Miniature, “Patience”

~ Patience, illustrated manuscript by E. Helene Sherman

Patience…a rather apt name for every single one of the embroidered bindings I create. 

I worked on this book earlier in 2021, a miniature book measuring just 45mm x 45mm in dimension. When it arrived in the post from the client it came accompanied by a rather larger friend (see below!). This variation of scale is a true test for a bookbinder: these two vastly different sized books would definitely each throw up their own binding challenges…

~ Little and large: books come in all shapes and sizes!

The miniature book contained a manuscript, called Patience, slipped into a pale green paper wrapper. Illustrated by Helene Sherman with her calligraphy work adorning the pages, the content depicting Eastern proverbs with paintings from nature.

“Miss E. Helene Sherman, a charter member of the Miniature Book Society, died October, 1996, at the age of eighty-eight.

Helene was a professional artist, member of the National League of American Pen Women, who specialized in calligraphy and illumination. In addition to her many watercolour paintings, her work won many state and national prizes, and some of them were exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution. She produced works on paper, vellum, and gesso panels.

She lettered and illuminated numerous miniature books, and produced a series of miniature illuminated manuscripts which were bound in book form. They now fetch prices many times the amounts for which they were sold originally.

Testimonials for many famous people were commissioned, and produced by her. Helene also produced hundreds of illuminated broadsides…”

~ By Robert E. Massmann (who frequently collaborated with Helene), taken from the the Miniature Book Society Newsletter

The original cover of the book included a beautifully illustrated title, which I was instructed by the client to retain either within the new binding, or within the box of the completed binding.

~ Proverbs

My plan was keep the structure of the miniature the same as the original, with a new card cover replacing the original one. As the book was made up of only one section within it’s card cover, I decided the best way to bind this would be to create an outer case, with a half-round dowel making up the spine of the binding. Here you see the original book on the left, showing the single section of pages simply bound within a small card cover. To the right is the card cover I made for the new binding, to replace the original cover and it’s calligraphic title.

~ The original binding structure

I had some small half-round dowel that I cut a length from. I stuck the flat side to the edge of a skinny pressing board and glued layers of watercolour paper to it to bring it up to the correct thickness for the text block to be housed in. Each layer of 300gsm watercolour paper was dampened and moulded around the curved edge of the dowel, and held in place using silicone release paper and bulldog clips whilst the PVA glue dried. The thickness was calculated by adding the dimension of the text block plus the thickness of the two cover boards. Once the dowel was to the correct dimension, I stuck a piece of linen onto it which would be used to hinge the boards onto the spine piece.

~ The wooden dowel with watercolour paper laminations
~ A linen layer glued on for the board hinges

The boards of the binding were made by laminating a layer of watercolour paper onto the front of a piece of 2mm Gemini board. The boards were then stuck to the linen hinges of the spine piece (with the linen on the outer edge of the boards), with a spacer inserted to ensure a regular gap was kept down the hinge joint. It was important to keep a gap here for later in the binding process to allow for leather joints to be stuck in place. Once the linen joints were stuck down, a second piece of watercolour paper was laminated onto the outside of each board, which once dry was bevelled at the edges and sanded to conceal the linen joint stuck to the outside of the boards.

I usually make sample boards for each of my fine bindings, but given these are actually bigger than the size of the miniature binding I decided to make an entire duplicate miniature binding as the sample for this project – hence the two matching cases pictured below!

~ Two completed cases with false spines

The miniature contained some lovely little illustrations throughout of nature including butterflies and flowers. The colours of the illustrations inspired my colour palette for the cover of the binding. I opted to use a rich blue goatskin for the cover, teamed with a lovely piece of pink eel skin that I had had in my leather drawer for a number of years – I had been waiting for the right project to use it on and this was it!

~ Working out the colour palette 

I have always wanted to try out negative space embroidery, in other words embroidering around the outline of lettering to give the word focus. This felt the perfect project to use in on, the idea being that the the title lettering of the book would would remain ‘blank’ with just the blue goatskin of the cover showing.

I drew up an embroidery design using elements of the illustrations from within the text block. I then coloured these with pencils to create a plan to work from. 

~ The design for the negative space embroidery

The blue goatskin was pared down using my Brockman paring machine to about 0.5mm thick. Given the small size and scale of the binding I didn’t want to use standard thickness goatskin as I felt it would make the boards look too heavy. Once pared, two pieces of leather were measured out and cut to the correct size for both the sample and the commission books. The turn-ins were pared down slightly further to 0.3mm using my Brockman paring machine and the boards joints also thinned down slightly by sanding them over a rounded edge of sheet acrylic.

Once the leather was prepped, I pricked the title of the book through a tracing paper template onto the goatskin, and drew around these pricked markings so the outlines of the letters were visible on the leather.

~ Marking the title onto the covering leather

I painted round the outlines of the letters with acrylic paint to create a halo of colour, which would later be concealed with embroidery stitches. Every stage of the binding was done twice over as the sample book was done alongside the commissioned binding. The next stage of the process was to start adding on the intricate leather onlays making up the butterflies, leaves and flowers of the final design.

~ Applying the leather onlays

The onlays were created using a mix of free-hand cutting, like the pink leather flowers pictured below. Plus I also utilised my Japanese hole punch to build up other types of flowers using different sized circles of leather. I used a selection of green, pink, whites and yellow onlays to build up the base colours of the design, on top of which extra colour would be added with the addition of the embroidery at the next stage.

