Monograph of the Meropidæ Part Two: Technique for Binding Single Pages into a Text Block

~ Collating the single pages of the binding into groups for sections

This isn’t the first occasion where I have found myself confronted with a book made up of single sheets rather than folded sections. The book I bound in 2021 for the 4th Designer Bookbinders International Competition, ‘The Grasses of Great Britain’, presented the same challenge, how to deal with all these pages without adding extra swell where I didn’t want it. The options were:

  1. Re-stabbing the pages into sections to be sewn together again into a text block (not desirable in my mind as a bit of a messy solution).
  2. Fan out and glue up the spine of the individual pages and then saw cords into the spine (again, not desirable, this wouldn’t allow the fullest opening of the text block at the spine and I wouldn’t be able to round and back the book in this state).
  3. Create sections out of the individual sheets by tipping corresponding pages onto strips of paper to join them so that they could be folded and sewn as sections (this would create extra swell on each page in the book where I didn’t want it though. The only way to try and avoid this would be to edge pare each central strip and page where they would be tipped together).

Through experience of working on the British Grasses binding I chose to use a newly tested method to rebind this book: grouping the single sheets together in bundles and tipping them together with PVA at the spine edge. As the binding contained a variety of thicker pages with lithographic plates mixed in with thinner pages with text on I went through the text block and made a chart of these to better visualise how to group them.

By making up new ‘sections’ by tipping together bundles of pages this binding method allows better opening of the pages throughout the text block with especially good opening between the end of one section and the start of the next. I therefore tried to group the pages so that at the end of the section one of the lithographic images would be positioned and could therefore more easily be viewed.

I went through the text block and tipped together pages into bundles of between 4-8 in total. The pages were glued at the spine edge with about a 5mm margin of PVA, using a strip of waste paper as a guide. I then laid them one at a time on top of each other, using a square edge to register them all against at the top. They were then rubbed down with a teflon folder to ensure adhesion.

Once the sections were glued up I trimmed each square and to the same size using my board cutter. I wanted to retain the original gilt top edge of the text block but was happy to trim away a small amount on the other three edges of the sections to tidy them up.

Once the individual pages were tipped together into what I will from now on refer to as ‘sections’, I edge-pared the spine edge using a scalpel with a size 23 blade in the handle. The below left image shows the edges of the sections being pared to a line drawn 5mm in from the spine edge. The reason behind the edge paring of the sections was that when they were guarded with strips of paper at the next stage, no necessary extra bulk would be created at this point.

As the pages of this book were larger than that of the previous binding I used this method on, plus the paper was heavier, I decided to additionally stab bind the sections with a thin thread for extra strength. As you can see in the left hand image below, I initially marked a series of holes along the spine edges of the sections about 4cm apart, and 3mm in from the spine edge down the length of the pages.

On alternate front, then back, then front and so on, I used my bone folder to score a groove into the paper between the holes for the sewing thread to lie. A thin polyester embroidery thread was then passed along the length and then glued in place using PVA glue, with the cut end of the threads being frayed out and glued down also.

My plan then was to ‘wrap’ the spine edge with a guard of coloured paper, with this guard acting as the means to attach the section to a paper stub by sewing them together before being ‘sealed’. The positioning of the guard would therefore conceal the stab stitching of each section.

I chose some 80gsm turquoise coloured paper for guarding the spine edges of each of the sections. This would also be used for the stubs. I cut strips 12mm wide and edge-pared one side of each, the purpose being that when glued to the corresponding edge-pared sections there would be hardly any extra bulk being added to them whilst still retaining the strength of the pages.

I had 18 sections in total and the strips were then stuck down with PVA glue 5mm in from the spine edge on the front of each section (see right image below).

Once the strips were glued down to the front of each section the extra paper was then trimmed to 6mm in width the whole way down so that when glued around the spine edge of the section they would overlap the spine edge by about 5mm.

As it is naturally quite difficult to pare paper, I did have to make a few repairs to the edges where the scalpel sometimes slipped and took out little pieces. As the guard strips were coloured I felt it was important to do this as any imperfections in the straight edge of the guards would be very obvious against the neutral colour of the pages.

Next it was time to start forming the stubs. Strips of paper 4cm wide were cut from the same turquoise paper used to guard the sections. These were then folded lengthways down the centre, then twice again to form a stub about 1cm wide.

~ Making the paper stubs

I made up an L-shaped pricking template for the guard pieces which was a flat piece of card with some tiny notches punched out of it with my Japanese hole punch. When the section was laid face down, the template butted up against the spine edge of it and there was enough space to punch the guard using my needle pricker to mark the sewing holes. Corresponding holes were also punched into the stubs.

I was then able to sew the stubs to the sections using a thin linen thread so as not to add any unnecessary swell.

I ended up with a stack of sections attached to the stubs through their individual guard pieces. The thread ends were tied within the stub’s inner fold to keep them away from the guard. I alternated the sewing stations where the knots were tied so that the extra bulk would be spread down the length of the book and the thread end were frayed out and glued down in place to secure them.

The next stage was to glue the ‘free’ edge of the guard around onto the back side of the section, therefore encapsulating the sewing thread. PVA glue was applied to the guard and it was folded around the edge of the section and rubbed down in place. I placed a couple of weights on top whilst they dried.

This step really neatened up and consolidated the sections and gave me more of an idea of how the binding would work. I knew that gluing together pages at the spine edge wouldn’t allow totally free opening of all the pages in each section, but at least constructing them this way onto stubs would allow much freer opening generally through the book than some of the other single-page binding methods.

~ Attaching the stubs to the sections

It was then time to trim the excess stubs to the length of the sections using a sharp scalpel. I also worked my way through the book repairing some paper tears using thin Japanese paper and paste, clipping them between silicone release paper and board using bulldog clips whilst the glue dried.

Five tapes were cut to length and the spacing of the sewing stations was worked out using a strip of card.

~ Sewing the sections onto tapes

I attached the tapes to a pressing board with masking tape at the correct positions. The stubs were then sewn onto these four tapes using waxed linen thread.

Once all of the sections were sewn together it created a good amount of swell which was important for the next stage of the forwarding process.

~ Sewing up the text block

Part three of the blog post will explain the next step in the binding process: forwarding. This includes details such as edge decoration and made leather endbands.

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