The Grasses of Great Britain Part Two: Forwarding and the Endpapers

Surely it is every binders worst nightmare to be confronted with a book made up of single sheets rather than sections? Thoughts rush through your head including: how do I deal with all these pages without adding extra swell where I don’t want it? The options to me included:

  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).

I decided to try something new which was to go through the text block and tip together pages into blocks of about 8-10 pages each. The pages were glued at the spine edge with PVA and stuck together piece by piece and rubbed down with a teflon folder to ensure adhesion. 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’.

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 and the right hand picture shows the bevel created on each of the sections after the edge paring.

I chose some 80gsm Japanese machine made paper called ‘Satogami’ in various colours for guarding the spine edges of each of the sections. This was also edge-pared in the hope 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 50 sections in total and the Satogami strips were cut to about 12mm in width and stuck down with PVA glue 5mm in from the spine edge on the front of each section.

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 be overlap by about 5mm from the spine edge.

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.

Below you can see all the sections with their guard strips trimmed and edge-pared, ready for the next stage. Each guard strip was left overlong to be trimmed down later.

~ The sections with the coloured paper guards attached

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 on some foam, 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.

I worked out that I needed sixty-four stubs, which amounted to the same thickness as the text block. They were made out of the same Satogami paper as the guards and were pricked with corresponding sewing holes along their length.

~ The folded paper guards

The stubs were then in turn sewn directly to the guards of paper on 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.

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.

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.

~ The sections sewn on stubs through the paper guards

The thread ends within the stubs were trimmed short and glued down in place. When sewing the stubs to the guards I made sure I alternated which hole position I started from so the knots were staggered along the length of the book and not all competing for space and adding bulk at the same sewing station.

It was then time to trim the excess guard and stubs to the length of the sections using sharp scissors. I really liked the way that the coloured guards were visibly wrapping the sections throughout the binding, as can be seen in the below right image.

Once the sections were complete and ready to sew together it was time to make up the endpapers. I loved the little grass seeds that were illustrated throughout the book so went through the pages and made little drawings of each on a chart.


I then hand-drew these onto a pale cream paper with a very fine-nib pen. The seeds were then coloured with watercolour paint using a very fine brush.

The papers with the painted grass seeds were then laminated to a bi-folded sheet of Canson Mi-teintes paper. A thinly pared leather strip was stuck in between the paper sheets to form the leather joint and a waste and compensation sheet also stuck in place to protect the book block during the next stages of the binding.

I added an extra folded paper guard to the stub of both the first and last sections which would be glued to the endpaper to secure it to the text block keep it from moving.

~ Detail of the guard attached to the first and last sections to join them to the endpapers

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

~ Sewing up the text block onto tapes

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.

The text block was knocked up as square as possible at the spine and head edge and placed between boards under a weight. I had to be slightly creative here with extra boards to try and get the spine edge as flat as possible! PVA glue was applied to the spine edge between the tapes, rubbed in with my finger and then left to dry. It was important not to get any glue onto the tapes at this stage as movement was still required here during the rounding and backing process.

~ Gluing up the spine of the book ahead of rounding and backing

Once the glue had dried I took the book out from between the boards and gently started to round it using a backing hammer. It was turned over from one side to the other a number of times in order to apply the same shape to both sides. Once I was happy with the round I put it between backing boards in my laying press.

The shape of the round was further worked on initially using the pressure of my thumbs, working my way along on both sides trying to pull the stubs into an even shape. Once I felt I had achieved the correct round I then worked the spine a bit further to create the shoulders using my backing hammer.

The book was then removed from between the backing boards and the shoulders further worked into shape by folding them over the edge of a thin steel rule. Once this stage was complete the book was put back into the press between some scrap boards (see the below image on the left).

It was then time to start lining the spine. The first layer was some Aerolinen, cut to the width of the spine and stuck in between the tapes.

Once the Aerolinen was applied to the spine it was in a stable state to work on the book edges. The book was clamped in between boards and sanded with some sandpaper wrapped around a sanding block on both the top and bottom edges to level out the pages.

~ Sanding the book edges

Once I was happy that the top and bottom edges were sanded totally flat it was time apply the edge decoration. Using the same fine-nib pen that I used to draw the grass seeds on the endpapers, I applied marks in a random cross-hatched pattern to cover the whole area. I carefully masked off the area of the stubs in order for those to remain undecorated.

The same applied for the foredge, however this was shaped using sandpaper wrapped around a large wooden dowel the correct diameter for the curve on this edge.

When it came to the endbands, I made these up using strips of paper to match the colour of the stubs. The strips were wrapped around a core of leather and vellum that were laminated together. To add extra detail I applied a piece of black thread in between the coloured strips.

~ Creating the made endbands

The made endbands were then stuck to the spine, and then a layer of leather was stuck skin-side down to the spine using paste. The book was wrapped with a bandage to hold the spine linings in place once they dried. The leather was sanded flush once dry to get rid of any lumps and bumps on the spine from the sewing threads and tapes beneath the spine layers.

A one-on, two-off hollow was glued to the spine of the book, and once dry carefully trimmed to the length of the ends of the endbands.

~ Detail of the made endbands on the binding

The boards were laminated with two layers of Gemini board, one layer of archival Kraft on the inner side and two layers of watercolour paper on the outer side. Channels were chiselled through the boards for the tapes to pass into.

~ Lacing on the boards

The boards were laced on by pushing the tapes through the boards using a thin metal tool. They were then glued in place using a mix of paste and PVA glue and left to dry. The boards were then bevelled on the three outer edges using a palm sander.

~ Feeding the tapes through the boards to lace them on

In the next part of this blog post, part three, I’ll demonstrate how how the leather was embroidered.

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