Part one of the series of blog posts about my binding of Roald Dahl’s Matilda covered how I came up with the cover design for the binding of this iconic and well loved novel. Books are three-dimensional objects, therefore giving scope for many more design elements on the endpapers, doublures, book edges, endbands and the container. In part two of this blog blog post I will concentrate on all of these apart from the container.
I initially pulled the original text block, which only amounted to eight sections of fairly thick soft paper. There are infinite different ways in which to bind or rebind a book. I decided to round and back this text block, so before doing so I had to work on the endpaper designs for both the front and back of the book (which I had decided would be different to one another). I had to do this in order to then make them up with leather joints which would then be sewn to the rest of the text block before the rounding and backing could take place.
Anyone that knows the story of Matilda knows that her father, Mr Harry Wormwood, was a used car salesman who ran Wormwood Motors, which sold used cars for more than what they were worth (especially since they were defunct and quite broken) while also dealing in stolen car parts. He regularly fiddled with the mileage on these cars, hence on the front doublure and endpaper of the Matilda binding I illustrated an odometer (or odograph). An odometer is an instrument used for measuring the distance traveled by a vehicle, so I chose a retro-looking version to replicate across the front endpaper and doublure of the binding.
I enlarged the image so that I felt it was the correct scale to split across the two sides and then made a plan of how to work each part of the image: some was to be painted (the numbers); some cut paper (the pointer); and some to be embroidered (the finer details and outlines).
Using the original copy as a template, I cut out the numbers with a sharp scalpel and then traced through the cut-outs to get the correct placement of all the numbers around the speed dial. I used a fine propelling pencil to mark the outlines onto the black paper and then painstakingly painted the detail in using a very fine paint brush and white acrylic paint.
Once the painting was complete, I cut around the outline and stuck the black paper onto some orange laid paper which I had selected for the surround. I used PVA glue and a roller to stick it in place, and left it in the press to dry.
I then added extra detail using sewing threads. I first pricked holes through the paper using a fine needle pricker, at a distance of around 3mm apart. I used white thread to outline the circular painted disc, plus grey, black and dark orange thread for the other parts. My plan was to cut through the centre of the odometer to create a window in the endpaper so that the mileage numbers could be viewed through it, stuck to the page behind (visible in the very first image in this blog post above).
Most of the odometer was placed on the endpaper, but it spilled over onto the front doublure of the book too. Beside it you can see the treatment I did for the back endpaper and doublure of the book which was dedicated to Mrs Wormwood. Matilda’s mother plays bingo five times a week. When she isn’t watching television at home, she’s in the nextdoor town at the bingo hall so I printed a stack of bingo cards on the back endpaper and doublure as a homage to her obsession with the game.
I’m not sure where they came from, but amongst a drawer of things in my studio I found a pad of bingo cards printed onto pale green paper (I don’t recall ever having played bingo before!). I tore off strips of the cards and stuck them onto a sheet of A4 paper in a random overlapping pattern. I photocopied them though a sheet of tracing paper onto some pale green paper, which gave a transparency to their appearance. I then stuck one ‘real’ bingo card in the correct position on top with PVA glue, this card was then embroidered around with some orange thread. I was keen to keep the colours of the endpapers and doublures matching and I felt this worked well, so opted for green, orange, grey and black which would then match with a newt of the same colours I planned to add to the book cover.
Once the endpaper pieces had been made up into leather-jointed endpapers they were sewn onto the front and back of the text block. I had attached thin paper guard pieces around the first and last sections, made from an 8mm wide piece of thin paper that was folded in half and stuck around the section fold with dabs of PVA glue. The free tab was then used to glue to the endpapers in order to pull them into the correct position to keep the section folds level at the spine edge.
