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Book Binding
Hannah sew

Hannah sew's pages into a book.

Bookbinding by: Hannah (21)

There's nothing I love better than taking on a new project or skill, overcoming the hurdles and discovering how it's done. Starting is fun, finishing is even better!

Bookbinding definitely falls into this category. We got started several years ago (2001) when on one of our frequent visits to Old Sturbridge Village, a Living History Museum, we

Bookbinding supplies

Bookbinding supplies

visited the printing shop and struck up a lively conversation with the printer. After a very informative demonstration of the printing press we got to talking about the actual bookbinding process. Intrigued, puts it mildly, the whole procedure so captured our imaginations that Mom took notes, we all listened intently and when we got home Dad made us the frame on which to stitch the pages together.

On our next few visits, we always searched out the printer (there are several) in order to ask more questions and have them critique our work and give us pointers. Our techniques and end products improved dramatically with each consecutive batch of books we bound.

Cheryl sets up the bookbinding frame.

Cheryl sets up the bookbinding frame.

The actual steps whereby paper, cardboard, string, cloth and glue are transformed into a bound volume are numerous.

In all actuality, I found it quite straight forward with no individual procedure being overly difficult, once you know what to do. As you will observe from the photos there is very little equipment necessary other than the frame that we stitch the books on and a couple of clamps. I always do books in batches of five because that is how many books will fit on the sewing frame at one time. Journals are the majority of what we make although Jeremiah has reprinted several old titles which have found their way into book form.

Sarah helps Hannah cut the grooves into the signitures.

Sarah helps Hannah cut the grooves into the signitures.

There are many steps, the most frequent one being to glue some part in place. My preference is to spend an hour or two on the process each day for about two weeks. Completing one step, we glue it and then leave it to dry, returning the next day, we do the next step, glue it, and so on with each consecutive day until the books are done.

While harvest is in full swing we do little, if any, handwork but once fall arrives and the gardens are dormant, we often take on several large projects. On a yearly basis these will change but they often include a little book binding!

Hannah sews signitures into a book.

Hannah sews signitures into a book.

I distinctly remember those first few books we made. Without any instructional book for pointers, we were entirely at the mercy of our memories. Folding the paper into signatures (5 to 8 sheets of paper folded in half together) was very straight forward as were most of the other steps leading up to the stitching process. When we originally spoke to the printer the actual stitching procedure had so baffled us that we thoroughly grilled him on that one point until we had it distinctly impressed in our minds. After that the steps diverged into such new realms, of which we were virtually clueless, that we did not know what we missed or even what questions to ask. Actually it's a little surprising that those first books turned out at all! Returning to the printer, this time armed with our sample books, the experience of having done it and a whole armada of knowledgeable questions, we learned a phenomenal quantity of valuable information.

A book of signitures without their cover.

A book of signitures without their cover.

Over the next few years our skill and techniques improved dramatically. I always like to complete each step in the process for my whole group of books before moving on to the next step. As we quickly discovered, this is a very precise process and deviation from the plan should be avoided.

Folding a ream of paper didn't take as long as I thought it would, but actually cutting the notches into the spine was a challenge because I did not want to ruin the paper. Finally I figured out how to clamp all the signatures together so that they wouldn't shift.

Hannah glues the spine.

Hannah glues the spine.

The cords on the frame combined with the thread, with which we stitch the pages to the cords, are what hold the book together. After the five sets of pages (each set being one book) are stitched onto the cords, with spacers between each set, we cut them free from the stitching frame.

Splaying out the ends of the cords, we glue them securely down to the cover page. As soon as the glue on the spine has dried I like to curl the spine. The mushroomed lip which this process creates forms a valuable hinge on which the cover will ride.

A curled spine ready for its binding.

A curled spine ready for its binding.

With a strip of muslin to reinforce the spine, the book is ready for its cover. Thick cardboard is hard to find so we used to glue several sheets of thin cardboard together to form most of our covers, however, these tend to warp into strange shapes so we now reuse covers off of old books that are being discarded.

Hannah splays the cord.

Hannah splays the cord.

A heavy, canvas-like material called duck-cloth is what we use for the spines of most of our books (I've used leather on just a few) which is working very well. Because the cloth is thick I like to build up the level of the cardboard cover with a thin piece of cardboard, that way everything is smooth (on the same level) before I put on the wall paper.

With the finished pages and a now finished cover all that remains is combining the two. Gluing the end papers to the inside of the cover is a simple procedure which takes just a few minutes. A thorough drying for 24 hours results in a finished volume ready to be filled with good memories and practical lessons.

Sarah sews signitures to the frame.

Sarah sews signitures to the frame.

Sarah


The whole process of bookbinding is one of care and precision and the end results are quite professional and quality, which is what we strive for in all our work. Every step is fun in its own way, but I think I enjoy the last stage of putting on the spine and covers, the most. It transforms the plain white papers, all sewn, glued and formed, into a book and finishes the long process. There's something about finishing a project, especially a complicated one, which is both joy of accomplishment and relief that there's nothing further to take care of.

Jeremiah prepares covers.

Jeremiah prepares covers.

Jeremiah


I was a late comer to this project, but I did run one batch of books (with quite a bit of assistance). Bookbinding is from the creative sector like the other arts. It requires a different set of skills and raises its own set of challenges. While I enjoyed binding that one set, I doubt I will do it very often. We mainly produce journals, however I have also paper-bound a couple of titles ranging from 30 pages to over 200. While this binding will not last as well, it is a whole lot faster and produces a nice story book for some of the out of print titles I produce.



Jeremiah applies the cover to the book.

Jeremiah applies the cover to the book.

All in all I'd say that bookbinding is one of our well loved crafts. It's so very different from anything else that we do that it is a really nice break from all our other activities. I enjoy it immensely but I guess that the learning process is the best part, for me at least.

I always enjoy a challenge when it is in a field that I am comfortable with, which I guess means working with my hands! Quality is one of our aims. With a little practice it's not hard to get a professional end product. Really, when it comes right down to it, I guess we do it simply because we want to and like the end results. December is our month of joy; in it we take a break from many of our other responsibilities and do lots of activities as a family. If it weren't for this extended break, I don't suppose that we would have time for any bookbinding. As it is we squeeze it in while we are reading a book together as a family. Double use of our time is the only way we get many of these nicer things made. It proved to be one of those things which are new, exciting and different! Things like this add spice to our lives and the variety helps to keep us motivated.

Finished books

Finished books


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