Even before I'd moved to Bath, in fact even before I had a roof over my head I had plans to do the bookbinding course at City of Bath College. It's something I dabbled with briefly while studying my first degree and an area that is intrinsically linked with my work, both in terms of my employment and the art I have created.
I'd had very little information on the course so I wasn't sure what it would entail. I certainly didn't expect for everyone else present to have their own projects they wanted to work on. I'm on the course to create books, to make something new. It seems that the majority, with one other exception, are there to learn how to repair existing books.
Maybe it was this discovery that made me give my employment as the reason I was on the course. The some reason I felt uncomfortable explaining that I worked with books as art, probably destroying books they would seek to repair, and that I wanted to learn new skills that would help me create with books. Saying I was a librarian just seemed a simpler explanation.
That aside the first week was interesting, with us diving straight into creating a simple notebook.
- First we learnt about grain and the importance of folding with it so that both pages and the end plates would turn and lie well. This means that the grain has to run vertically though out the book. The same also applies to the board used for the book ends. It's amazing that in all the time I have worked with books I had never considered this simple issue.
- Next we learnt about some basic tools. A bone folder to ensure a sharp, even crease on the folds. Linen sewing tape, to strengthen the blocks, needle and thick, waxed thread to sew the blocks together and finally scrim to cover the spine and again strengthen the final set of blocks. A block incidentally is a set of folded paper making up one section within the book.
- To make your blocks fold and crease 2-5 pages of paper (number depends on thickness) and insert inside each other. We were using thick cartridge paper, almost card, so we ended up with 5 sets of pairs. This was enough for about a 1cm book.
- Next you need to mark them up for the tape and sewing. Line up the folded edges and sandwich between your board to protect it then clamp everything together.
- Make your first guide lines 2-3cm in from the ends. Then, depending on the size of the book you will need 2-3 further pairs of holes. (Pairs because they will sit either side of the strips of linen tape) Measure these out and use a hack saw of very sharp knife to mark their position. Unclamp and finish holes with needle, making sure you put your blocks back together the right way round so that all the holes line up.
- Stick you linen tape to a board using the hacksaw marks as guides, line up your first block with the tape and then starting at one end sew the book. After the second block remember to knot it to the first and then after the third block make a kettle stitch under the stitch on the block below. Ensure you pull the thread tight and when stitching over the tape loop the thread under the block before. This will ensure the blocks are firmly fixed together.
- Once all our blocks are all sewed together make a double kettle stitch and reclamp the block between the boards. Ensure the tape is not trapped, it should be loose. PVA the spine, smoothing in any loose threads and then apply the scrim to THE END only. Leave to dry.
- While drying prepare your end papers. Remember the grain must still run vertically. Cut two pieces, slightly higher than your blocks and twice as long as they are wide. Then fold each and glue to the blocks using a narrow strip of glue at the spine. Ensure you glue the end papers under the scrim and tape, these should remain free.
- Using the spine as the straight edge use a set square to mark the 'true' edges of your book. Then either using a professional cutter, electronic guillotine, or for very small books, clamps and a very sharp knife, trim the edge. A professional printers should be able to do this for a for a small charge.
And that's as far as we got. Next week we are going to add the board 'ends' and cover them with decorative paper. I can tell that nearly everyone else is itching to start on their own projects, one person had already brought in a bible he wanted to repair and another person, who attended the course previously, was already working on a book he was repairing for a friend. I on the other hand can't wait to start experimenting with different types of covers and binding techniques which hopefully won't be too much at odds with what everyone else wants to do.
I also hope that the aren't going to be be too horrified when I start working with recycled books as I plan to do. I'm thinking that maps, music and vintage covers will make excellent book ends and covers for small notebooks. Not very original but a good use of my time while I practice my skills. In fact I already have a map which I think can be transformed into a lovely notebook for someone as well as a few other ideas involving specific books and titles.
This course for me is about learning skills, skills I will probably rework and adapt to create things as far from a 19th Century bible as you can imagine. I probably shouldn't tell the owner of that bible that I'd be as likely to turn it into an origami flower as try and repair the missing pages. But then they are probably going to find that out for themselves eventually.