The spine of the book was glued using PVA glue and then the foredge was ploughed. I was then able to round the text block using a backing hammer. The next step was to plough the head and tail of the text block, ensuring all the edges were square with one another. As the book had been bound before there were only small margins around the illustrations and text in the book so I kept the trimming to a minimum. When ploughing the top and tail of the book block, I clamped the pages within some scrap bevelled boards to allow for the swell at the spine edge
Once ploughed, the book was then backed. I marked the thickness of the boards onto the edges of the waste sheet attached to the book, to give me a line to pitch the metal-edged backing boards up to. This would then give me the correct shoulder width for the boards to sit snugly into. As previously mentioned, the book was made of only eight fairly thick sections which made it a bit of a challenge to manipulate into shape.
Once I was happy with the shape of the spine, I lined it in between the tapes using Aerolinen and left it to dry. I didn’t line the sections closest to the ends of the spine and I would be adding the endbands to this area. All the edges of the text block were then sanded in preparation of the edge decoration.
The foredge of the book was sanded using some sandpaper wrapped around a wooden dowel the correct diameter for the curve. As the design of the book was going to use black leather for the cover with the hidden colourful drawings behind the hinged panels this also inspired the edge decoration. For the foredge and top edge of the book I decided to apply a sold black colour, so built up thin layers of watered down black acrylic paint. I lightly sanded the surface in between each application and let it fully dry before applying the next coat.
Once I was happy with the density of the colour, I burnished the foredge using a dog-tooth shaped agate burnisher which gave a satisfying sheen to it. The top edge was burnished using a flat agate burnisher.
In contrast, I decided to apply a multicoloured bottom edge to the text block, to create a ‘surprise’, similar to the reveal of the drawings behind the panels on the cover. I sanded and prepared the edge and then used a variety of coloured acrylic paints on the surface. The paints were thinned slightly using water and them applied using the end of a cotton bud.
The paints were applied at random to give full coverage on the spine edge, leaving them to dry in between each new colour. The dots gave a lovely vibrant appearance to this edge, which I felt would match well with the children’s drawings. It was burnished in the same way as the top edge of the book.
Once the edge decoration was complete it was time to move onto the endbands. At the time of making this book I was also preparing to teach a weekend workshop on this subject for the Western Region of the Society of Bookbinders which was great timing. During the course students would learn how to create several different endbands including: single core sewn endbands, double core sewn endbands, plus “stuck on” single and double core leather and paper endbands.
The types of endband I had planned to teach inspired my design decision for the Matilda book. There is no reason why endbands on the head and tails of books need to match, so why not use this as a design opportunity and do two completely different versions to match the alternative decoration I had applied around the book edges? These would then be a great visual aid to show at the weekend workshop too.
For the tail of the book I decided to make some really fun double core sewn endbands to go with the multicoloured bottom edge of the text block. For this blog post I am not going to explain every step of how to sewn one of these endbands as I think that needs a whole write up of it’s own which will take a bit longer. For now here’s a whistle-stop tour of how they were made!
I gathered to together all the kit that I would need, including silk threads to match the paint colours used on the bottom edge of the book. I started with two random colours of thread and tied them together, threading each onto a needle.
I marked the centres of each of the sections using strips of paper, so I would have reference point for where to tie down the threads into the book block when working the thread across the spine. The thread was initially tied through the first section of the book by pushing one of the two needles though under the kettle stitch, ensuring the knot was on the back of the spine. A loop was made by pushing the other needle through the same hole in the first section, again pushing it through from the outside to the inside.
The book was then placed at an angle in a finishing press between boards to protect the book shoulders, with the top edge of the book pointing upwards towards me.
The cores were then added, the primary (back) core was a piece of vellum that had been laminated to some leather with the vellum edge pointing towards the book edge. The secondary (front) core was a piece of cord that I had stiffened with some PVA glue and left to dry. I proceeded in wrapping the cores using the coloured threads in a figure of eight pattern.
After I had done two wraps with each coloured thread I tied down into the appropriate section centre and then tied on a new colour using a weaver’s knot. I kept going across the spine, tying on new colours at random to create a multicoloured appearance.
