I was contacted in 2022 to create a bespoke photo album for a baby that would be due in the autumn of that year. The baby girl was going to be called Violet, so the theme of the whole book was to be based on that. This blog posts explains the decisions behind the design of the book, and looks at how I tried out a bookbinding structure I had never used before to bind this book…
I started off by buying a large ready-made photo album block, already collated and interleaved with glassine sheets. The book block was pre-rounded and the spine was lined with a piece of mull, some thin paper and it also had made endbands attached to it. The first thing I did was remove all these linings by holding the book in a press between boards and dampening the spine with wet cotton wool. The linings were scraped off so I had a clean spine to work on.
I wasn’t quite sure what structure to use to bind this book, albums can be tricky to work with as they are made up with compensation pieces at the spine fold of each section to allow for photographs to be added in on the pages. I knew that backing it wasn’t an option, as the pages were tipped together rather than sewn and I didn’t want to add shoulders.
During discussion with one of my peers, Glenn Malkin, he suggested I might like to try an ‘Adapted K-118 Binding’ structure. It was timely asking Glenn for advice on this as that summer he was due to go over to Bind23, a three day Australasian bookbinding conference taking place in Australia at the University of Queensland. His presentation topic was exactly this, as taken from the Queensland Bookbinders Guild website:
“Glenn has built upon previous book structures and binding methods to champion the Adapted K118 binding. He proposes to demonstrate each step of this binding approach with examples in this practical session. The Adapted K118 book structure is ideal for thinner books or where it is not possible or appropriate to back the book before binding. The key element is the board attachment which is achieved through alternating cloth tabs in conjunction with gently shaped boards. The end result is a smooth rounded leather spine and boards that open freely. The original K118 style was discovered on a late 15th century book from Nuremberg during a survey of European binding styles. It used split vellum tabs as well as cords to attach wooden boards. Glenn’s adapted and simplified version is suitable for all binders and requires no specialist equipment. It is one of my favourite styles which I have used for design bindings as well as more routine bindings.”~ The Queensland Bookbinders Guild website quote
Given this method does not require backing of the spine, it was an excellent choice for this large photo album text block and I was keen to give it a go. Rather unhelpfully I have taken very few photographs of the initial stages I made in the forwarding of this book so I’ll have to try and explain it in the best way I can! I created leather-jointed endpapers as I usually would for a fine binding, with a bi-folded paper sheet glued to a patterned sheet that sandwiched a pared edge of a thin leather strip for the joint. The patterned sheet in this case was coloured with acrylic paints in different colours of purple to create a mottled look to the paper, as seen below.
As the book was so large, I had to make up a large enough sheet of paper for the bi-fold by edge-paring two pieces of paper and gluing them together with PVA. Once pressed and dry, they were creased and folded at the glued joint to make up the size of sheets required for such a book. This, incidentally, is a good method to use if you want the bi-folded sheet to be made up of two different coloured papers.
The endpapers were made over-large (about 36cm x 36cm) with waste sheets attached, and then cut to the size of the text block before being attached to folded guards made of Zerkall. Guards are thin strips of paper, in this case 16mm wide or 8mm folded, that are folded into a V-shape, with one long edge glued to the first/last section at the spine, and the other to the inner side of the endpaper.
I made up some double-core leather-covered endbands and added stitched thread detail to each core, these were stuck onto the spine and then it was lined with a piece of linen in between the endbands, cut wider than the spine of the book so it overhung by about 5cm on both sides. The endpapers and the first and last sections were then secondary sewn onto the linen for strength and a layer of archival Kraft stuck down on top in between the endbands to level the spine out. Another piece of archival Kraft was stuck on, longer than the length of the spine, and was trimmed at a later stage, once a one-on two-off hollow was stuck on the top. I split the hollow at this stage too to allow for the leather that I was going to use to cover the spine to be turned down into it.
At this point I knew the exact size of the boards and I was therefore able to make them up. I laminated the boards with the following layers, listed from the innermost layer outwards: brown Kraft; 1.5mm Gemini board; brown Kraft; 1.5mm Gemini board; brown Kraft (totalling 3.8mm in thickness) with the grain direction of each layer running from head to tail to create a stable board, made larger than I needed and cut to size afterwards. Fortunately I made up four boards as I managed to plough one of the boards too short on the width when trimming it to size – I have no idea how that happened but at least I had a spare board I could use!
The boards were then bevelled at the spine edge on the front face, in from the edge by about 2cm. It was not necessary to shape the inside of the board. I lightly glued a piece of thick card to each waste sheet on the outside of the text block, positioning them carefully so they sat flush along the spine edge of the book. These pieces would act as spacers during the binding process, allowing room for the board linings, the hinges and the endpapers ensuring the book would open and close properly.
The linen hinges were then cut into seven even pieces along each side of the spine and the outer face of the boards were lined with Zerkall. The boards were positioned carefully with the bevelled edge right up to the spine joint. The three alternating linen tabs were on the outside of the boards, with an even square all the way around the text block. The positions of the tabs were then marked on the outside of the boards, and recesses cut out from the boards in order for these three linen tabs to be stuck down into them.
