A study in medieval professional soldiering…

So I finished the book for a friend.

It began with a study of what Gallowglass meant; a look into fighting with honor, for someone else. A study of professional soldiering.

Gallowglass are 13-15th century professional Scottish soldiers.


When looking into the styles of books for the time period 13th to the 15th century, to include Norman influences, English, and Irish, I came back to the basics, the essence of Gallowglass. Mobile professional.

What I found was the need for mobility, and mobile business. Simple, easily maintained, hardy tools and equipment.
I went back to simple books and simple designs and worked within that concept of mobility, and hardiness.

I came to the conclusion that a single quire, within an oil-tanned (waterproof) binding would be what is needed here. Something a warrior leader would need to record specifics, contracts, sales, logistics, thoughts.

So here is the book.



A neat, wedge shaped piece of leather, wrapped around and secured in the back of the book, closed the flap. This is a one-time use book, for a special event. A signature/guest book as it were.



The quire and the leather binding are sewn together, directly, in a three-station pamphlet-style binding. This binding I’ve used for the past 6 weeks now, and carried something similar (instead of leather, I used case paper, thick, sturdy hand-made paper, for the biding) the sewing didn’t budge much at all, so I recreated that same sewing here. The waxed linen twine here, makes for a very secure, tight sewing.

Enter through the center, 2nd station, leaving about 3″ of end, sew to the 1st station, come out, and all the way down the outside of the spine, re-entering at the 3rd station. When coming back out the 2nd station, come through, on the opposite side of the outer spine thread, and cut off evenly, to match the thread left hanging. A simple square knot, around the long thread, holds the sewing together quite nicely, and is aesthetically pleasing when left long.


The inside of the leather case, showing the work done in the center, to skive/pare down the leather so it folds easier.

Have a good weekend, all.


Meditation on book end bands

I have a goal, of entering an important, but fun, competition, with no expectations to win.

I expect to garner advice, insight, questions, and the opportunity to teach what I’ve learned. I hope to teach with as much care and passion as my mentors have instilled in me (okay one mentor, you know who you are).

I plan on entering but never leaving. My foray into the study of book arts is not a revolving door, but the entrance into a broad world…full of promise. The promise of discovery, failure, success, dead-ends, solutions and fun.

So, blah-blah-blah, right? Show me something already.

So far, I’ve been on the path to recreate Islamic book bindings. I’ve been studying book block construction, case construction, sewing and end bands.

I decided to 1. gather paper, 2. punch paper, 3. sew folios into book block, 4. prepare block spine for binding/endbands, 5. skip binding and go straight to sewing endbands.

Sew, onto the endbands.

As you can see below, the spine is prepped, and the cord around which the endband is sewn has started to be secured. In this case, the cord is actually a piece of leather, trimmed to size and thickness appropriate for the endband for this small book. I’ve chosen black and white for the high contrast. You’ll note the sewing is a little uneven, no pre-punched holes this is free-form testing here!. Also, please note that I’ve marked the center of each folio with a small strip of paper. This was due to frustration early on trying to find the center of each folio with the needle on the book band. The book is less than 1/2″ wide, I wore my extra magnifiers, and still had troubles. This book started off with book marks before it’s even been bound!!

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Next, you’ll see the progress…okay you’ll see the one of the finished endbands. I honked this up, but it was a GOOD honk-up. Big lesson learned. Read on…

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The idea behind this was simple enough, using two threads, weave the threads so you obtain a chevron pattern. If the two threads weave counter-clockwise, 1st pass, you have to weave them clock-wise on the return. I failed to weave them opposite, and instead ended up with a slightly weird candy-cane stripe like mess. But 1. I have an endband, 2. I wove the end band through the “warp” threads holding the core of leather down, 3. I have experience on how not to weave the endband next time, 4. I have ONE more chance to get it right.

Below, you’ll see the picture of the finished 2nd end of the book (now the one I call the “top”, because the other is …ugly.



This one I got right! I”ve successfully turned the corner on the weaving, and completed the alternate direction to achieve the chevron (red-white thread for contrast).

I am so happy with this, I can barely contain it. My first major foray into some intricate work, without having my mentor around to show me first. I hope I made him proud.

Anyhow, this went much easier, as I had the feel of puncture the spine by now. I still used the sliver of paper book-marks to ease finding the center of the folio, and I’m still a little wobbly with the evenness of the stitches’ depth from end of spine to puncture.

The idea was to recreate one of the simpler designs found on islamic texts in and around the 9-11th centuries in Spain. (Szirmai, 1999) This is a blank book block, with no existing writing.

