I marked out the size of the boards on to the back of the vellum. As I didn’t want a cut edge to be visible on the edge of the vellum that would be overlapping the spine leather on the cover, I folded an edge over by about 5mm and glued it down. The plan was to butt this folded edge up with the top paper lamination that was glued to the outside of each of the cover so once glued down this would be flush.
Initially I secured the vellum, face-down, onto a piece of Plaztazote foam, I then pinned the tracing paper template down on top of it in the correct place and pricked through hundreds and hundreds of holes at regular small intervals along the flow of the writing.
The great thing about using the vellum was as it was a lot thinner and stiffer than leather, the pricked holes were really visible once I had made them.
The next arduous task was to remove the tracing paper template and join together the dots making up the the words in reverse (obviously working back to front as this was on the back of the leather – very confusing!) so I knew which direction my embroidered threads needed to go.
The plan from the beginning with the embroidery was to use threads that matched the colours of the pochoir as closely as possible. Having matched these and made a chart on a photocopy the time had come to start the the embroidery process.
Didn’t however just want to use a random selection of the colours for each of the words. I therefore laid down the tracing paper template on top of the actual pochoir, with a layer of glass on top, and worked directly from the colours on this.
I chose different parts of the pochoir the front and back to get the best mix of colours possible.
And so the embroidery could begin! I got comfy and spent the best part of two weeks sewing all of the words in place. I must admit, I did start to wonder why I had set myself such a mammoth task as the hours clocked up…
I made a paper sheath to hold the vellum is as I was working on it. As the pieces were so long and thin I didn’t want the end I wasn’t working on to get dirty or marked in any way. This was held in place using a small bulldog clip.
With lots of stitches on the front, of course this results in lots of loose threads on the back. I periodically went along and trimmed these tails and glued them down to the reverse with PVA.
I worked in a few sentences at a time, having the correct colour threads available to me to quickly interchange colours.
I even stole away some time on a weekend away to do some more sewing: embroidery on tour! Obviously I wasn’t actually driving at the time of taking this photograph…
Each word was initially built up by joining the holes with a running stitch, using one strand of embroidery thread. Once the outline of the word was complete I then went around each of the running stitches with a whipping stitch, two strands in thickness.
So eventually all of the words were made up with a whipped running stitch. The needle creating the whipped running stitch did not enter the vellum at all, apart from where it started and finished at the beginning of a word.
Some sections of the text were more complicated than others, requiring numerous colour thread changes. Whereas some I had quite a bit to do just on one colour. It was more time consuming having the change the threads regularly.
I mentioned previously that I had turned over the cut edge of the vellum. On both the front and back covers, some of the words were placed that they were to be sewn on top of this double thickness. To avoid bulk on the back, I carefully cut away some small channels in the turned over vellum, where the stitches were going to fall on the back, in order to absorb the threads so that this would lie flush once glued to the text block.
I employed a couple of different methods of securing the loose threads down to the reverse of the vellum. Once I had finished with a colour, if there were suitable threads to go through on the reverse, I pushed a needle through behind them, thus securing the tail of the thread and I could cut it off.
This image shows the completed back embroidery, but with all of the front still to go…!
I mainly used Gutermann 100% polyester threads as they gave me the best colour matches. I am really lucky that in the town I live in (Shepton Mallet in Somerset, UK), there is still a haberdashery shop – they are so few and far between these days. It was absolutely key with this project to be able to see the threads in person before buying, matching the colours and buying threads online would have been much more difficult. I carefully packaged up my folded La Prose concertina at the start of the project and walked the ten minutes into town with it, into the haberdashery shop, to see first hand what colours I needed.
When it came to “dotting all the i’s”, I used two strands of thread. I pushed the needle through from the back and tied it into a loop.
Using the end of my needle pricker, with the very point of the needle placed in the centre of the loop thread against the hole in the vellum, I pulled the knot tight. In doing it like this, the knot tightens down the length of the needle pricker tight to the surface of the vellum creating a neat knot.
The needle was then pushed back though the vellum, through the same hole that it came out of. As the knot had been tied and there was extra bulk in the thread it wouldn’t pull back through.
The second method I employed for securing down the thread ends is pictured here. I cut the tail of the threads short and then frayed out the end using my needle pricker. This was then glued down with PVA and rubbed with a teflon folder. The whole way through the process I was aware that I wanted to create as little bulk of thread on the back as possible. As the vellum was so thin in comparison to standard leather I would use for a fine binding, any threads on the back were going to be partly visible and not as absorbed as much into the covering material.
After two weeks of embroidery, the end was nigh!
And then I was down to just one word, made up of 43 holes, 42 running stitches, and 21 whipped stitches…I could se the light at the end of this very long embroidery tunnel.
I didn’t count the number of words on the front and back cover, or try and calculate the number of stitches I made, but it would most certainly be in the hundreds of thousands!
The next part of the blog is “La Prose Part Four: Book Covering” and it details how I got the vellum onto the boards.