design and I could place the characters so that they would mirror well across
the cover; Paris appearing on the front cover and his rival on the
back with the jousting poles crossing the spine.
Quoted from the text, “Alle other knightes there were knowen by
their armes, but the two white knights were unknowen…Said Vienne,
yonder two white knightes that bear no armes on their sheldes are
more to my fantasie”.
Paris bore no arms on his shield therefore I decided to depict him with a plain white shield – in the story he goes
on to win a crystal shield and a gold garland of flowers, presented
to him by Vienne. On the cover design I drew her on the
spine section – the same image as that taken from the wood block print in the text
block. I placed her standing in the doorway to her castle, the
castle being a much larger version of the wood block print that also features in the text block. The outline of this castle I planned to carbon
or blind tool, with Vienne embroidered in colour.
When it came to choosing the colour palette, the wood block prints in the text block were hand-coloured in pastel tones so I wanted this to follow
through into the cover design. I had a lovely pink/purple Pergamena
skin in my leather drawer that I chose to cover the book in and selected the leather onlays to go with
The woodblock prints were also my inspiration for the endpapers and doublures. I used the leaf and floral elements from the illustrated vines to carve some lino stamps, much larger than the originals.
I didn’t originally have a vision about the pattern I was going to print these in so did some tests using an ink pad and some paper. It turned out that using all of the stamps together appeared too fussy so in the end I used just one to create a gridded repeat pattern. I felt that this worked better with the cover design, as the fabrics of the horses were repeat patterns too.
I used an oil-based ink, Intaglio Printmaker Black Litho/Relief Ink, for the printing. These inks are recommended for block printing but are slow drying so I had to do this a few days ahead of the forwarding.
Given the leaflet that was included with the text block detailed the quality of paper used for the original binding I felt it important to get something as close as possible to that for the endpapers and doublures. I took one of the sections into Shepherds in London and found a very suitable match, both in weight and colour:
“This range was conceived to match European papers. These papers are available in 65 & 110 gsm and are made in both laid and wove versions. The papers are manufactured from cotton and flax, have four deckle edges and conform to archival standards.”
Once the ink was dry I punched out the centres of each of the flowers with my Japanese hole punch and stuck a circle of coloured paper, slightly larger in size, to the reverse of the hole with some PVA.
I also chose one flower on both the front and back doublures to back with gold leaf. Firstly I carefully pierced around the outline of the flower and then backed the hole with Moon Gold leaf that I had adhered to Japanese tissue in advance. This really caught the light and added a satisfying visual change in comparison to all the other black flowers.
Once the endpapers were made up and sewn to the text block the book could be rounded and backed with a backing hammer. The spine was then lined with linen, leather and a hollow. The text block had deckled edges on the foredge and bottom of the pages which I kept but I sanded the top edge flat.
Once the book had been rounded and backed I sewed the endbands with colours to match the cover design and then laced on the boards. At this point it was possible to mark out the exact size of the book and cut the leather (yes, that is a newborn baby in the sling asleep whilst I work!).
As with all of my bindings I make a sample board ahead of working on the book leather to test out colours and stitches (this board comes in at number 50!). On a photocopy of the cover design I spent a while working out a colour chart for my onlays. Unless they really are too tiny to do anything with I rarely throw any of my leather scraps away so I have boxes of odds and ends to work with – perfect for a job such as this.
I first set about sticking onlays down onto the sample board leather. This included some alum-tawed leather for the white of the shield and fleur-de-lis on the cloak of the horse.
I also used some of the Moon Gold leaf I had stuck to Japanese paper for the head pieces of the knight and horse.
Once these were stuck down and the onlays back-pared I was able to start on the embroidery. I used a combination of different stitches to build up the design, pricking through the leather with a bodkin into some foam so I then knew where to place the stitches.
The embroidery stage of the binding is the bit I enjoy the most, in fact I find it quite therapeutic. It was also quite possible to achieve whilst sitting with a sleeping baby on my lap!
