The publishing of this blog post was initially timed to coincide with the display of my latest binding, Giacomo Joyce, at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, over the weekend of the 11th-13th November 2022. For more than 40 years, this fair has hosted booksellers from across the USA and around the globe. Exhibitors showcase and sell a vast selection of rare books, illuminated manuscripts, autographs, ephemera, maps atlases, modern first editions, photographs, and fine and decorative prints.
This binding was a commission for Bromer Booksellers, who were due to display this binding on their stand at the fair. Despite working long hours to get it finished in time for a FedEx collection on the 4th November, with a predicted delivery date of 7th November, the binding was stuck in customs for no reason and didn’t get delivered until the sixteenth of November so it missed the fair entirely, I was so disappointed! Anyway, at least it got there safely and in the future I’ll know I have to finish bindings that are going to be posted abroad two weeks sooner than I thought…
The full sized book is one of several limited edition artist books printed in 1989 by an American press, Vincent Fitz Gerald and Co. This publication of Giacomo Joyce is one of fifty copies published in 1989, and is an interpretation by the artist Susan Weil. Published on the 75th anniversary of the writing of Joyce’s prose poem, which was first published in 1968 in a facsimile of the original manuscript.
Throughout the text are hand-collaged illustrations, of specially made papers and various graphic media, including pochoir, etchings, and original watercolours that work together to create an interactive, multimedia experience for the reader. This extraordinary book is hand-collaged using specially made papers, some with flower petals in the paper, Japanese laces, silver tea paper, etc., exploring several types of graphic media. The reader is encouraged to physically engage with the work in a manner reflective of reading Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness literature. The book is signed by and numbered by Susan Weil at the rear under a portrait of James Joyce, in this case copy 2 of 50.
The original binding was covered in silver-grey bookcloth with a silver gilt title, and I received this at the same time as a miniature, Patience, that I completed last year – you can see the size difference in the image below!
The original book was written between 1911 and 1914 and was posthumously-published by Faber and Faber. It is a free-form love poem that tracks the waxing and waning of the Irish writer James Joyce’s infatuation with one of his students in Trieste. “Giacomo” is the Italian form of the author’s forename, James. The text is “a mixture of several genres — part biography, part personal journal, part lyrical poetry… part prose narrative”.
I bought a 1989 version of Giacomo Joyce, with an introduction by James Joyce’s biographer, Richard Ellman, including explanatory notes but also a facsimile of some of the original handwritten transcript. The original manuscript contained fifty fragments transcribed onto eight large sheets of sketching paper held within a blue school notebook. It was written in Joyce’s “best calligraphic hand, without changes”. I am a fan of handwriting and have included it in a few of my past commissions, for example my binding of La Prose du Transsibérien so I was pleased to find this.
As Susan Weil’s mixed media illustrations interact with the works on the page, I felt that I wanted to try and emanate this on the cover too. The cover design was therefore based on one of the illustrations within the text block: a silvery, spidery veil with cut-outs showing a female figure clothed in a pink slip behind it. I was drawn to this image as I felt that I would be able to replicate the appearance of the spidery lines with embroidered threads, and perhaps cut out sections of the covering leather.
The whole way through the book there are interesting cut-outs and also glimpses of things behind each page and I wanted to carry this through onto the cover design. I was drawn to this image as I thought I could also cut holes cut right through the boards, mimicking the multimedia experience of flicking through the text block. I initially traced the pattern of this image onto paper, with the cut-outs marked with cross hatching.
The design sketch shows the front cover board but the plan was for the same design to be placed on both the front and back of the binding, mirroring each other. The cross-hatched areas would be a mixture of cut-outs, and inlays to play with the depth of the cover design. The threads pictured were chosen to match colours from the illustrations, but I planned to use them sparingly and in a considered way to tie in the cover design again with the works on paper – I was amazed how many colours I could pick out to compliment the illustrations!
