It all starts with a sample board…well in fact that is not quite true as a lot of work goes into a fine binding before the sample board is made! One of the last bindings I worked on in 2020 was a copy of Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife”. I had read the book years ago and loved the story – there has also been a film made about this book which I have never seen before – so this was an exciting commission to get.
The story is about a man, Henry, who has a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel unpredictably, and about Clare, his wife, who has to cope with his frequent absences and dangerous experiences of reappearing in odd places. They meet when Henry is working as a Librarian at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Henry’s rare genetic disorder causes him to involuntarily travel through time and at the beginning of the book he has never seen her before even though she has actually known him for most of her life.
The book was a signed first edition in a cloth-covered case binding, published in 2003. The spine was covered in machine glue which was difficult to get off, I had to first split the sections apart with a scalpel and then carefully peel the glue off each one.
The text block had been cut flat at both the top and bottom edges but the foredge of the book had been left untrimmed. There were seventeen sections with eight printed and folded sheets per section. The first eight pages per section had a torn edge and the others a cut edge.
The resulting appearance of the foredge was a sort of zig-zag pattern and I wasn’t initially sure whether I should trim the foredge or keep it as it was. One of my bookbinding contacts described the below image as “uniformly rough” which I thought was a good description of what I had in front of me and I decided definitely wasn’t what I wanted for the final binding!
In the end I decided to keep a torn/deckled foredge however I wanted to try and make the look of it more consistent by feathering out the edges of the pages either by tearing or sanding them. I felt that this would give a less “pointy” look to the sections and in contrast I would sand flat both the top and bottom edges of the text block and apply some edge decoration.
I had little paper to play with at the foredges of the sections as I was trying to work so closely to the existing edge. I did some trials, trying to tear the paper edge but I quickly discovered that wasn’t going to be an option in this case. I therefore chose to make the foredge look more natural and random by using a scalpel with a curved size 23 blade in it and pare away the zig-zag look at the edges.
It was a laborious process but I worked through page by page until I was more happy with the look.
Once all of the pages were trimmed, I sewed the sections together onto four cotton tapes using some of the existing holes. The first and the last sections also had a skinny paper guard sewn around them for the endpapers to be glued on to later in the forwarding process.
I had been looking at different ways to pattern papers and had bought some crackle glaze to try out on Zerkall paper. Crackle glaze is designed to produce consistent cracking of water-based paints such as emulsion and acrylics. This acrylic medium creates dramatic two colour aged effects. The crackle glaze was applied over a thin red acrylic base coat which was to be the colour of the cracks. Once dry I then applied a warm grey acrylic top coat over the glaze. When left for about ten minutes the top coat cracked to reveal the base coat producing a sort of “aged” look to the paper surface – it was quite fun to watch this happen!
I wanted to elevate the appearance of the patterned paper in some way so decided to then cut thin slivers of paper out of some of the red cracks and backed them with gold leaf so that they would catch the light when the book was opened.
Where to begin designing the cover of a book about time travel? After much brainstorming I bought a lovely brass perpetual calendar online that I based the entire cover design on. A perpetual calendar is a calendar that is valid for many years and is usually designed to look up the day of the week for a given date in the future. Given the main character moves back and forth in time randomly, the idea of a perpetual calendar tied in very well with this. The calendar I found was valid from 1963 through until 2002 which wasn’t quite the scope I needed for the whole book but I felt it was close enough!
The back of the calendar had a pin that could be bent outwards to form a prop so that the calendar could stand up. The way to change the dates was by turning a brass disc on the back that had the months and days of the week engraved into it.
I began by tracing elements of the calendar onto tracing paper to try and work out a design I would be happy with. I ultimately decided to illustrate the whole the calendar split across the book boards, with the design “stretched” around the spine. This will be apparent later in the blog post…
I also trialled embroidering elements of the calendar onto the crackle-glazed papers to see what it would look like but I felt it was too fussy and I wasn’t keen so I scrapped that idea fairly quickly.
