Tag Archives: leather

Book Restoration Class or the Three Nancys

Week before last I was back at the John Campbell Folk School for yet another book class. I usually try not to travel in February because of the weather, especially since I have to go through the mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia before I get to the snow-free areas.  This year was special. When the temperature hit 50* in February and I still hadn’t had to have my driveway plowed, I started giving the trip serious consideration. I obsessed over the long-range forecasts and when they showed clear days on both weekends that I would be on the road, I called the School and signed up.  Very glad I did. It was a great class and just the break I needed.

The class was Book Restoration taught by Gian Frontini, a master in book restoration.  I have a few books that are valuable enough that I’ve been reluctant to attempt repairs without expert guidance and this was my opportunity.  Since it was a very last minute decision, I just piled lots of wounded books, a heap of bookbinding supplies and my tools in the car and took off.  Fortunately, my gamble paid off and it was a clear, easy drive in both directions.

The three books I wanted to concentrate on had similar structural problems with detached covers and some minor damage to the spine. In all of them, the sewing was sound.  The first  was a book of heraldry printed in 1619. As with most paper from that era, it was in good shape. 17th century paper was made mostly from linen rags and so is much better quality than later paper which included other fibers, and eventually wood pulp. Here’s a visual look at the process.

A restoration like this is painstaking work, but the results are really worth the time and effort. The first step was taking the old leather spine off of the book.  In this case there was no reason for saving any of it and I was unable to lift any large pieces anyway.  Once I was down to the paper of the textblock, rebuilding could begin.  Multiple layers of thin tissue paper were glued onto the spine. Then, in a move reminiscent of Paul Newman digging the hole in “Cool Hand Luke”, the tissue was sanded off until the spine became smooth.  Heavy threads were sewn through the textblock and twisted into new cords. Muslin was added to the spine with extra “wings” to add strength to the new hinges. Once the textblock was ready, the old boards had to be opened along the spine edge to receive the new leather spine. This was probably my most difficult part. The leather is fragile – after all it is 400 years old – and must be carefully lifted from the old board for a width sufficient to hold the new spine. Careful, tedious work. Not my forte!  The new leather was pared and carefully inserted between the old leather and the old board, the endcaps were turned in and it started to look like a book again. Last step was to add the endpapers, paste them down and put the book into the press. As a small finishing touch, I added a tiny bit of tooling to the spine, just an outline next to the cords.

Next book up was an early 19th century copy of Scott’s “Lord of the Isles”.  This book has a half-calf binding with leather on the spine and corners and a marbled paper cover, very similar in appearance to a lot of the blank books I make.  There are problems and solutions similar to the Brooke, but with some twists.

This book has marbled endpapers with matching marbling on the edges of the textblock.  Unlike the Brooke book, I wanted to preserve the endpapers, which meant I had to ease the paper off of the edges of the boards and lift it just a bit at the spine edge. The paper was pretty sturdy, but I still managed to tear it in a few places.  On the other hand, the leather was very fragile, much more so than on the Brooke which was 200 years older.  The spine on this book had some decorative elements that I would have liked to have saved for the new spine, but they are so crumbly, I’m not sure I can use them at all.  The textblock is almost finished, just have to add muslin. I have to cut and pare the leather for the new spine and attach it. The last step will be to fiddle with the endpapers so they appear to be one piece again.  Not too sure about that step.  I may have to ask for help on that.

The last of the priority books was a stamp album that belonged to my Great-grandfather when he was a boy.  Unlike the other books, this book is covered with cloth rather than leather. The book’s structure is also different. The first two are flexible bindings where the textblock was sewn directly onto the boards.  The album is a cased binding, which means the covers and the textblock were made separately and then married together.

Unlike the other books, I had to make repairs on the textblock before I could start working on the structure. First thing was to create an extra section from the loose front pages. I could have just tipped them in, but since there were six loose pages, it was stronger to join sets of pages with Japanese paper and fold them into a small section that I could sew into the textblock. At the same time, I repaired some edges, tears and gently unfolded the crumpled corner. Once the pages were in shape, new cords were made in the same way as the previous books.  I was able to line and sand the spine, but that was as far as I went with that project. I now need to create a new spine with bookcloth,  attach it to the old boards, add a hollow tube to the textblock and case in the book.  It shouldn’t take more than half a day to finish this book.

In some odd minutes I had, I also bound two small books I had had as a child that had lost all vestiges of covers.

As I said, very productive and instructive week. Learned some new techniques and am becoming more confident in the old ones.

The book cradle I am using in the photos was purchased from Jim Poelstra at http://affordablebindingequipment.com/ and I love it!

Oh, and as to the three Nancys  … Yes, there were five women in the class and three were named Nancy!