The final product will not be bound printed/written pages, but blank as well. I do not have the time to write passages for a book of hours, nor a book of the Bible, nor the Koran.

Next for the projects I will be studying and working on binding up a single-flap case for the book block I just sewed. I’ll post more pictures as I progress, with the individual parts, but not the whole book, until after the competition is over next month.

Thank you for taking this journey with me!



Current, formal research (yes, I realize it’s only one book):

Szirmai, J. A. (1999). The archaeology of medieval bookbinding. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.


and one limited article/pdf

Hadzimejlic, C. (n.d.). The islamic art of bookbinding. Retrieved from http://www.artesdellibro.com.mx/the-islamic-art-of-bookbinding.php



Spoilers! the journey of two journals…it’s a timey-wimey thing.

My daughters asked for journals for Christmas this year. I thought about just how rabidly they’d taken to Dr. Who, after I introduced them, and thought I’d surprise them with a matching set, having seen the ones in the “The Impossible Astronaut”. I fell in love with them and thought them a perfect pair for the girls.

So, it begins!

The picture you see below is the practice of skiving, or paring leather. I had a limited selection of leather, and so had to go with the closest to TARDIS blue I could find, and had some troubles with the choice I made.

It’s a rough-tanned, uneven tough/softness leather. I chose the most easily controlled knife of the two I own, the “French” paring knife to do the work. Boy was I glad I did.

Each side needed a large amount of tapering from “color” layer only at the edges to about 1/2 the thickness of the leather itself, just past the black lines drawn to outline the edges of the boards.

I found out in the earlier bindings I did, the empty binders, that the leather needed to be thinned down as far back as the bottom most corner of the book boards (cardboard or wood) for the smoothest, neatest, easiest wrap work.

The leather varied in its ease of working inch by inch, not in varying areas. I’ll save you the pictures of the process, as I didn’t take any except the start, and certainly none of the boo-boos. The boo-boos (cuts and chunks missing) were repaired by gluing (PVA) them back in by backing with a thin, drawing “vellum” made of light, yet tough, paper I had for drafting.


Next you’ll see the re-verifying the placement of the boards with the lines, just feeding my paranoia bug (also known as OCD).IMG_0963

This picture is of the visual check making sure the book block (book block sewn earlier, I’ll post on a book block later, but not in this project, there are many more, many better posts on book blocks out there. An inspirational sewing of a block can be found on James Downey’s Legacy Bookbindery pages)


Follows is the picture of the book block glued and set into the binding, with the outermost page in use as hinge and anchor for the book block in the binder. This is prior to the end papers being glued down.


Follows is the journal with the end papers. The end papers I chose for this project are hand-printed in Italy. They are exciting to hold, and simply wonderful to work with. Pasting details to follow towards the end of the post.


Finally, you’ll see the tooling. I chose to use simple embossing on the leather, while it was still wet from pasting onto the book boards. Because of the higher moisture content in the wheat paste and PVA mix I created for this particular set of projects, it made the embossing, without heat (aka blind tooling) much, much easier.


This was, truly, a labor of love, re-creating Dr. River Song’s journal for my youngest.

Okay, details for the labor, for both, on the leather. Each leather piece for each book took about 3 hours of skiving (paring) with the french paring knife. That knife is the one with which I have the most control. The english knife, while holding the sharpest edge, is much more difficult to use with “difficult” leather. I learned that the first inch of difficulty with the tooling-belly type leather here. The knife needed stropped, every 2-3 inches along the edge, truly tasking work. Every 3rd strop, I actually needed to take it to the ultra-fine honing stone to remind the knife of its edge, usually only 2 passes were needed on the stone, and then 2-3 passes on the strop at every strop session.

Each leather piece needed thinning at the edges to the tune of about 3 full cm wide, so the wrap up and around the book board was much thinner and much more pliable than the original thickness would allow. Lessons learned from the prior leather binding sessions.

The glue I chose for this project is 6-7 parts wheat paste to 1-2 parts PVA. Almost, but not quite 25% PVA to 75% Wheat Paste. This was a godsend. My mentor gave me the recipe for microwave wheat paste, and I added PVA to it for a more waterproof final product, and to speed adhesion. This allowed me at least 30-60 seconds of maneuvering and adjustment prior to final placement. This could be viewed as a good or bad thing with the leather, given that it means a quick nip requires utmost care to ensure that the board does not twist while in the press and end up skewed on the leather. (Testing the process showed that this could happen and care was called for to remedy the problem, simple care and a little slower action on the wheel). The wheat paste mix also greatly enhanced the ability to emboss the designs in the leather, without wetting the surface, this exposing the surface to the risk of water stains!