~ Cutting out the leather onlays

When it came to cutting the onlays to fit around the letters in order to keep the negative space, I laid the complete onlays down in the right position on the leather and carefully marked what I needed to cut away with a fine pen. They were then trimmed to shape before being glued down with PVA glue.

~ Cutting fine detail out of the leather onlays

At this point in the process of the Patience commission it was July of 2021 and my family and I were booked to go off to France for three weeks and I wanted to take something with me to work on. This was the perfect project to transport as two miniature bits of leather and some embroidery threads weren’t going to take up too much room in my hand luggage (the scissors and needles went in the hold of course!). I managed to get all of the leather onlays stuck down in time ahead of our departure making this project the perfect travel companion: ‘ma broderie de voyage’ aka my travel embroidery. 

~ The two pieces of covering leather having their onlays applied

I set to work on the embroidery once we touched down in France. Initially I embroidered vein details onto each of the leaves using different colours of green thread (I largely use Gütermann Polyester threads for my embroidery work, as the colour range is great and they are easy to sew with). Once all of the leaves were done the cover design was gradually built up using a range of French knots. By using a variety in the number of strands of thread tied to create the French knots they ended up being different in size.

~ Detail of the embroidery process

Below you can see the centre of the pink flower with it’s French knots finished, and I am just starting the linear stitches used to build up the petal detail round the outside.

~ Embroidering one of the flower petals

I feel there is something really lovely about the back of the embroidered leather, it shows the true story of the stitches made and once glued down onto the board will never be seen again so I like to get a photo for my records!

~ Detail of the back of the embroidered leather
~ Detail of the front of the embroidered leather

Once all of the onlays had been embroidered, I turned my attention to all the hundreds of miniature French knots I wanted to do to fill out the rest of the space around the title wording. Using blocks of coloured knots I built up this space gradually using a mixture of the threads used elsewhere on the design.

~ Detail of the French knots

Once the knots were complete I was very happy with the look of the piece: dense embroidery on the cover with a scattering of pattern and design across the spine onto the back board. I avoided putting too many onlays or embroidery across the spine joint due to the movement that would occur in this area.

~ Al fresco embroidery

The final piece of the embroidery puzzle was adding the body detail to the butterflies. Inspired by the illustrations within the text block, I used black thread to create bold centres for each of the butterflies on the cover.

~ Embroidering detail to the butterflies

The embroidery was complete meaning the case of this little miniature book was ready to be covered. I spritzed the cover leather with a water atomiser before pasting out the reverse of the leather with wheat flour paste. The paste was applied three times until I was sure it had penetrated properly into the leather.

~ Dampening the leather before pasting it out

The leather was stuck to the case of the book, with the leather turned-in around the board edges but left long at the top and tail of the rounded spine. The book was left for 24 hours to dry between boards, under a light weight and I changed the blotting paper regularly to draw out the moisture. Once dry, I cut the leather at the dowel ends into little triangles in order for it to sit flush once glued down. This was then capped with a thinly pared piece of leather in the same colour that also covered the inside of the spine piece at the board joints.

~ Forming the leather at the spine ends
~ Neatening up the leather at the spine ends

I don’t have any images of the next stage of the binding which involved paring another piece of the blue goatskin to 0.3mm in thickness. This was then cut wide enough to cover the spine edge, plus the board joints and long enough so that it would cap and cover the ends of the spine dowel. The inside of the boards were infilled with a square of watercolour paper and sanded flush meaning they were then ready fro the doublures to be stuck down. 

Back to the bright pink eel skin that I mentioned earlier in this post that was already earmarked for the doublures of this miniature binding. I cut panels from this long thin skin to the correct size for the doublures which I edge-pared with a scalpel containing a number 23 blade, in preparation for gluing them down.

~ Edge-paring bright pink eel skin for the miniature doublures

The case was then complete and the time had come to attach the text block into it’s new cover. I pulled the pages of the original binding from the card cover, and attached it in to the new cover using a simple stitch through the centre of the section.

~ Attaching the pages into the new cover

I don’t have images of the text block being stuck into the case. This was done two using PVA glue, and I abraded the leather covering the inside flat of the dowel to ensure the glue took properly. Once the glue was dry and to make sure the text block was secure, I additionally used brass tacks pinned though the top and tail end of the card cover to attach the case of the new book directly to the dowel spine.

Once the book was complete it was time to turn my attention to the container. I commissioned two little Poplar wood boxes in which the two binding would be housed. These were designed to be slightly larger internally than the book so that onlay a little padding would be required on the inside.

~ The Poplar wood boxes for the miniature commission and the sample book

For the lid of the box, I wanted to include the title of the book so I pierced these out of the same blue leather as the cover of the bindings. There was a dual purpose to this, the plan was to use the negative space cut-out letters for the lid of the commission box, and the cut-out letters for the title of the second sample box.

~ Piercing out letters for the title on the wooden box

The boxes were lined with turquoise suede, and in the bottom on the box I stuck a trimmed version of the original cover into the base of the box. The inner edges of the box were covered using a dark pink khaki paper to add an extra colour flash as the box was opened.

~ Lining the Poplar boxes with turquoise suede

Finally, the book and the box were complete and ready to go. I finish this blog post with some images of the completed bindings and boxes.

~ The open box with the original illuminated title page inserted
~ The tulip wood box
~ The embroidered backs of the sample and actual binding
~ The eel skin doublures

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