The inner board for the sample board was made up as I would make up the board for a binding. Two 1mm thick pieces of Gemini board were glued together, with a piece of kraft paper glued on the inner side of the board and two layers of 145gsm water colour paper to the outside. Once dry the outside face of the board was bevelled using sandpaper.
The leather I chose for the cover was some bull skin in the colour “Ecume”. In 2019 I invested in a number of skins from Tannerie Remy Carriat, the colour choice they have is amazing but being skins from bulls you get quite a lot of each! A couple of the colours I chose were in available in half skins.
It has been great to use this skin on different bindings to test out how this leather works. It was supplied to me quite thick so initially I got some strips of each colour split by Shepherds down to 1.2mm however their machine wasn’t fan of it! Still, I got my pieces back and have been working my way through the colours. So far I have used “Pistache” for a binding of, La Charrue D’Erable, “Turquoise” for the spines of A Sin of Omission, “Colvert” for the Music: Miniature Board and I have a speculative piece I am working on using the colour “Poudre”.
One thing I discovered early on is that this leather is quite stretchy and from experience can be very difficult to pare but as I have a done a few bindings using it now I am figuring out ways of getting around this problem. The back side of the leather is very fibrous and difficult to pare in comparison to goatskin. I have found that my Brockman paring machine copes pretty well edge paring the outside of the leather, albeit creating some manageable stretch at the same time. However when it comes to taking the “step” off the leather I found that it is very tricky to do so with my French paring knife. Through experimentation I have found that the best way to take this step off is to lay the line I wish to pare over the rounded end of my paring stone and then to use a number 23 Swann Morton blade to pare away the leather. This has to be done with care and isn’t quite a quick as using the French paring knife but is the only way to do it.
I had to use the same approach with paring the leather joints. I laid the leather over a rounded edge of perspex and initially sanded the leather joint using course sandpaper. I also sliced a bit extra leather off using the 23 blade.
The design required small leather inlays to be cut out to make up the words and dates on the perpetual calendar. I split down some red and black leather very thinly and cut it into strips of the correct width for the height of the letters. I then split these strips into smaller pieces and by eye pierced out the numbers and letters using a scalpel.
As I wanted to “stretch out” the design of the perpetual calendar across the spine, I split the design drawing down the middle and extended the leather onlays as one long strip where necessary. In the below image you can see this in the “O” of “FOR”. The idea was that the thin onlays would meet up with the other part of the letter on the other side of the spine.
I edge-pared the bull skin using my Brockman paring machine and decided to use these parings as onlays for the perpetual calendar due to their neutral tone. These pared strips were backed onto lens tissue then cut to shape and glued onto the covering leather. The leather onlays were then stuck down in place using PVA glue.
I then placed the tracing paper template on top of the leather and pricked through it around the shapes of the leaves in order to leave an impression of their outlines on the leather. I removed the template and then drew a line with a fine pen as a guide for where I need to sew.
I sewed the outlines of all the leaves using red thread, the outline stitches were all whipped to consolidate them. Once the red outlines were done I added detail to the leaves with black threads. I also stitched black and metallic gold borders around all of the large suede onlays.
For the rest of the embroidery of the sample board I chose threads in colours to compliment that of the leather and the perpetual calendar.
Small little “dashes” of thread were added to the blank sections of the board leather, plus around the onlaid leather letters and numbers.
These small stitches helped to add a variation in texture and colour to the binding, plus also helped to tether down the large inlaid suede strips onto the covering leather.
I will leave this blog post with an image of the reverse of the completed sample board. The bottom half shows the crackle-glaze patterned paper which I used to make up the endpapers. The top section is what I chose to do on the doublures of the finished book. They were also designed with the idea of travelling back and forth in time. Given the two main characters met in a library, I decided to make the doublures appear like the library cards you get inside books, stamped with due dates. The dates that were to appear on the doublures were the dates in the order that they appear through the book – more about this in an upcoming blog post…