Once dry, the boards were opened and rested on a stack of boards and the same process was repeated for the tabs inside the book. The boards were then lined with another sheet of Kraft paper and then sanded flush once dry, to remove any evidence of the linen hinges below.
I had decided to use a combination of leather and bookcloth for this binding. The spine was to be covered in dark purple leather, chosen to go with the theme of ‘Violet’, with the full name of the baby on it. This would be paired up with contrasting ‘Colorado Loire’ green bookcloth from Ratchfords, chosen as the colour matched well the Familiar Flowers bindings that the front cover design was to be based on (more information will come on this if you read on).
I marked and cut two pieces of green bookcloth the size of the boards, with an extra margin to allow for turn-ins around the board edges. Knowing that the bookcloth on the boards was going to butt up to the cut edge of the spine leather once attached to the book, I chose to pare the inner edges of the bookcloth and then fold them over and glue them to avoid a raw edge of cloth along this joint.
The client wanted the front cover of the binding to look like a vintage flower book, covered in green bookcloth with a Violet flower intricately embroidered centrally on the cover, reminiscent of the vintage ‘Familiar Flowers’ books by Frederick Edward Hulme. This series of seven books were the author’s first major work, raising his amateur interest in natural history to an art, supported by his association with various colleges and other institutions. To end each chapter the author created another illustration. The work was originally issued in monthly parts between 1878 and 1884 with the cloth bound volumes being issued from late 1883 at the unusually high price of 12/6.
These books were all bound in decorative covers: green bookcloth with a different type of flower printed in colour directly to the centre of the front board. Surrounding this flower was a gold border, with a title blocked in distinctive art nouveau writing, the letters made to look a little branch-like. The base line of the cover of each book states, ’40 Coloured Plates’, each chapter being illustrated with a coloured plate of the floral subject and an illustrated first letter.
I mocked up a drawing on the front cover and how it might look after swapping in words and a title to match the Violet theme of the binding. The plan was to have the title on the front cover saying ‘Making Violet’, which in fact changed to ‘Becoming Violet’ in a further design alternation, with the details of her birth date, weight and time added onto the cover on the base line. (NB. At this point I’d like to say that I have intentionally removed all personal details of Violet from any images that appear on my website to retain privacy for the client so some of the details have been blanked out).
As I didn’t have access to the font used on the cover of the Familiar Flowers bindings, I used what letters I had available and then hand-drew those that were missing to try and match the style of the others. Once I was happy with the placement, the lettering was then really carefully cut out from the book cloth with a sharp scalpel and backed with gold leaf that was stuck to Japanese tissue, to give the appearance of the cover being gilt blocked like the original bindings were. In the below images you see the cover design starting to come to life on the bookcloth, with a sheet of gold paper sitting behind the cut-out letters to better visualise how it was going to look.
There was to be an intricately embroidered violet flower in the centre of the front cover too. Leather onlays were cut to shape and also laid onto the covering cloth to check the sizing worked well. In the below right image I also mocked up the gold borders using thinly cut strips of gold paper that were pinned in position.
Before I stuck the gold leaf to the back of the cloth, I embroidered the borders using a double line of metallic gold thread. Embroidering bookcloth is a little less forgiving than leather as if you prick holes in the wrong place they are harder to then conceal! I pre-pricked the holes using a needle pricker against a metal ruler as a guide.
Initially I worked these lines using a running stitch, which after was whipped with the same gold thread to consolidate all the stitches. When sewing bookcloth you need to be more mindful about the passage of your stitches on the back of the cloth as, because the cloth is thinner and therefore less forgiving than leather, it may be more visible when it is eventually stuck down onto the board of your book. Below you see this embroidery being done on both the front and the back of the cloth.
In addition to the ‘hero’ violet flower in the centre of the cover, I also added extra purple flowers within the finer branch details to the border design. These were cut from lilac suede and embroidery detail was added to them initially off the book. As this book was rather big, I embroidered as much as I could to the onlays before they were stuck down to the main book cover. Once they were glued down I was then able add more detail around the edges which also helped to secure them permanently to the bookcloth with no potential for the edges lifting, it’s a win-win situation!
Fine stem detail was also embroidered directly through the cloth, joining together the purple flowers with the gold leaves.
The same process occurred for the central violet flower. Each piece of onlay leather was embroidered in a multitude of coloured polyester threads to build up as much texture and colour as possible before gluing them in position on the front cover. These violets informed the whole book design in one way or another so it was important to get them looking perfect.
Small little stitches were added around the edges of all the shapes to finish them off and secure them. Finally some little French knots were applied in yellow and orange to the centres of each of the violet flowers.
Below shows two images of the reverse of the bookcloth. You can see in the below right image the little stitches that were added around the edges of the onlays to hold them in place.
