Land of the Inca

At the start of 2023 I was commissioned to bind a copy of a miniature book called, ‘Land of the Inca’ by Bromer Booksellers in Boston USA. This miniature book was produced by Carol Cunningham, who has been printing books for over a half-century under the name of ‘Sunflower Press’.

Known for creating books dealing with different cultures, Carol has also published books on: The first Emperor of China; Kachinas; Muses; and a book about the earliest Japanese printing titled One Million Pagodas. She publishes both full-size and miniature books, using a variety of techniques, including silk-screened images, linoleum blocks, zinc cuts made from drawings, and colour photocopying of original watercolours for her artwork.

This book contained information and illustrations related to the Inca Empire. The Incas were a group of South American Indians who ruled an empire that extended along the Pacific coast and Andes Mountains from what is now northern Ecuador to central Chile. According to tradition (the Inca left no written records), the founder of the Incan dynasty led the tribe to Cuzco, which became their capital.

The original cover of the binding included some abstract depictions of Alpacas, which were treasured as the most important animal for the Inca civilisation. Their meat was consumed; with their wool they made yarns and fabrics; plus the bones, leather, fat and excrement had diverse applications such as musical instruments, footwear, medicines and fertiliser respectively. Due to this, they were preferred animals for religious sacrifices, the Incas thought that sacrificing an alpaca served to appease their gods.

The first step in the binding process was to remove the existing cover from the binding. Purple felt had been used as endbands, this was removed along with the mull from the spine and the sections were separated. I was then able to study the contents better and come up with a design for the binding.

Textiles were very significant for the Inca empire because they had religious and social value. A piece of cloth was considered the most precious gift, it was a sign of social status and was exclusive only to members of the royal family and the highest officials of the Inca civilisation. Textiles symbolised wealth, the finest fabrics were among the most valuable of all possessions and were even more precious than gold or silver. Textiles could be used both as a tax and as a means of payment.

The Incas were known for their abstract and symmetric designs and liked to use a repetition as well as symmetry in their art. The art they created was almost always bright and colourful with geometric patterns, like squares, triangles, and parallel lines especially checkerboard motifs, which repeated patterns (tocapus) across surfaces.

With this in mind, I designed the covers of the book to mimic this idea, using graph paper to draw a linear design for the covers.

The original cover of the book included some abstract depictions of Alpacas, which were treasured as the most important animal for the Inca civilisation. Their meat was consumed; with their wool they made yarns and fabrics; plus the bones, leather, fat and excrement had diverse applications such as musical instruments, footwear, medicines and fertiliser respectively. Due to this, they were preferred animals for religious sacrifices, the Incas thought that sacrificing an alpaca served to appease their gods.

The cover design of the book includes two of these alpacas. Due to the fact that the Incas often used symmetry in their designs, I chose to have the covers of the binding as a mirror image of each other.

As is common with miniature books, they can be difficult to open and read. I decided to employ a binding structure similar to those I have done before on miniature books to aid how this binding would function as a physical book once bound. I opted to sew the sections onto individual stubs, mainly black paper but with one in purple to hint to the purple used on some of the illustrations within the text block.

I then sewed the stubs of the sections onto three thin tapes and added leather-jointed endpapers. The spine was then lined with Aerolinen between the position of the tapes and I added made leather endbands with a purple thread detail to match up with position of the purple stub.

I opted to create a false round spine for this book as I didn’t want to round and back it given its size. a half round wooden dowel was layered up with watercolour paper to the correct thickness (that of the text block plus the boards). I adhered gold leaf to Japanese tissue and then stuck a strip of it to the outer edge of the dowel and left it to dry.

The title lettering was hand pierced from a piece of thinned black leather, in a font to match that of the title page, and accompanied by some embroidery to make up the whole title.

I opted to use sheet brass for the inner boards of the binding, with a layer of watercolour paper glued to the outer face, to help weight them as the book was quite small. I covered the spine edge of the boards with lilac coloured suede, as due to the way I was intending on covering this book they would be visible so this was done as a feature.

The boards were then attached to the spine piece of the case using both glue and also some small stitches for security. I drilled small holes through the boards using my Dremel drill and then passed a needle and thread through the holes to secure them – these stitches would later be concealed by the covering leather.

In the below left photo you can see detail of the attachment of the boards on the inside of the binding. The ends of the dowel were capped with thinly pared leather pieces which dropped down onto the inner edge of the dowel.

The image on the right shows two spines because I made up an additional blank replica binding for this project as a sample for me to keep.

It was then time to work on the covers for the binding. I opted to sew all the patterns in gold thread on black leather. The gold thread would symbolise the idea of wealth whilst also tying in with the gold printed imagery on some pages of the miniature book. The spine edge of the leather was pared and folded over so as not to leave a cut edge on this area of the book covers.

I used patterned paper for the endpapers, gold stripes printed onto handmade paper. These were embellished by adhering extra strips of black paper in different widths, and also adding some embroidered lines.

When using black leather it can be difficult to mark the back of the leather in a visible way so that reference lines can be drawn. In the case of this book with the intricate linear work I wanted to apply to the cover, I decided to draw the design onto pieces of Japanese tissue by tracing onto it. The Japanese tissue I opted for was lightweight, so as not to add too much thickness to the covering leather, plus it was fairly transparent meant I could see through it easily. The Japanese tissue was then cut to size and adhered to the back of the leather using paste.

I built up the stitches using gold thread, which was then whipped to consolidate the lines of sewing.

Once the cover leather was fully embroidered, these panels were stuck to the case.

The text block was then stuck into the case along the spine edge, and held in place with clamps whilst it dried. I don’t have images of the next process, but the leather joints were glued down, the centres of the boards were infilled and sanded flush before an edge-to-edge black leather doublure was stuck in place.

I made an enclosure for the binding out of Tulipwood with a lift-off lid and I added concealed magnets to hold the lid in place. The underneath of the lid was covered in leather with an Inca-inspired pattern embroidered onto it: a larger version of the llama from the cover design.

The lid was made up from staggered sizes of Tulipwood, clamping the pieces in place whilst the glue dried. The box was lined in leather and paper, with the book sitting within a well in the base.

For further information on the binding and to see more images please visit the Fine Bindings section of my website here.

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