The white alum-tawed leather of the shield was given some texture with cross-hatched stitches in a thread of the same colour. I also built up the fur of the horse using small stitches in a variety of colours.
Once the embroidery was complete it was then time to stick it to the sample board. I always find it interesting to observe and capture the back of the piece before it goes onto the board/book as it will never be seen again!
It was then time to work on the leather for the actual book starting with glueing down the onlays. To ensure I get these in the correct place I work through a tracing paper template that I stick in place on top of the leather so it can be lifted up and down whilst adhering down the small leather pieces.
I worked on the larger block pieces first, building up the onlays layer by layer as I go trying to ensure there is not too much of an overlap between each piece.
Once the larger pieces were down it was time to cut out and stick down the smaller onlays to make up the pattern of the outfit material of the horses and the knights.
Lots and lots of tiny onlays later…..
…the glueing was done and they were stuck down in place. I cut out three different sizes with the smallest glued at the top and the largest at the bottom.
And finally the onlays for Vienne were added to the spine.
The leather could then be pared. Firstly the edges were first run through a Brockman down to 0.4mm and then the “step” was taken off using a French paring knife. The main body of the leather was then back-pared using the knife, ensuring I vacuumed away the leather dust at regular intervals so as not to get any trapped under the leather leading to thinner patches being pared in the wrong places.
The joints of the leather where the boards were to hinge were sanded over a rounded edge to remove some of the thickness. It was then further pared in these areas when flat with my French paring knife to graduate the thickness.
I find it quite satisfying when you start to see a sort of “halo” image from the front coming through on the reverse of the leather in amongst all of the leather dust – this was the final result!
Along with my little “helper”, Winnie, the embroidery of the leather then commenced. I try and work on the outlines first and then build up the detail second, working through colour by colour. In order to access the part of the leather that I am embroidering I coil up the leather and fix it into a tube with bulldog clips at each end. The leather is too thick to use an embroidery hoop with but I find this works well and makes it more manageable.
Further to how I did the shield on the sample board I added French knots to the cross-hatching on the book cover to add a bit more textural detail. One of the main reasons I do a sample board is to help to visualise what the book is going to look like and I often embellish the actual book leather further than than of the board.
French knots and linear stitches were also added to the diamonds on horse number one.
Yet again, the back shows the random nature of the stitches in comparison to the front – how the thread passed its way around in order to create the cover detail. This will be forever concealed once the leather is on the binding…
It is always a satisfying feeling to have finished the embroidery but then a slight feeling of trepidation steps in having to get it onto the binding!
The completed embroidery on the front:
The completed embroidery on the back:
The book was then covered with the leather – definitely a stage of the process when I made sure the baby was elsewhere so as not to be disturbed during this crucial time! I dampened the front of the leather using a water spray before pasting out the back three times with paste. After covering I waited for it to dry for a good 24 hours before putting the leather joints down.
I then moved onto the tooling of the binding. The castle outline was first blind-tooled with pallets before filling in the lines with carbon. I used hand-made finishing tools to blind tool some texture beneath the horses and knights. These hand-tools often make an appearance in my bindings and have been a very useful little set to have made.
I was very pleased with how this tooling worked out, adding a visual difference to the bottom half of the leather, as shown in detail below.
A small amount of Moon Gold was also tooled onto the fleur-de-lis of the Noble Knight Paris’ horse.
And then the book was held in a finishing press in order to tool the spine.
I had visions of the box of this binding ahead of working on it. A number of years ago I bought some planks of ebony, I think they were actually being sold for instrument making. I thought that the rich, dark colour of the ebony would work really well as the container of this binding so dug it out. The planks I had weren’t quite wide enough to make a solid lid so the panels were “book-matched”:
“Bookmatching is the practice of matching two (or more) wood or stone surfaces, so that two adjoining surfaces mirror each other, giving the impression of an opened book. As applied to wood, bookmatching is usually done with veneer (produced in one of several ways), but can also be done with solid wood”. Wikipedia
I wanted to carry over the fleur-de-lis pattern from the cover design onto the box and decided a good way of doing this would be to get a series of these laser-cut. I know a wonderful jeweller called Emily Kidson who uses Formica laminate in her work. She gave me some pieces a while back to try out and this seemed a perfect opportunity to have a go with it. I also had some wood veneers in my drawers so had some cut in this too.
