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Archive for August, 2017

I spent a very enjoyable day at The Keep yesterday, making a casebound notebook at a one-day workshop led by their conservator, Melissa Williams. Being the conservator in an archive that holds many different documents and books, with some going back to the 12th century, Melissa really knows her “métier” and she freely shared her knowledge, making sure that the bookbinding techniques taught can be used at home, without specialist equipment, and only a few special tools.

bookbinding tools and notebook

All ready for the day: a paperweight, bone folder, bookbinder’s awl, glue brush, shoe knife, and empty pages to take plenty of notes

I have always enjoyed using nice stationery, and appreciate well-made books, in particular with “proper” linen covers, and I was very excited when my husband gave me this workshop as a present! I have always been curious about how books are made, and this workshop was a nice introduction. Of course, there are many ways of making books, and this workshop was very practical: we were taught one way of making a casebound book, and everybody left with their own by the end of it. Needless to say, Melissa showed us how to work to archival standards, and the materials used reflected this.

bookbinding workshop - book cloths

The stockroom in the conservator’s studio not only contains plenty of book cloth, but also greyboard, vellum, parchment, and other things I have no idea what they are for

I felt right at home in Melissa’s studio: specialist equipment everywhere, all the high-quality materials she uses, her in-depth knowledge of bookbinding, conservation, and preservation, always trying to achieve the best of her abilities, it all chimed with me.

bookbinding workshop - different sewing techniques

A different kind of sampler: a variety of ways to bind sections of a book together

We were taught how to make a casebound notebook, containing five sections. When you open a hardback book, you will probably notice that there are a number of sections, each of which has some thread in the middle. So we started with folding large sheets of paper that would become the sections (Melissa told us that she once went to a conference where she attended a 1.5 hour talk on how to fold paper!) After making holes in each section with a bookbinder’s awl, it was time to get stitching. I really enjoyed looking at the binding sampler shown above. The tape methods shown on the left are what we used, and if I remember correctly, the three methods with the cord are usually used when covering a book with leather – you may have seen antique books with a leather spine with thick ridges across it. This is what those ridges hide.

bookbinding workshop - sewing the folded sections

A professional bookbinder would probably use a “sewing frame,” but all techniques used in the workshop are achievable at home

After sewing the sections together, we moved on to gluing. Bookbinders tend to use PVA glue nowadays, but in the olden days the glue was usually made from bones. As a result, antique books often harbour whole colonies of bugs in the spine, as the bone glue can provide nutrients for literally centuries. Gluing happens in several stages, using thin layers that each need to dry out, otherwise the book will contain too much moisture when finished, and once assembled, would struggle to dry properly.

bookbinding workshop - mull and brown paper cover the spine

Mull and brown paper cover the spine. The big block is a brick covered in book cloth keeping the sections weighed down flat and in place

The spine is first covered in mull, a stiff open-weave fabric, and then some brown paper, and then everything is trimmed. That’s most of the inner workings finished, and it was time to move on to the most exciting bit: preparing the book cloth and covering the greyboard!

bookbinding workshop - making corners when covering the board

The bookbinders equivalent of “hospital corners”

bookbinding workshop - finished case

Boards covered in cloth, and a spine stiffener made from brown paper

Gluing in the sewn sections into the boards was the most difficult part, and despite my best efforts, the finished book isn’t quite true. However, this does in no way detract from the marvel of having managed to make my own notebook.

Bookbinding workshop - detail of finished book

A “proper” notebook, made by my own fair hands!

Since coming home, I must have picked up this notebook at least twenty times, caressing the linen cloth, looking at the end papers (even if plain) and admiring the nicely turned out corners.

bookbinding workshop - finished book

A slight imperfection in the cloth adds to the charm of this notebook

I can’t wait to have filled up my current notebook, so I can start using this one. I may have discovered a new hobby, as I’m already overflowing with ideas of playing around with scraps of bookcloth and combining them with my interest in mending. I can highly recommend this workshop, which not only gives you an insight into the art of bookbinding, but also a beautiful casebound book you made yourself!

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Cobbled together: transitive verb. 1 chiefly British : to mend or patch coarsely. 2 : repair, make cobble shoes. 3 : to make or put together roughly or hastily —often used with together or up : cobble together an agreement, cobble up a temporary solution.

Canvas and leather shoe repair WIP

Shoes in need of some cobbling with a difference

My friend Sam absolutely loves these shoes, and she has worn them a lot. As a result, the canvas in the creases on the top of the toes had started to deteriorate, and I loved the repair challenge this posed to me. It’s not a job that I think a cobbler would ever take on, but in general I think that taking your shoes to the cobbler’s is probably one of the few acts of repair that people still do on a regular basis, and probably one of the few things I don’t do myself. It’s also one of the few mainstream shops still geared exclusively towards repairing, alongside mobile phone and computer repair shops.

Electrical Repair Agency, Newcastle

Electrical Repair Agency in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. I happened upon it on a Sunday, so it’s hard to tell whether they were still in business

There used to be many repair shops, such as the one I photographed in Newcastle when I was visiting in 2012, but it seems there are not that many left now. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that Martine Postma founded the Repair Cafe Foundation, and why I volunteer at one. As explained on their website:

We throw away vast amounts of stuff. Even things with almost nothing wrong, and which could get a new lease on life after a simple repair. The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how. Knowing how to make repairs is a skill quickly lost. Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines. Their experience is never used, or hardly ever.

The Repair Café changes all that! People who might otherwise be sidelined are getting involved again. Valuable practical knowledge is getting passed on. Things are being used for longer and don’t have to be thrown away. This reduces the volume of raw materials and energy needed to make new products. […] The Repair Café teaches people to see their possessions in a new light. And, once again, to appreciate their value. The Repair Café helps change people’s mindset. This is essential to kindle people’s enthusiasm for a sustainable society.

But most of all, the Repair Café just wants to show how much fun repairing things can be, and how easy it often is.

Canvas and leather shoe repair WIP closeup

Repair in progress

I definitely find fixing fun, and apart from giving me an opportunity to be creative, I find that when I’m absorbed in the task at hand, my mind frequently starts wandering and I have the freedom to roam wherever my mind wants to take me. Fixing Sam’s shoes made me thinking about cobblers and the meaning of the verb “to cobble together” — as you can see in the definition from Merriam-Webster posted in the opening paragraph of this post, it is mostly used to describe mending or patching in a rough or hasty manner: the complete opposite of the way I approached this repair.

Canvas leather brogues repaired topview

Shoe repair finished. I thought a quick polish wouldn’t go amiss either

For this repair I used some linen thread supplied by Namolio and I “simply” darned the thread in. In principle this is a very simple technique. The threads of the original canvas running from side to side were mostly still intact, so I viewed those as the warp threads, and the repair thread as the weft. I wove in and out of the warp, and extended this into the still sound fabric. Once that was completed, I reinforced the weakest warp threads by darning alongside them. As the damage was right in the middle of a concave surface it was a challenge to get the needle in right where I wanted it, putting my patience to the test. I’m glad I persevered, as I’m very happy with the end result. As is Sam; I hope she’ll walk many more miles in these.

Canvas leather brogues repaired

What a beautiful pair of shoes; as you can see, I did leave some work for an actual cobbler

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