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Another batch of miniature and almost miniature books

I’ve really been enjoyed making these very small books and here’s another batch that I started before Thanksgiving.  I had to put them aside while working on the “Two by Ten” project, but once that was finished, it was back to the books.

The first three are traditional sewn bindings, exactly like my regular size books, sewn over tapes with endbands and ribbon markers. “Purple Prose” is slightly different.  The paper is a heavily textured, stiff paper by Strathmore that won’t bend around the Davey board without cracking. I didn’t want to do a standard limp binding, so I made a hybrid with board supporting the covers, but with the covers sticking out beyond the boards and not wrapping around them. I pasted down the endpapers to finish it off.  The last miniature was a full-bound leather book. That one was sewn around heavy cords rather than tapes to give the raised band look on the spine. I used a beautifully soft piece of leather and I love the feel of this one.

The last book was inspired by Valentine’s Day and is 4″ x 6″ and too big to be considered a miniature. Prefect size to slip into a pocket and carry with you for writing or sketching.

These books will probably go into my shop on Etsy soon.

In January, I’ve been working on new inventory for the local gallery and sorting through my inventory trying to plan the next year.  Looking through piles of paper – both mine and commercially printed – is always inspiring and I usually plan way more than I can possibly do!   I haven’t been feeling like marbling recently, but one of these days, I’ll have to knuckle down and pull out the trays.  Like so many things, once I get started, I love doing it.  It’s the getting started that’s hard!  No idea what projects I’ll start next, but that’s the nice part of being retired and one’s own boss.



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Paper, leather, wood and metal

These books have it all!

Just finished a great week at the John C. Campbell Folk School creating a book sewn over double cords, laced onto wooden boards with a metal clasp.  It was very intensive work as we used only hand tools and I’m not very skilled in either woodwork or metal crafting. Our instructor, Jim Croft, and his assistant, Brien Beidler, guided the class with great skill and wonderful patience.

As usual, I forgot to take my camera the first day and didn’t completely document some of the processes. I hope there are enough pictures that you can follow along on the path from raw materials to finished book.  The first day was spent folding, sewing, and finishing the textblock; choosing wood for the boards and designing the book.  My textblock had very little swell, so I decided to use a Romanesque/Carolingian structure which has a flat spine rather than the Gothic style (round spine) used by most of the rest of the class. Since this was a structure I had never made before, I was glad it turned out that way.

The textblock is Strathmore drawing paper which was sewn over double cords with a hand-spun linen thread. The ends of the cords were then thinned, coated with wheat paste and twisted together into points.  This made it easy to lace and unlace the boards from the cords multiple times during the construction of the book.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of either shaping the boards or drilling holes, but you can see the results.  With a Romanesque binding the cords are laced directly into the spine edge of the boards. The hole is drilled at an angle so the cord exits on top of the board. A second hole is drilled through the board and the cord is laced down to end on the inside of the cover. The cords are not pasted in place until the book is almost finished.

Once I knew that the cords and the boards fit, I pasted out the spine and ploughed the head and tail edges of the textblock. The boards were then adjusted to the new size of the text.  Romanesque bindings tend to have little or no square or overhang.  I didn’t plough the fore edge, but left that with an uneven, hand-torn edge.

Next step was to move onto the metalwork phase, designing and making the fastening. Mine is full metal which is made in three pieces, the hinge and the catch, which are attached to the boards and the hasp, which closes the book. I started out drawing a paperboard pattern and scratching the pattern into a sheet of brass.  I cut the pattern area off the sheet and textured it with a simple dimpling by hitting it with various sized ball peen hammers. The patterns for the hinge and catch were cut and trimmed and the edges smoothed. An area of the top and bottom boards was chiseled out just enough so that the brass and the board were level. I made pins for both pieces and rolled the brass tabs around them.  That was the most difficult operation for me and I confess I had a lot of help to get it just right. Fitting the brass onto the boards involved a lot of filing, chiseling and frustration. Not much tolerance or leeway in any direction. I’ve forgotten the exact order, but the hinge and catch were fastened to the boards with rivets made from escutcheon pins and the hasp was added.  After all the fiddling, I was very pleased when everything came together and the book actually closed properly and the latch worked! Because my book was short, I had only one clasp, but most people in the class had taller books and used two clasps.

After the clasp was fitted and riveted, the boards were laced on for the final time. I pasted the cords into the grooves and then pegged the cords.  Making the pegs took longer than inserting them.  I am so not a whittler! The pegs are forced into the holes with the cords, pasted and trimmed. My pegs should have been a little thinner in the middle so they would have gone farther into the holes.

