And so for some more colour!! The last blog post described how I went about the forwarding of the Kelmscott Chaucer, in honesty that is the bit I like least about the whole bookbinding process but of course it is a crucial step in making the book work correctly and look neat one the leather goes on. Although I knew the approximate size of the book design before the book was forwarded, it wasn’t until I laced the boards on that I had my exact outer dimensions and knew where the board joints were going to sit.
Over the years my thread collection has been growing, never so rapidly as when I was gifted 60-odd rolls of the below thread a few months ago though! This was a perfect collection of colours for the Chaucer given all the great leaf detail and stems I was about to work on…
But before embroidery could commence I had to cut out the long list of leather onlays. I did so by taking a photocopy of the design and working against the colour chart I had created (as seen in Part 2 of my previous posts).
The different elements were cut out of paper and then drawn around with a fine-tipped pen (I use Pilot G-TEC-C4 Ultra Fine 0.4mm ball point pens) onto the reverse of the leather onlay. In the case of the lily, the main body of the flower was cut out of yellow leather, and some smaller red elements also cut out and glued on top. This meant that some of the onlay was two pieces of leather thick but I knew that once stuck onto the covering leather and back-pared, and with all of the embroidery on top, this wouldn’t be apparent (the same applied to a lot of the onlays on this book).
This “Canna Cleopatra” lily has red spotted markings on some of the petals. On my sample board I sewed on this detail in a red thread using a “Lazy Daisy” stitch but for the book I wanted a more uniform look. I therefore decided to cut out a template in acetate through which I could draw the red dots on with ink. First I traced the dots and cut them out with a scalpel.
I masked the template onto the onlay and then drew through the holes with ink.
I only needed to do one half of the template as the flower onlay was mirror-image so once I had done one half I flipped it over to the other side and repeated the process.
For all of the onlays going onto the covering leather I tried to do as much embroidery as I could off of the book before they got stuck down. I did this knowing once they were stuck onto the covering leather it would be much more cumbersome to hold, plus more difficult to get to the central parts, due to the size of leather required for such a large book. As well as the benefit of the pieces being smaller at this point, they were also thinner and easier to sew through so this also helped in saving my fingertips!
For the central lily I marked lines on the reverse where the board joints were going to fall to ensure I did my stitches closer together at these points. This was to guard against the inevitable movement that was going to happen due to the boards of the book opening and closing.
The outlines of the flower and leaves were worked in a running stitch (which I would later run a whipping stitch around in the same colour once the onlay was stuck to the book). The finer shaded detail on this flower was worked in a couching stitch using a variety of colours and stitch lengths, plus curving the lines where required.
I can’t recall exactly which order I worked through cutting out the onlays and doing the initial embroidery, I would do some work on one section and then got distracted and moved onto another! For some of the onlaid pieces I backed the thinly pared leather onto a very thin lens tissue, as seen here with the Hypermnestra butterfly.
I can’t throw anything away so have bags and bags of the suede I pare off leathers when splitting them down as these are great for onlays in their own right and given an extra dimension of colours to chose from. I love that they are more random in their colouring due to the dyeing process. Due to the fact that these are suede strips though they don’t hold their shape as well so I tend to back them onto lens tissue for stability.
Once the onlays were all stuck down on the lens tissue, the excess was cut away. I then used a tracing paper template of the butterfly through which to prick holes as a guide for sewing the initial lines on the wings.
I prick through the leather into a piece of Plaztazote foam using a fine needle that I have fixed into a dowel handle. Due to the amount of embroidery I do I would say this is my most used and treasured tool!
Finer detail was then added to the butterfly starting with a build up of white thread over the white onlays.
Each butterfly was worked in the same way, adding as much embroidery detail to the onlay before it was stuck down to the covering leather.
The reverse of each shows the extent of the initial embroidery.
For the “Rosa Thisbe” rose, each of the repeats contained three different flower heads (one large and two small) requiring quite a lot of different pieces to cut out.
This was made more so because of the fact that I felt the best leather to use of this flower was some suede strips I had pared off a cream goatskin. However, this meant that the strips were only each about 3cm wide (determined by the width of the razor blade of the paring machine I had used to make them). This wouldn’t span the width of the large flower, and I didn’t want to piece together the strips and have ugly lines crossing the larger shape only so I broke the large flower down into sections of a few petals together. I was then able to glue each of these pieces together forming the larger shape. I knew I would be sewing around the outlines of each of the petals therefore concealing the cut joints with thread.
In the initial stages of working out the design there were a couple of spaces within the intersecting lines that I didn’t have anything to fill with as I had already allocated space to the ten named flowers and butterflies. This gave me the opportunity to add a couple of extra details, one being a large miscellaneous leaf that fell happily just underneath the leaves of the “Canna Cleopatra” lillies, the other being a shape that fell in between the large roses.
I chose to fill this space using a variety of green coloured onlays cut into a leaf-type shape, all overlapping to fill the space. Firstly I cut out enough leaf shapes in as many different green leathers as I could possibly find(!).
I then stuck these down to lens tissue using the line drawing as a guide. I had a piece of silicone release paper in between the two so that they didn’t stick together.
Once all the leather leaves were glued down out the outer shape was cut.
Here shows the above lying in place with the roses. The outlines of the rose petals were embroidered, along with some multicoloured shading, and some metallic detail on each of the petals before they were stuck down to the covering leather.
The fuchsia onlays were also stuck down to lens tissue and cut out. The outlines of the petals were pricked through and sewn with a running stitch in a pink thread.
The irises were constructed using a pale yellow leather for the petals with maroon and yellow detail. The leaves were cut from a pale green leather and although I had enough of this, on the odd occasion some of the leaves used leather pieces that were scarf-jointed together, as is apparent in the top-right leaf in the below picture. I was certain this wouldn’t be an issue as although the colour of the leather onlays plays an important part in the background, these leaves were due to have a large amount of embroidery over the top of them so I knew this would be concealed.
The below picture shows the stages involved in sewing the iris onlays.
And the following image shows the extent of the embroidery on the iris onlays before they were stuck to the covering leather.
And below, the orchid flowers ahead of sticking them down to the covering leather.
Throughout the whole process of working on the onlays I had to be pretty organised and keep them all separate so used zip-lock bags to hold the images of each flower along with the leathers used for each, plus the chosen embroidery threads. This didn’t mean I completely avoided the severe panic I felt when a couple of the embroidered large lilies went missing for 24 hours!
Finally, after hours and hours of cutting and embroidery I was ready for the next stage, sticking them all to the covering leather. Below shows all the onlays in place ahead of gluing them down.
I masked the covering leather down at the edges to a large board and stuck the tracing paper template on top, with a masking paper length along the top to act as a hinge so it could be lifted up and down.
Firstly I stuck down the miscellaneous leaves using PVA glue, rubbing them down with a teflon folder through silicone release paper to ensure even adhesion…
…second to go down were the three irises…
…thirdly the Lucretia butterfly and the roses…
…then the fuchsias….
…and so on. Until the covering leather was complete with onlays!
As explained earlier in the post I chose to embroider as much as possible on the onlays before sticking them down. The next post will cover the next stage of the embroidery process and how I dealt with embroidering what then was a very large piece of leather.
2 thoughts on “Binding the Kelmscott Chaucer, Part Four: Onlays and Stage One of Embroidery”
@gb-crumbs thank you very much!