Giacomo Joyce Part Two: Embroidery, Spine Treatment and Covering the Book

Every craftsperson has their favourite tool. I think mine is this hand-made needle pricker as I use it all the time, plus having made it myself there is always an extra sense of satisfaction in using it. It was very easy to make, it is simply a fine needle embedded into a piece of thin dowel but it saves my fingers and aids me immensely with embroidering leather. I have made up a few, all with slightly different sized needles embedded into them.

The grey leather I chose for covering the boards of this binding was first marked on the back for the size of the boards and edge and corner pared. I was then able to mark it for the embroidery. In order to do this I laid the leather down on a piece of Plaztazote, with the paper design template on top and I pricked holes along each of the lines to mark the pattern onto the leather. Once the paper pattern was removed this left a trace of the lines that needed to be embroidered.

~ Pricking the embroidery lines into the cover leather

The vast amount of embroidery work I do is done by hand, but in the case of this binding with the volume of linear work involved to form the spidery web I opted to do the running stitch using my sewing machine to speed up the process. I have a wonderful 1970s Toyota sewing machine and I chose a neutral grey thread for the initial stitches.

I largely wound the hand-wheel of the machine manually, rather than using the foot pedal, to better control the placement of the stitches to try and make sure the needle penetrated the leather where I had already pierced it with the needle pricker. I worked carefully round the corners too as the upper thread (that comes from the spool) can slacken at these points. There are two pieces of thread that go into sewing: the spool thread and the bobbin thread. The bobbin is threaded by the spool thread by being placed on the bobbin winder spindle, which is on top of the machine. There is a bobbin winder stopper, which makes sure your bobbin doesn’t overfill. The spool thread comes from the top of the machine and goes through the upper thread guide, while the bobbin thread is under the needle and goes through the bobbin thread guide.

Once a row of stitching was completed I cut the threads and secured the ends with knots.

I then moved onto the whipping stitches of the cover leather. I had identified all the colours of threads I was going to use – in the case of the binding I opted for thicker threads than those used on the sample board as I felt with the scale of the binding this would be more impactful.

Rather than using spools of Polyester sewing thread I therefore used stranded cotton which is a loosely twisted, slightly glossy 6-strand thread, usually made of cotton but also manufactured in silk, linen, and rayon. I used two strands per row and waxed it with beeswax before using it to whip the running stitches. A whip stitch is when a second piece of thread is wound around the running stitch on the top of the leather which helps to consolidate and clean up the line of threads.

I spread the colours of the threads around as evenly as possible across the design.

On the back of the leather I avoided using knots to tie off the threads, as I didn’t want to create necessary extra bulk underneath the leather. Instead I cut the thread end short, frayed out with my needle pricker (another good use for this tool!) and then glued the end of the thread down using a dab of PVA glue before rubbing this down with a Teflon folder.

Before all the sewing took place, where the edge of the grey leather was going to meet the bright pink chosen for the spine, I edge-pared the cut side edge and glued it back on itself so as to avoid having a cut edge of leather running down the length of the binding on the front and the back. This is clearly visible in the below photo.

Where the thread design finished at this edge, small notches were cut out into the folded edge that the threads could slot into so that they would sit in the correct position.

~ The reverse of the cover leather showing how the thread ends were secured down

Once the grey leather was embroidered I turned back to the text block. The first step was to make up some double-core endbands. Using a core of vellum backed with leather, I cut a strip measuring about 3mm in height and the width of the spine, and then I cut a thinner piece measuring about 1.5mm in height and also the same width as the spine. The taller of the two was wrapped in thinly pared pink leather, being careful to turn it in correctly at the sides leaving a tail of leather protruding down with which to stick in to the spine of the book. The shorter core was treated in the same way but covered in grey leather instead.

The two cores were then stuck together and a small piece of cream thread sewn around them in the centre to add an extra detail. Once dry these were then stuck to the head and tail of the spine using PVA glue. The spine was also lined with a layer of Aerolinen in between the tapes using PVA glue and left to dry before a final layer of handmade paper (cut over long and trimmed afterwards) was stuck down and sanded flush once dry.

As explained in the first of the blogs posts about this binding, as the text block contained thick sections with mixed media illustrations of different configurations, sizes and materials I chose to bind this book on paper stubs into a case binding with a false-round spine. This false round was built up by first sourcing a piece of half-round wooden dowel. This dowel was built up to the right thickness using layers of watercolour paper that were dampened and glued onto the dowel piece by piece until the right thickness of spine was achieved. This width was measured by adding the thickness of the text block to the thickness of the boards. A layer of linen was then glued onto the spine with which to attach it to the boards.