The Faber and Faber publication contained facsimiles of pages 1, 11, 15 and 16, which wasn’t all of the original but enough to visualise the handwriting and get a personal feel of the work. I first thought of perhaps using this text on the cover of the book, but then felt that this may be better placed on the endpapers and doublures, with viewing holes cut through the boards showing glimpses of the written words instead.
I bought a lovely light grey silvery goatskin from J. Hewit & Sons Ltd which I felt would be a great base colour for the covering leather to tone in with some of the printed pages in the book, and this colour also provided a neutral background against which to have lots of splashes of colour elsewhere on the binding. The spidery veil pattern also gave great scope for embroidery work on the cover design, the initial web pattern for the sample board was sewn with grey thread and the coloured stitches were whipped around these grey threads to give some nice shots of colour, as pictured below.
I then cut out some of the embroidered web sections, peeling away the grey leather and inlaying a silver leather laid into the shapes, specifically to match the silvery egg at the end of the text block plus the illustration of the split silver rectangle printed on the black paper – both of which can be seen below.
The silver leather was lightly sanded to texture it and therefore better match the quality of the printing on the pages of the book. I was pleased with the appearance of the sample board against the book illustrations once it was complete.
Sections were also cut out right the way through the book boards, so that elements of the endpapers could be visible through these ‘windows’. I cut these out with a scalpel, peeling layers of the inner board laminations out as I went through but I kept catching the threads and cutting them by mistake which was a pain so needed a better method when it came to doing this on the binding. The edges of these cut-outs were then lined with thinly pared leather to give dashes of colour through these viewing holes in the boards.
I decided to print the paper doublures and endpapers with acrylic paints, in a blend of bright colours to tie in with the variety of colours used in the book. I worked carefully to feature each colour from the illustrations in the colour palette of these printed sheets so they would work harmoniously with the text block as a whole as you turned each page.
The printed papers were then embroidered in the script of the prose, taken from the handwriting sample in the book I had bought of Giacomo Joyce. For the sample board, the words from these lines of prose were each embroidered in a different coloured thread on the reverse to test out the colours against the backdrop. The back of the sample board reads:
“Cobweb handwriting, traced long and fine with quiet disdain and resignation: a young person of quality”
I wanted to use a contrasting coloured leather for the spine piece of this binding and I was very tempted to use some bright pink Harmatan goatskin leather (Celebration E-O Pink) as I thought it could work as there were hints of this colour in the magenta that the title page was printed in, plus in one of the other pages of the text block. I decided to sand it to tone it down slightly, which also helped to tie the surface in with the mottled printing and textured paper of the illustrations.
I start all of my commission work off with the production of a sample board, which becomes part of my increasing collection of boards made to the same size. With this sample board (number 65) and concept signed off and agreed by Bromer Booksellers it was time to move on to binding the actual book!
Having identified all the colours of threads that I wished to use on the binding, the first task was matching these to coloured leathers for lining the inside of the board cut-outs and also the acrylic paints for creating the printed doublures and endpapers. Over time I have learnt not to throw any materials scraps away, including, parings from leathers I thin down using my Brockman paring machine, so I now have a nice bank of colours to choose from.
I bagged up pieces of leather that matched best the sewing threads, and selected colours of acrylic paints that also mirrored these colours. Using a roller, I spread the acrylic colours onto a printing plate and then ran the colours across a sheet of 145gsm Zerkall paper, using random motions to spread the paint across it. I repeated this regularly using different colours until I was happy with the build up and the spread of the colour.
The colours of the printed papers for the endpapers and doublures differed a bit from those made for the sample board. I felt the ones made for the sample board were a little dark – you can see the difference in the below image where the sample board is lying on top of the new printed paper. I decided to use an agate burnishing tool to dry buff the surface of the printed paper to give it a bit of extra sheen as the appearance of the colour was a bit flat otherwise.