The last step is putting on the leather spine.  The leather is carefully trimmed to shape and size.  For my book, it was curved to fit the pattern on the boards and had a wide, straight-sided tab that would fold over the head and tail of the spine.  Unfortunately, I took very few pictures of the leather work. The leather is first pared, head and tail so that it will fold easily. The curved edge should fit exactly into the carved groove. After pasting it out and letting the moisture penetrate the piece, I put the leather on the book, tugging  and stretching it into place. Pasted leather is very easy to work with as it can be positioned and re-positioned many times until it is just right.  It does stretch when damp, so I had to trim it a bit. That’s the tricky part and I did get a little too much off one edge.  Before putting the leather on, I wrapped the textblock in craft paper to protect it as you can see in the photos.

Quick look at the other books made this week.

These books take a lot of time and skill to make, so I’m not sure if I’ll ever make another one, but some of what I learned will be very useful in the future.

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Fifty Shades of Purple

Last week I had a wonderful marbling session!  After the angst of the last carrageenan disaster, I was a little bit worried about starting one, especially as I had a special order to work on.  Specials are always a combination of fun and dread.  Fun – to be working with someone else’s ideas and color palette, and dread that I’ll mess it up. This time the theme was purple, specifically toward the blue end of purple rather than the red.  In looking over my colors, I realized that I had several red purples but only a tiny bit of Ultramarine Violet. I quickly ordered some and decided to try mixing some.  Mixing colors when marbling is always a challenge for me.  Some blend very nicely and float well, but others just don’t. Probably has something to do with the chemical makeup, specific gravity or density of the pigment. No clue.  Anyway, this time it worked!

Here are my purples, maybe not quite 50 shades, but a couple dozen!

I did finish up with other colors and some fun.

The first photos show some of the other colors I played with at the end of the session. The rest of the photos come from  spoiled copy of a fashion and pattern magazine for August 1898.  The incredible wasp waists fascinated me.  I can’t imagine having to wear them. I love the color prints and don’t know what to do with them.  I’m not going to marble them!  The ones I did marble were black and white.  The last two images are from my odds and ends. The first is from a Children’s magazine, “The Chatterbox”, which has lots of sad tales full of tragic heroines and Victorian morals. The last is the back cover of sheet music printed in 1915.  Fun combination of interesting stuff!

To finish the week, I finally completed five little books I had started a while ago using the trimmings from larger books.  All of them are roughly 4″ x 4″ and to make up for their small size, I made them thicker than I usually do.  Even though they take almost as long to make as their bigger sisters, I find these fun projects.

Like the hearts and flowers!  The tools and the garlands have leather spines.

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Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

About ten years ago, shortly after I moved into this house, I started an herb garden in the middle of my side lawn.  I’m not quite sure why I put it there. As it has grown over the years it has become difficult to mow around.  Not planned well at all!  It is, however, convenient to the kitchen and, since planning doesn’t seem to be my strong point, close enough to run out and grab some parsley or chives on those rare occasions when I actually cook.  I love growing herbs, but I really don’t use them much, especially ones like borage and horehound and fennel.  They are pretty and smell good too!

My care of this garden has been very hit-and-miss.  I usually put in a few annuals like parsley and basil in the spring and see what comes up from the previous year.  I hate weeding, so by July, the patch is overgrown with the more invasive herbs as well as weeds and grass.  The last few years, I’ve been particularly lax and I had half sage bushes and half chives.  Several years ago, I did tear out all the tarragon which threatened to take over everything.  The past winter was so cold and so long that it spelled doom for most of the plants.  Only a few meager sage stems survived along with a tiny bit of thyme and, of course the chives.

In the face of such devastation, I decided I had to go back to the beginning, dig almost everything up and start fresh.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans.  Winter stayed and stayed and stayed.  The ground didn’t really thaw until April, followed by cold, raw weather and topped off by a huge storm and a flood that wiped out roads, basements and a house or two.  I’m on the side of a hill, so only lost part of my driveway, but the county highway crews estimate it will take months to repair all the damage.

Last week was the first opportunity for me to dig, plant, and redo the border.  I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. Since retiring more than ten years ago, I’ve found I can work at hard physical tasks for shorter and shorter lengths of time.  If I pace myself, I can do one session in the morning and one in the afternoon. Working around weather that was either too hot or too cold, also provided a challenge.  Here are some photos of my recreation of my herb garden.  These were taken before I really finished, but just this morning, I placed the last of the border stones, planted the last few herbs and finished mulching. Yes, I know the chives need to be cut back, but they are so pretty!  I’ll do it next week.

There’s a border of thyme all around the garden and I’ve used a couple of different varieties.  At a college where I once worked they had a “thyme clock”. It was a circular planting, like a sundial, with twelve divisions and a different kind of thyme in each.  I’ve forgotten what was used as the gnomon, but I always liked the idea and would love to be able to recreate it.

In the meantime, in the back yard, I was able to quickly put in my standard garden of tomatoes and cucumbers. Earlier, I had gotten from NYS Forestry Service some bare root crab-apple trees and had planted them near an apple tree that I had grown from seed.  I think it’s a Pink Lady, but not sure.