I made a spacer from some pieces of greyboard (cut to the width of the flat of the dowel), sticking a few pieces together so that the measured about 5mm in thickness, and these were then stuck to the flat side of the dowel using a small piece of double sided tape so they could be removed again. This was crucial for attaching the spine piece to the boards to make sure I had the required gap for the joint. I also found two pressing boards that measured the same thickness as the text block when stuck together to use as a spacer for sitting the boards on. The two layers of watercolour paper on the board front were removed, in order for the linen to be stuck down in its place on both sides. Two layers were removed so that when the spine leather was stuck in place on top of the linen, the level across the board would be flush.

I had already selected bright pink Harmatan goatskin leather in colour ‘Celebration E-O Pink’ for the spine piece. I sanded the skin side to tone it down slightly, by laying it on my concrete window sill and rubbing it carefully with sandpaper (wrapped around a wooden block) to abrade the surface. Where the concrete was a little rougher it took more away but I made sure I moved it around a lot so that none of the sanding went too far through the thickness of the leather. This texturing also helped to tie the surface in with the mottled printing and textured paper of the illustrations.

Once I was happy with the appearance of the top side of the leather I then pared the reverse at the head and tail for the turn-ins, and also sanded the leather at the board joints over a rounded piece of perspex to thin it down along the length. This was then further pared with my French paring knife to even out the leather thickness along the whole length.

Once the leather was pared it was time to apply the title. In the Giacomo Joyce reference book I had bought, there was a facsimile of the Giacomo Joyce name which I photocopied to the correct size and used the paper as a template to prick the outline onto the pink leather. I considered embroidering this is the same multicoloured threads as I had used on the cover but in the end chose a simple grey thread instead.

Once the title was complete, I stuck the spine leather onto the spine. The edges of the spine leather were cut to the right width so that when stuck down they sat neatly on top of the linen right up to the cut line of where the watercolour paper started so that the level was flush across the boards.

I cut the leather at the points that the round of the dowel ended, at a right angle to the edge turn-ins. This left a flap of leather free to turn down onto the board corners, and I thinned it out a little where it was going to be stuck down to the inside of the joint area.

The leather that was going to be folded and stuck down to the end of the spine dowel was cut into little triangles to remove the excess leather triangles, and then stuck down with PVA glue and rubbed with a Teflon folder. Once dry I trimmed of the extra overhanging leather with a sharp scalpel.

Once the spine leather was on the book I was ready to apply the grey leather on the boards. I made up some paste using bread flour and water cooked on a Bain Marie. The leather was dampened on the outside using a water atomiser and then the leather was pasted out three times on the reverse, leaving it for a while in between applications for the paste to penetrate in properly.

The leather was then stuck to the boards and the edges were turned in before letting it dry overnight between boards under a light weight. I used blotting paper which was changed regularly to draw out the moisture until I was sure that the leather was definitely dry.

Once dry, the case was carefully opened after dampening the leather joint with water to allow more controlled opening of the boards. I was then able to cap the ends of the spine with more thinly pared bright pink leather, which was cut to the below shape and edge pared. The leather was stuck down using PVA and rubbed down using my Teflon folder, part of it wrapped down onto the flat of the dowel. I was also lightly abraded once it was dry to match the rest of the sanded leather on the spine.

Once the spine piece was complete, I moved on to applying the silvery leather inlays into some of the sections of the design. The silver leather I had was abraded lightly with some sandpaper, in order to match the appearance of the silver egg printed in the book which had similar markings.

I selected some sections of the grey leather I wished to remove and began to cut pieces out. For the sample board I has some issues with piercing out the shapes as I kept cutting the embroidery threads by mistake which was quite annoying! I realised that this happened as I had opted to use the wrong shape and size of Scalpel blade for the job.

I regularly use a Number 23 Swann Morton blade (pictured here at the top), and also a 10A size blade too (seen here in the middle). Both of these blades require different size handles as the slot to attach the blades to them differ in size. I have had some size 15 blades in my drawer for a long time (pictured at the bottom) now without using them, they use the same size handle as the one that takes the 10A and in fact this turned out to be the perfect shaped blade to cut the inlays out of the cover leather. As the cutting edge was much shorter and curved it allowed me to do better cuts, without the end of the blade catching the threads as I went.

~ Swann Morton scalpel blade sizes 23, 10A and 15

The pieces of leather that I pierced and pulled away from the cover were then used as templates to trace around for the size of the silver inlay that needed to be cut and glue into the corresponding hole. The silver leather was intentionally pared thinner that the grey leather to give an extra visual difference to the cover design once stuck into the hole.

The last blog post, number three, covers the casing-in, board piercing and the box making part of this binding and can soon be read here.

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