A burnisher is a tool used to polish paper and other materials from a matt to a high gloss. This process is both practical and aesthetic, adding an attractive gloss finish to the material. The process of burnishing consolidates the fibres of the material creating a tough surface reducing the chances of damage during handling. The burnisher I have is stored in a protective soft cotton bag to keep it safe when not in use. Since working on this binding I am now coveting a burnisher of the shape and size produced by The Vintage Paper Company, who have been finessing the design of bigger burnishers. Agate is the preferred material for burnishing because it’s extremely strong and it can be worked into a very smooth surface, ideal for natural materials. It also has a shelf-life of many, many years even when heavily used.
When working out the placement of the prose for inside the boards of the front and back of the binding, I relied on what imagery I had of the handwriting. I photocopied the text back up to the original size, given the facsimiles had been reduced by about 50% when published by Faber and Faber (as stated in the publication).
Each sentence was cut out and placed on a sheet of paper marked to the same size as the doublures and endpapers to work out the layout. Using a large piece of Plaztazote (hard foam), I pinned the oversized printed papers to it with a paper guide to one edge and then in turn laid down the individual sentences, holding them in place with a series of pins, before pricking through the outlines of the words to mark them for sewing.
Similar to a few previous bindings I have completed, I decided to embroider the writing in colours graduating across the page, with a spread of sixteen colours in total. Rather than changing the needle for each colour I had sixteen needles ready to go so it was as quick as possible to change between them.
I use very small quilting needles which you need good eyesight to thread(!). Paper is naturally far less forgiving for embroidering than leather through, and I wanted to make sure that the holes I was making weren’t too large or else the paper becomes vulnerable to splitting. The paper was pricked at intervals of about 2-3mm between the holes, and initially was sewn using a running stitch in the correct coloured thread for that row. On the reverse of the paper I had drawn lines 15mm apart as a guide for where the colours changed.
I worked from the white thread through to the black thread on each row, with the endpapers and doublures mirrored so that the white thread sat in the middle. Once the running stitches were in place, they were whipped with the same colour thread, but where the colour of the running stitch thread changed the whipping was continued over by a few stitches to help with the appearance of the graduating colour.
The ends of the threads weren’t knotted, but instead fed through the run of stitches made on the reverse of the paper. The threads were rubbed down with a teflon folder on the top surface after embroidering to close the sewing holes and to consolidate the stitching. This was then repeated on the back, with the long loose thread ends trimmed down and glued with a small amount of PVA glue where required.
The words that were nearer to the pages edges were easier to sew, and those closer to the middle I had to manipulate the paper a bit to reach the holes. The whole process of embroidering the endpapers and doublures took a very long time, around two weeks in total with a few late nights thrown in too!
When it came to embroidering the words onto the doublures, I had to work these around the holes I was going to cut out through the boards. I initially placed the sentences in position on the reverse of the paper, avoiding the holes, and once I had marked either end of the paper with a pin prick through the paper I then turned the paper over and located the sentence in the right place again in order to then prick through the words before embroidering.
The front doublure shows the following:
“Who? A pale face surrounded by heavy odorous furs. Her movements are shy and nervous. She uses quizzing-glasses.
Yes: a brief syllable. A brief laugh. A brief beat of the eyelids.”
The front endpaper:
“Cobweb handwriting, traced long and fine with quiet disdain and resignation: a young person of quality.
I launch forth on an easy wave of tepid speech: Sweden-borg, the pseudo-Areopagite, Miguel de Molinos, Joachim Abbas. The wave is spent. Her classmate, re- twisting her twisted body, purrs in boneless Viennese Italian: Che coltura! The long eyelids beat and lift: a burning needleprick stings and quivers in the velvet iris.
High heels clack hollow on the resonant stone stairs. Wintry air in the castle, gibbeted coats of mail, rude iron sconces over the windings of the winding turret stairs. Tapping clacking heels, a high and hollow noise. There is one below would speak with your ladyship.”