Once I had worked the endband right the way across I tied off the threads and secure them on the spine. For the weekend workshop I wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to add extra threads into a sewn endband once you have completed it. The process of sewing a endband in the fashion I was doing it created a pattern of two colours of each thread next to each other, I wanted to break this up with extra dashes of colour.
I threaded a needle with a contrasting thread and worked individual colours in between the double thread wraps to break them up. The threads were wrapped in a figure of eight, meaning that the extra colour dash would appear on both the primary and secondary cores. I was very satisfied with how these extra threads also gave the endband more density as well as colour.
Once I was happy that I had added as many threads possible, I applied PVA glue to the back of the endband and then trimmed the excess cores tight to the end of the threads carefully using a scalpel.
In complete contrast I chose to create a double core made endband for the head of the book. I used the same core pieces as for the tailband. Both cores were cut to size and then covered with very thinly pared black goatskin.
Once covered, they were laminated together ensuring that where their bases met was level so that it would sit flush on top of the head of the book. I also sewed a thin piece of white silk thread centrally on the endband, wrapped around both cores before gluing the thread ends on the back to fix them.
The made endband was then stuck to the head end of the spine using PVA glue and left to dry. The whole of the spine was then lined with Aerolinen, followed by a one on-two off hollow and the boards were laced on.
This book was going to be different to how I usually make my fine bindings. Once I have forwarded the text block, have the template size for the cover and have pared and prepped the leather I usually start the long process of adding leather onlays followed by embroidering the leather.
This book was different as, apart from one small embroidered detail in the bottom right corner of the leather the black goatskin would be stuck on plain – the majority of the detail on this binding would actually be added after covering it. The one bit of detail was however to be a little newt, coloured green and orange to match the colours I had chosen for the endpapers and doublures. On one occasion in the story Matilda’s friend Lavender places a newt in Miss Trunchbull’s water glass, sending her into a frenzy. She blames Matilda for placing it there even though she didn’t do it; this angers Matilda so much that she uses telekinesis to knock the glass over, dumping the newt onto Miss Trunchbull.
The newt therefore simply had to appear on the cover! I made it up using some back-pared onlays that were then embroidered over to add finer details. I used a series of different embroidery stitches to build up colour and texture on the rest of the body.
I had created the book boards a bit thicker than on previous bindings, knowing I wanted more substance to them to take the hinged boards that would be attached in the centres. I had intentionally created the shoulder of the book a bit slimmer that the thickness of the board, so as well as bevelling the outer board edges I also bevelled the boards slightly at the spine edge to take them down to the depth of the shoulder.
One extra thing I also decided to do with the spine was to add some raised bands, something I have actually never done before. Raised bands refer to the ridges that protrude slightly from the spine on leather bound books. Traditionally the bands are created in the binding process, and show the structure of cord-bound books however often on modern books these bands are introduced artificially to heighten the appearance of a newer edition.
With the frame of the black board wrapping around from the back to the front of the book, I wanted this to visually carry across the spine too by raising this area. I laminated some thick leather to some vellum, and cut it to the same width as the size of the wood I was going to use for the frame. I then stuck two overlong pieces across the spine at the correct positions and left them to dry whilst being clamped.
Finally I trimmed them to the correct length and bevelled the edges so they were in line with the boards.
The boards were back cornered and the hollow split in preparation for covering the book with the goatskin. Using black leather is always tricky as it is hard to see the lines you have marked on the back of the leather so I used a chinagraph pencil instead to mark the position.
The leather was dampened on the outside using water and also pasted out using wheat paste on the inside. I applied the leather to the text block, turning it in around the edges and down into the hollow. I had to be extra careful to work the leather around the raised bands so ensure the leather stretched properly over them. I then tied the book with some linen thread and formed the endcaps.
The thread was then trimmed off the book and it was left to dry between blotting paper and boards under a light weight for 24 hours. I changed the blotting paper regularly to draw out the moisture.
Blog post number three follows this one and is all about how the chalk board panels were made and attached to the binding.