Monograph of the Meropidæ Part Five: Covering and the Box

The Monograph of the Meropidæ binding was designed with a different coloured spine to the boards. The boards were covered in teal coloured bull skin, and in contrast I decided to use a fair goat for the spine. I prepared the fair goat by paring the top and bottom with my Brockman paring machine to 0.4mm thick, and then took off the step that was created using a French paring knife. I also sanded the leather where the board joints would be by placing the leather on top of a rounded piece of perspex and sanding down the length on the suede side. The leather was then further bevelled by laying it flat on a paring stone and using my French paring knife to create a longer bevel either side of the board joint.

I wanted to embroider the title of the book onto the spine leather, so traced this onto some paper and pricked through this template with my needle pricker. In order to make sure the writing was central on the spine, I laid a piece of thread on top of the leather and pinned it at both ends so I had a guide to work from (see the bottom image on the right).

The letters were embroidered in a mix of colours to match the cover design, using cotton thread. I first used a running stitch and then whipped around the lines with a thread of the same colour to strengthen the line.

I was really pleased with the colour match of the completed spine embroidery against the embroidered cover leather, so it was then time to cover the binding!

~ The completed embroidery on the boards and spine leather

I first dampened the spine leather on the front using a water atomiser. The leather was pasted out by applying three layers of wheat paste, leaving it for a few minutes in between applications for the paste to fully penetrate into the skin. The leather was then applied to the spine and turned in at the head caps before being left to dry overnight between boards under a weight. Blotting paper pieces were alternated to draw out the moisture regularly whilst the leather dried.

The following day I trimmed the fair calf square on the boards, to about 1.5cm from the board joints and peeled the excess leather away (see below image on the right). The book was then ready for the bull skin to be stuck onto the boards.

I pasted out the back of the bull leather using the wheat paste, again applying three coats and giving it time to penetrate in between the applications.

~ Pasting out the bull-skin leather

The leather was then stuck directly to the book boards. I firstly concentrated on the joint where the bull skin met the goatskin, making sure it was nice and straight and adhered properly by pushing it down well with the end of my Teflon folder. Once I was sure that looked neat I turned in the leather around the board edges and formed the corners.

The book was again left to dry overnight between boards under a weight. Blotting paper pieces were alternated to draw out the moisture regularly whilst the leather dried.

The following day I was able to open up the book boards. I applied water using a water pen to the spine joint of the boards, allowing it to penetrate in before opening up the boards for the first time.

I removed the capping from the text block that I had applied earlier in the process to protect the book block. I then pulled away the waste sheets that were tacked to the leather joints, making sure I removed all the little scraps of paper and glue from the back of the leather.

Both boards of the book were opened up and placed between stacked boards to support them and the text block. I cut mitres into the end of the leather joints and then brushed on PVA glue and carefully stuck them down in position. I made sure it was well rubbed down with firstly the pressure of my fingers, and secondly a Teflon folder. The joint was left to dry for about 10-15 minutes before closing the board and repeating on the other side.

The turn-ins and leather joint were all trimmed square and a piece of watercolour paper stuck down as an infill in the centre of the board. Once dry this was sanded flush, along with the leather turn-ins, to remove any bumps or level changes.

I then stuck down a piece of Zerkall paper, cut a few millimetres smaller than the size of the boards. This again was left to dry before sanding flat.

~ Sanding the infill layers inside the boards

Once I was sure that both of the board insides were perfectly flat it was time to work on the paper doublures. My original plan was to print some flying insects that the bee eater birds eat to decorate these so worked on a series of lino blocks of a dragonfly, hornet, cicada, wasp, sand wasp and of course a bee!

I did some test prints of each of these in both black (pictured below) and also in colours to match the cover embroidery, and although I was pleased with how they looked I just didn’t feel that they matched the aesthetic of the cover design well enough.

Whilst doing the test prints, I was cleaning my roller on scrap paper to remove the excess paint and in fact I liked the look of this more that the insect prints themselves – a happy accident! I therefore decided to create a full sheet of roller rubbings using a variety of coloured paints and was really pleased with the appearance of these and decided to use them for the doublures.

These sheets were cut to about 2mm smaller than the size of the board, roller-ed with PVA glue and carefully positioned into exactly the right place before being rubbed down with a teflon folder through silicone release paper. Below you can see them on the reverse of the sample board, I was really thrilled with how they picked up the colour of the lithographic plates in the actual book as the pages were turned.

With the book complete, it was time to think about the container because every good book needs a good box to house it in! With a book so big I wanted to make sure that the container was going to be substantial enough to keep it safe. I had recently worked on a project creating a series of wooden boxes for bindings of The Collector, created with an extra thick wall in the base of the box allowing the books to sit in a ‘well’. I decided that this would be a good approach for this binding too.

I worked on cutting out two book titles, one for the wooden container and an additional one for an outer conservation box. The title for the wooden box was cut out of thinly pared leather in colours to match the lettering on the spine of the book. I planned to put a piece of the teal coloured bull skin on the lid of the box, with a few feathers embroidered on it to match the book inside.

~ Cutting out letters for the box title

To get the lettering correct, I cut the outline of each letter from paper and then drew round it on the reverse of the pared leather before cutting them out with sharp scissors. The paper letter was then coloured with green acrylic paint to use as an additional for the conservation box, therefore nothing was wasted. The green letters were stuck to a panel of paper that was coloured in the same way as the edge decoration, using dashes of green, blue and yellow acrylic paint.

Once the title letters were completed it was time to line the well of the box for the book to sit inside. I used a acidy-yellow coloured felt to line strips of card for the padding around the edge of the well. The felt was stuck to the card using Lascaux glue and held in place with lots and lots of bulldog clips whilst it dried!

The wells of the top and bottom of the box were lined with the same coloured felt, and a ribbon lifter attached into the base of the box to help lift the book out. To add some detail here I embroidered another feather on a circular piece of leather and stuck it to the end of the ribbon lifter. This was bordered with a line of stitches to secure in on there.

Once the box was lined on the inside I was able to complete the outside of the box. I embroidered four more feathers onto a bull skin panel for the top of the box. This was then cut to size and glued into the recess in the lid, so that it lay slightly below the outer wooden edge of the lid frame.

Once this panel was in place I measured out the central position for the box lettering and stuck the letters down in the correct place through a paper template.

The only thing then left was the final stage in the bookbinding commission journey: photography and documentation. I drafted in some help from a photographer to capture this book in detail at the end of May and it was delivered to The Athæneum the following day (I love how the lining felt of the box unintentionally matches my display cabinet!).

To see the product of this photo session and images of the completed binding and box, please visit the Fine Bindings section of my website here.

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