Guards! Guards! Part Three: Onlays and Embroidery

It is only once the text block has been rounded, backed and either ploughed or sanded to size do I know the exact measurements for the covering leather. Once the text block is at this stage, I place it on a roll of paper and trace around it, marking where the board joints are going to be too, in order to get an accurate size for the turn-ins and where I need to pare the leather.

The overall leather is cut with a border of 2.5cm for the turn-ins around all four edges. The turn-ins are pared on my Brockman paring machine, taking a strip leather off the whole of the outer perimeter up to the outline of the text block. I pare this so that it is about 0.4mm in thickness, which corresponds with the thickness of the watercolour paper that will be used to infill the inside of the book boards once the text block is covered. During the paring of the turn-ins a ‘step’ is created where the thicknesses of the body leather and that which is pared to 0.4mm meet, this is removed using a French paring knife.

Once the covering leather was prepped, it was then time to cut out the leather onlays for the cover design. As all of the scales of the dragon were different shapes, I numbered each before cutting them out from paper. The paper shapes were flipped over and drawn around onto the reverse of some purple leather I had selected for the dragon scales. Each onlay was then housed in a little box until they had all been cut out.

~ The dragon scale onlays

Working through a tracing paper template for reference, I then glued each of the onlays down in the correct position on the covering leather using PVA glue.

~ Gluing the leather onlays in place on the covering leather

The dark grey onlay strips that I had cut out for the wing of the dragon were quite long and hard to position in the correct place along their whole length. To help with this, I pricked through the tracing paper template where the embroidery was going to be. This then provided a good reference point for where to place the long onlays centrally down the middle.

Once all of the leather onlays were in position, it was time to flip the leather over and back-pare the reverse. This step is done to remove some of the material from the reverse of the leather directly behind where an onlay is stuck on the other side. This helps the entire surface of the covering leather to sit flush once stuck down rather than having proud areas where the onlays may catch on top of the covering leather. The below left picture shows paler areas on the sudden side, this is where leather has been pared away.

Once back-pared, I used the tracing paper template to prick through the drawing and mark the the leather for embroidery. I started with the outlines, the below image on the right shows the gold leather onlays embroidered with some black thread detail. The dragon scales outlines were then worked with a running stitch in red, using the pricked holes as reference.

The spine spikes were outlined in metallic gold thread. The central area of each spike were then patterned with smaller stitches of the same gold thread.

Once all of the outlines were complete, I worked my way round the leather cover adding finer detail. Using a mixture of styles of stitches, I broke up the block colour of the onlays with coloured threads. This would ultimately also protect the edges of the onlays lifting over time too.

The detail on the dragon’s head was built up using a mixture of coloured French knots. Using two threads tied together to make the knots larger, these were scattered over the whole of the area. French knots were also applied to part of the wing area on the back cover of the binding.

~ French knots on the head of the dragon

The golden ‘plates’ on the underside of the dragon were first sewn with thin black thread detail on alternating lines down the body. Where the stitches were longer than about 1cm, I caught a little stitch across the thread to tie them down and secure them. Once the black detail had been added, the other lines had metallic red stitches sewn in the same manner. Then finally, at the base of each plate, extra red thread was added (see image on the right below).

The final thing to do on the covering leather once all of the embroidery was complete was to add the smoke coming out of the dragon’s nostril. This was done by dabbing a cotton bud into white acrylic paint and stippling it onto the leather. Over the top of the acrylic paint was sewn some extra white lines of thread to finish it off.

Once the embroidery was all complete it was time to take a pause in preparation for sticking the leather to the binding! This will be covered in the final part of this blog post…

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