Now for the first pictures of the second binder, the Dr. Who journal for my oldest!

Here you’ll see some rather large boo-boos on the right hand side of the leather. This was caused by 1. being tired and 2. working a knife past its due for a good stropping. I lopped off the pieces so cleanly that I could not, would not, paste them back together. I was going to cover the edges with the end paper, anyhow (it does cover myriad sins) and there was still 2 cm overlap on the boards, so I don’t worry about losing grip on the board at that point.

This binder is a wrap for a commercial calendar organizer. She prefers a simple calendar to organize her time for work, school, and family, so this was made to fit the largest “pocket-size” and several smaller sizes of calendars, and still be cool.

The pockets, into which the plastic covers of the calendar are inserted, are secured by gluing the edges of the pockets down, along with being held down by the leather itself. This, hopefully, ensure a tougher pocket for many years of use. Hopefully. The pocket paper is made of a thick card-stock for strength, without adding much weight. (one of these days, I’ll be experimenting with using Tyvec to line the pockets/strengthen projects as it is used in some cases for binding, archival quality is still being debated as I understand it.)


Follows is the leather-wrapped boards, with the honked-up edges showing, because, hey, this is real-life, warts and all. The paper you see on the right is the template on the outside of the book to assist with the initial pattern embossing. The center liner is undyed calf leather, book leather, and was infinitely easier to work, or so it seemed. This serves several purposes: it makes the binder look finished, it helps the spine retain shape, adds strength to the binder helping hold the boards together, and looks really cool when there’s no calendar inserted.


Next, you’ll see the pattern embossed in the leather. I used a couple of different bone-folders to initially press, and final pass emboss the pattern into the leather. As with the previous journal, I went for subtlety, and simplicity, of pattern. I wanted to emulate, not duplicate the journals from the show.


Finally, you see the finished binder with the end papers. My projects for my girls are directly from the heart, and so it is with great pride that I use some very special, very rare hand-marbled paper for the end papers.


The binder now sits, as of this post, under weight to let all the glue dry, and help straighten the boards, overnight.

I hope you enjoyed this timey-wimey trip with me, over a 3 week period of time in the creation of these gifts for my daughters.

The next projects are not slated for completion until March, and will not be posted until the competition under which they are entered is over. I will be discussing research, and the projects themselves, but no pictures until the contest is over.

Thank you for showing up, happy holidays!


Completion of a gift, and the start of a new…

So when we last visited the bindery table, I left you with the completed mock-up of the jingzhe zhuang, Sutra book.

I stepped into the area again to begin the completion of the jingzhe zhuang gift for the award of a friend.

Below you’ll see the boards, covered in Chinese Red book cloth:

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The corners are turned in nicely, with a minimum amount of bulk, as per my mentor James Downey, from Legacy Bookbindery. I’m very, very pleased with the turnout of the corners.

What follows is the layout of the paper for the book, with the covers for measurement and mock-up prior to pasting. The boards have already had cardstock inserted as fill to raise the empty space to the same height as the book cloth.


Next you’ll see the completed jinghze zhuang book with the end papers pasted down.

To complete the book, I used the outermost leafs of the folio as hinges to mount to the boards, I then took the end papers I had chosen and cut them to size, glued and nipped them in the press to set. Finally, I practiced for several hours, the Chinese hanzi characters which made up the label for the book. It says “Friends of Sung”. Once the practice yielded consistently repeatable characters, I laid them down on a scrap taken from the initial cut of the paper that made the inner accordion folio, and mounted that to a piece of endpaper as backing, and placed on the outside of the book.


The book is a study of the concertina (jingzhe zhuang) books found in the Dunhuang project, and other examples of Sung dynasty sutras, where possible.

The meditation on this books is as follows:

Since I was lacking in a scroll with which to enact the conversion to the jingzhe zhuang form, and, ideally, the book designed to be a sign-in book, I left the materials blank. I further matched the colors of the accordion folio to the original Chinese paper, as it would have been, new. (or as close as restored could get)

Extended thoughts on the book’s origins and intent, led me to understand that this was “portable truth” the truth of the Buddha, easily accessed while traveling. I found this appealed to me, and have asked that each who signs this book, adds a small example of “truth” as they have found it, in their life, with their real name and their historical group name.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the entries thus far, there will be more, as I start a binding for my father-in-law soon.


From Mock-up to infinity and beyond…

Good morning,

This morning, I had the pleasure of finishing the mock-up of the jingzhe zhuang, accordian style book.