The back endpaper:
“Jan Pieters Sweelink. The quaint name of the old Dutch musician makes all beauty seem quaint and far. I hear his variations for the clavichord on an old air: Youth has an end. In the vague mist of old sounds a faint point of light appears: the speech of the soul is about to be heard. Youth has an end: the end is here. It will never be. You know that well. What then? Write it, damn you, write it! What else are you good for?
“Because otherwise I could not see you.”
Sliding-space-ages-foliage of stars-and waning heaven-stillness-and stillness deeper-stillness of annihilation-and her voice.
Non hunc sed Barabbam!
Unreadiness. A bare apartment. Torbid daylight. A long black piano: coffin of music. Poised on its edge a woman’s hat, red-flowered, and umbrella, furled. Her arms: a casque, gules, and blunt spear on a field, sable.”
And the back doublure:
“Envoy: Love me, love my umbrella.”
The text block was unusual: many of the sections were single folios and made of very thick paper, one had two sections stuck together with an internal book attached to the pages, and others were unusual shapes so this was not going to be any ordinary binding project. To continue the colour theme I chose to attach the individual sections to coloured stubs which would then allow for better opening of the pages when bound into a false round spine.
The original book had some original mottled-grey and mint green endpapers in the book, which I wanted to retain by making them up into new bi-folded endpapers with complimentary coloured papers to match the printed doublures and endpapers, as well as the coloured stubs. These would lead the reader into the text block and were to also be made in a mixture of colours.
When planning a stub binding I always start off with a little sketch to better visualise the number of sections versus the number of stubs, including their thicknesses. I wanted to make sure that the folded stubs made up the same thickness as the text block by measuring with gauge so that there wasn’t any unnecessary swell anywhere. The stubs were each cut and folded up from strips of 160gsm Canson Mi Teintes in a variety of colours, running from black on the outside to white as the central stub.
The paper strips were cut to 40mm in width, and slightly longer than the sections. Firstly they were creased and folded down the centre and then two additional folds were made in about 9mm from each edge and folded so they sat within the initial V-fold of the stub. In doing this, it left a small gap in the central fold of the stub for the sewing thread to sit in.
As I had more stubs than sections, it wasn’t therefore necessary to attach each one to a section so some were left free; the two maroon and two green ones. I made a pricking guide for the sewing stations and attached the sections to the stubs in turn, making sure I started the sewing at different stations on each stub so that the knots were spread along the length of the stubs through the book.
Not all the sections were “page-shaped”, as in the case of this section that was cut to the shape of a woman but still needed a stub!
And this section was a sort of “two-in-one” with the sections fused together with the addition of the pink book stuck between them. I still allocated one stub for each of these sections and sewed them on independently which seemed to work well.
The endpapers were made up from larger sheets of the Canson Mi Teinted paper. Due to the direction of the grain, it wasn’t possible to create the bi-folded piece for the endpapers out of one sheet of paper so instead I joined two sheets of different colours along the fold which I was happy about as it gave more scope for different colours on this part of the book too.
I laminated the embroidered endpaper sheet to the bi-folded coloured sheet using PVA glue – a very terrifying part of the binding process given the small margin for error plus the fact that I had spent such a long time working on the embroidered words. The joints of the book were made up from the same cerise coloured leather that I chose to use on the spine.
Once all of these elements were prepared it was time to start sewing up the text block. I trimmed the stubs all to the length of the sections and then I cut four 12mm tapes and stuck them to the side of a pressing board, at the correct spacing for the sewing stations. Using a linen thread, I methodically worked my way up the text block sewing the sections together, whilst remembering to also add the stubs not attached to sections at the right place too.
I added a loose guard around the edge of the very first and last section, in the same colour paper. Loose guards are strips of paper wrapped around the first and last sections of the book block but not adhered. Once the book is sewn, the outside of the guard was adhered to the endpaper. The purpose is to close the unsightly gap between the endpaper and the text block, but avoid tipping the endpaper directly to the text block.
Part two of this blog post will look into the embroidery of the cover the treatment of the spine and the the covering of the binding. You can read about it here!