It still needs a lot of work, but at least everything is in the ground.

Meanwhile, in the basement, I was finishing up three more boxes. Two with detached lids and one clamshell.

The two lidded boxes have leather tops.  Leather had always been difficult for me to work, but I’m finally beginning to get it and enjoy working with it.

It’s really nice to have a week of finishing, instead of treading water.  Of course, without the previous prep work and first steps, there wouldn’t be any finishing!  This week, I hope to relax, mulch the garden and think about what’s next.


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Books, Metal and Magic

It has taken me a long time to get around to this blog about my last week at the Campbell Folk School.  I’m not sure why – the press of catching up, my tiredness from the week or just the difficulty of encapsulating seven very busy and eventful days.

I think I’ll start backwards and show the books I finished during the week first and go into detail later.

As you can see from the outside of these books, I was playing with lots of different ideas.  What you can’t see, is that the  internal structures on these are quite different.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my camera for the first few days, so I have no pictures of some of the books in progress.  I’m hoping some of my classmates will share a few of their pictures.  There were only four students in the class and we were all working on very different projects, but there were some commonalities.

The first book I made was the 12th century account book.  I love the shape and size of the book. It’s only 3 1/2″ wide by 10″ tall.  This type of book was used for accounts and also for reading aloud. Since most of the population was illiterate, recitation and reading aloud were very important social and cultural activities.  I can imagine Chaucer holding a book like this and reading his poetry in the English Court.

The instructor, Gian Frontini, had made a book like this from vellum. I had found some old rolls of rawhide in my basement and had brought them with me on the chance I could find something to do with them.  The match was perfect! My rawhide had been cured and scraped rather crudely which left some interesting texture and markings on the book.  I used a slightly rough Fabriano paper for the textblock. It was sewn over narrow strips of the cover rawhide which were later laced into the boards.  You can see the lacing in the photos. I made the headbands with embroidery floss, sewing them into the textblock. The book was then finished off anachronistically with some of my marbled paper.  Even though it is not correct for the period of the binding, I felt it was a wonderful match for the organic feel of the book.  Traditionally, all the edges of the book would have been painted, usually red, but I decided not to.  A laced thong of rawhide was added to the back board of the book. The thong helps to keep the book closed and was also used as a “leash” for the book.  I added a small silver bauble to help in grabbing the book.

I had also found in my basement ( yes, it is a bit like Aladdin’s cave) a long, narrow roll of snakeskin.  I threw it into my box at the last minute intending to ask Gian if I could use it for something in binding. The answer was yes and I decided to make a very small book.  The snakeskin at it’s broadest was less than 4″ wide, so I settled on a book that’s only 3 inches square. Because it’s so small, I made it thick. Lots of pages with few words on each!  Like the rawhide, the snakeskin had to have Japanese paper pasted to the reverse side to give flexibility and durability to the piece. I sewed this textblock with a running Coptic stitch that was used in many Gothic books.  This stitch is not as stable as sewing over tapes, but it is more appropriate to the materials.  I cheated here on the headbands and use the paste on variety, mainly because I was afraid of running out of time. The spine was not glued down, but left as an open tube.  Again, I used my marbled paper as endpapers – a very snaky match.  I was amazed that I had brought just the right papers with me.  I only brought four or five sheets with no plan of how I would use them.  To find I had two that were such great matches was miraculous.  If you have read any of my blogs, you know how I agonize over finding just the right papers.

Next blog I’ll talk about my metal corners, enameled insets and unfinished business.


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Catching Up

This week I’ve been working on the four books that I’ve been documenting on the Design and Making a Book step two & step three pages. However, working on the books has meant less time for writing about them. Tonight I’ve uploaded a bunch of pictures, but haven’t had time to explain what they are. Will do that tomorrow, I hope.

What fascinates me is how the books change during the process.  I have a picture in my mind of what the finished product will look like, but it seldom is totally accurate.  Materials sometimes seem to have a mind of their own! Papers that I plan on using magically shrink or get cut in the wrong direction forcing me to use alternatives. Sometimes I just don’t like something on the sixth or seventh try.  One of the advantages of working on several pieces at once is that I have time to step away from one choice and come back to it later. Sometimes a paper I am considering for one book, will end up in a totally different place.

The Black Palm book is a good example.  My first thoughts on the endpapers were just wrong.  The second (the tigers) put William Blake into my head and I have been quoting “Tyger!, Tyger!” all week – mainly to myself.  I’m very pleased with the outcome.   I had no plan to use leather on any of these books.  It involves a lot of work to pare it down and I have been preoccupied with a lot of other stuff.  When I was trying to decide what to use as the spine for this book, nothing was working — until I noticed a piece of black leather.  It was just the right size and worked beautifully.  The result is that this is probably my favorite book in the batch and not at all as planned.







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