I started out with heavier matte-board for the book-board for the mock up. That stood up to the gluing much, much better than my earlier attempt. Below you see the board with the 1st piece of bookcloth.

IMG_0922Below, you’ll see the progress, using the nip-press in between pictures to set the glue and pieces. I begin by setting the board in the measured bookcloth. I cheated, and drew set lines at each corner and in the center of each side, so I’d mount the glued board in the right place, again, without too much manipulation of the board/glue.


Next I started folding simple library corners in the bookcloth. I did this twice, for front and back covers.IMG_0924

Once the bookcovers were done, I folded the paper, glued the hinges down to the covers, and then laid in the mock-up endpapers.




So the next step is to measure and cut the final papers for the book, measure and cut the book board, cut the final bookcloth for the book, etc, etc. In other words, lather, rinse, repeat, with the actual items to complete the product. Photos to follow.

Lessons learned this go:

Triple measure and place the hinges on the book covers.

You can glue the hinges in place, immediately followed by the end-paper or wait about an hour for the paper to feel “dry” to the touch.

Have a good day all!


Bits and Pieces, the paper is mocking me…

So today I finished practicing on my mock-up paper-backed book cloth. I took some acid-free paper, and glued it down to the cloth I wanted to use. Turned out rather well, I think.

Then, I mounted the cloth to some light weight paste-board, in order to test my glue/fold/corner skills. Previous entry covered (pun intended) the glue-up and a couple of lessons learned. Tonight I finished “covering” the bookboard.

Below you’ll see the board with the corners started. I used rather simple library corners in order to practice, as I will be using these on the (sutra) jingzhe zhuang “book”.



The corners are coming together nicely thus far, and I’ll show you the final here in a moment. The thing I didn’t quite realize with creating my own paper-backed book cloth, was just how thick and unwieldy it would be. Here is the final piece, folded and nipped in the press to set the glue:



Lessons learned: use thinner paper to back your cloth. ensure your glue penetrates well enough to get the corners to set properly. Go slowly. It’s not a race! Yes, the sides are curved, I think from using too thin of a “book board” with the paste-board cardboard, and too heavy of “book cloth” for the book board.

Next I will be taking a small piece of the cloth for the final, and the same book board for the final, and begin folding, glueing to test.

Below you’ll see the cloth for the final! (yes I scrubbed down every inch of the stainless steel bindery table to put this out and take the picture)

IMG_0920When it came in the mail, and I opened it, all I could say was “Prettttttyyyyy”. I think this will go well. Next post with cover the attempts at testing the cloth with the book board.

Thanks all!



Baby Steps

Just finished mounting the light pasteboard cardboard to the paper-backed cloth.
Here it is, fresh out of the press, ready for weight drying.

Notice the board, and the plastic wrap. I left the plastic wrap on, to protect the wood and the cutting mat below, from being stuck to the glue. Below, you’ll see the full weight marble and just for extra oomph, the sadiron weight, holding it down for the sit-fest.

That’s all for tonight.
Mighty night all!

The Dive…

Well allrighty-then! After spending a couple of intense days with my mentor, James Downey at Legacy Bookbindery, I’ve finally made time to run a test of my pasting skills, and test some instructions on wrapping a book board with binding cloth.

So I cut some cloth, cut some paper, glued the paper, laid the cloth, and “gave it a nip” in the press.

Lessons learned:

Lay the paper to the cloth. The cloth does weird…stuff… and warps the paper, and when everything finally relaxes you have bubbles in your paper. Nasty fix.

First I cut the paper, with more than enough to trim down to my turn-in size (2cm) around each edge and pasted it with slightly thinned glue. 1/3-1/2 tsp to 1Tbsp glue is more than enough for a nice spreading glue, slowing the drying time just enough to allow set and reset if necessary.

I cut the cloth roughly the same size, and applied no glue to it.

As I led with lessons learned, I laid the cloth to the paper, and smoothed it, and it curled one way and another, as I smoothed it down. I had to turn the paper up, and peel and reset, which was nerve-wracking.

Finally, I had it straight and laid it between two pieces of plastic and gave it an “nip” in the nip press, or book press. You’ve seen it, it’s the one I cleaned up.

Here’s the paper, fresh out of the press:

IMG_0907This paper is only similar in texture and weight to the cloth I’ll be using for the final product. I’ll be trimming the edges all around to the approximate size necessary, with a 2cm turn-in.

Following shows the paper sitting overnight, under some weight, drying so it can be used tomorrow.

IMG_0909I’ll keep you updated as this goes. Hopefully by the end of the week, the 1st board will be glued and wrapped!!