I was really pleased with how the laminate fleur-de-lis looked when I got them back and set about working on how to place them on the box lid.
I also wanted to include one gold-plated fleur-de-lis so pierced the same shape from brass sheet. I then soldered some posts to the back of it so it could be physically fixed into the box lid.
As well as the fleur-de-lis I want the jousting poles of the knights to be made from metal. I rounded the ends of some brass rod with a file, then removed the file marks with wet-and-dry paper before cutting the rod down. I then soldered these ends onto some posts – the smaller of the three circles was for the sample board.
I then had all these metal pieces polished and plated with 2 microns of gold.
The ebony was finished with Danish Oil and then a layer of bees wax. Under where each of the fleur-de-lis were to be placed on the lid I drilled some holes and pushed through brass pins.
The heads of which were wound with a length of thread to add some detail with the ends of the threads being glued in place inside the lid.
Because the box had been oiled and waxed, I needed to abrade behind where they were due to be stuck down in order for the glue to have something to bind to. I cut out a paper template of the fleur-de-lis and used this through which to score the wood with the end of a scalpel blade.
The laminate fleur-de-lis could then be stuck down with PVA, a few at a time, and a weight placed on top of the whilst the glue dried.
As a change from shop-bought catches, for this particular box I wanted to add an additional element in the form of a jousting stick to act as a clasp. I first covered some thin brass tube with Japanese paper using Lascaux Acrylic Adhesive. This glue is extremely elastic with the dry film remaining permanently tacky. It is great for adhering paper to non-porous surfaces such as metal so was perfect for the job.
Once there was a layer of Japanese paper adhered to the brass I had a suitable surface upon which to stick a leather layer to it. I first wound a strip of turquoise leather along the length with PVA and then stuck a thinner strip of purple leather on top of this around the join along the whole length.
I stuck a bead on the tail end and had the “handle” end machined to my dimensions. Each of these two ends had a pin attached to it that was glued inside the brass rod. The jousting stick then had to have an tubular attachment made to be fixed to the box for it to feed through and close the container.
This was made by soldering some flat sheet to some brass tube, the inner diameter of which fitted the end of the turned brass jousting pole handle. This was then cut in two and one half of each drilled and pinned into a chiselled groove on the top/bottom of the box. When the lid was closed they married up and the jousting pole could be slid through it therefore holding the box closed. A second tube of the same specification was added a bit further down for the beaded end of the pole to sit in. These pieces were also covered in thin leather.
The box was hinged and then lined with felt, mainly to protect the book, but also to conceal the pins and thread that were visible inside the lid of the box.
I have now made it common practice to order each of my bindings and accompanying wooden boxes a conservation grade box to be housed in. I order these from the Bodliean Library and label them so they can be identified on a book shelf. The letters for this outer box were cut from the title panel for the ebony box, therefore the offcuts weren’t wasted.
And so comes to an end the making of this binding! But not to the work surrounding it as I had to photograph and catalogue the book for my website.
I have a new website in the making at present by my husband George therefore this will be one of the last to appear on my existing site. With that however comes a lot of work as I assess what from my old site makes the cut to the new one.
I will also be amalgamating this blog onto it so I no longer have so many different platforms to publish things on! I will however have a bit of a cross over where my posts will appear simultaneously on both for a while until the change happens for good.
I will leave you with a few select photos of the final piece in all it’s glory, for more please visit my website.
ENDPAPERS AND DOUBLURES
SPINE DETAIL OF VIENNE:
BOOK IN BOX:
On an end note, if you are interested in making your own “sample board” I am due to teach a class for the DB/SoB joint workshops in February next year in the beautiful Bradford-on-Avon, details can be found on both the DB and SoB websites over the coming weeks.