On the back cover of the binding the client wanted a vintage garden design, with paths and flower beds containing items that she was craving during her pregnancy with Violet. Not all the items listed would be able to grow in a flower bed though (for example fried rice!) so I had to think of a way to include these in the design too…
I looked online at vintage garden designs and used these as inspiration to create my own. I wanted the design to be symmetrical vertically, with flowing paths connecting the beds. The design would include a garden table in the centre upon which all the non-planted items of food could sit in bowls, cups and on plates waiting to be eaten!
The food items that featured in the first list I called, ‘Can be planted in a garden’ were: blueberries; strawberries; raspberries; oranges (signifying orange juice); salad leaves, pickles (which changed to sugar snaps) and cucumber.
My first focus was to be on the losenge-shaped flower beds I created around the central area of the cover. These were going to hold the raspberries, strawberries and blueberries in the losenge-shaped beds, and a set of three round pots containing oranges would sit with them making up the quartet of fruit. I first cut brown suede to the correct shapes and bordered them with thin strips of green leather for the edges of the flower beds. Into the pots were glued tiny little coloured onlays to create the base colour for the fruit and leaves of each plant.
For each fruit I selected a range of coloured threads and built up little stitches onto the onlays to add the relevant detail onto them. Some of the leaves and berries were placed over the edge of the losenge.
The leaves were built up using a central stitch, with smaller stitches coming off the sides. I used French knots to create the detail on the strawberries and the raspberries.
These were great little portable pieces to work on, and I kept them in a box with their thread reels whilst embellishing them to keep them all together. The salad leaves were split across two round beds, with different colours of green suede onlays cut and stuck at random in the space. These were then embroidered with wiggly lines to give the appearance of the balls of lettuce.
The sugar snaps and cucumbers were made in semi-circular beds, with the same green leather border around them as the rest of the beds. I also added a few flowers to each of the beds amongst the fruit, salad and vegetables. Each bed was also given a title label, cut from a curved piece of pale cream suede and embroidered in different colours of thread.
Below is the almost completed front and back of the strawberries bed. You can see the volume of fine stitches used to build up all the detail. The overhanging berries had their detail added once the onlay was stuck down onto the cloth.
The second list of food items I put into a category called ‘Can’t be planted in a garden’. These included: fried rice; peanut butter and blueberry jam sandwiches; NYC sesame bagels; coconut and mango sorbet; custard creams; peanut butter biscuits; pasta and English breakfast tea with a spoon of honey.
These items were going to sit on a table in the middle of the garden design, made from a disc of leather which was cut and punched with my Japanese hole punch with concentric circles to try and give the appearance of a patterned metal outdoor table. The leather was embroidered off the bookcloth, as with other elements of the book cover design. I made up little bowls and plates with coloured leather rims, and added onlays to create the food items. The bowl of pasta contained little suede onlays cut in bow shapes to look like Farfalle pieces, they were tiny as you can see in the below right image!
All the food items and the flower beds were then joined together on a disc of pale green bookcloth. Around the edge of this disc was a path of paving stones made from strips of cream suede. A corresponding size hole was cut in the centre of the Colorado Loire green bookcloth, the join of the two bookcloths would be concealed by the path around the outside that was glued down around the edge.
As the flower beds were all named, I asked the client whether she wished for the table items to also have little labels which she thought was a good idea. I offered to make up little ‘Alice-in-Wonderland’ style labels for the bowls, cups and plates (along the lines of the ‘DRINK ME’ and ‘EAT ME’ labels from that famous book!). I made up little swing tags from white card, and tooled the names of the items on them with the smallest hand tools I had.
The labels were stuck in the correct places on the cover, and the purple threads I had attached to them were couched to the bookcloth to tether them down.
Extra path and steps were added to the cover, and the grouted borders of the paving stones were added in using thread. The outer border of the garden, shown below in temporary strips of gold paper pinned to the book cloth, was designed to be the exact same size as the one on the front cover.
My absolute favourite embroidery stitch has to be a whip stitch as it consolidates the running stitches that have been done beneath it. It creates satisfying borders around each of the cover shapes to build up the bigger design. Whipped running stitch is an embellishment to a normal running stitch. By entwining or ‘whipping’ another length of thread through the original base of the running stitch, you can produce some interesting effects, particularly when combining different colour and texture threads. In this case the running stitches were done in the same colour thread as the whipping, giving a solid looking line of thread around the shape.
All the flower beds were also embellished with gold stitching around the whole of the outer borders. The below images shows the reverse of one of the salad leaves pots, with the stitching created around the whole of the circle.
The spine of the book was going to be covered in purple leather from J. Hewit and Sons which I had split to 0.8mm thick, with the full name of the baby lettered onto it. To tie it in with the cover design I decided to use the same font here, and to cut these letters out from the leather and back them with gold leaf. I was careful when cutting out the letters to try and retain the cut out pieces, as I planned to use them on the lid of the box as a title.
The cut edges of the leather were all painted in purple paint, to tone them in with the dark leather of the skin side of the leather.
The leather was left to dry and then trimmed square on the boards. The book was then ready for the cloth to be stuck to the boards. This was done by roller-ing PVA onto the back of the bookcloth and then taking time to rub it down so that I was sure all of the elements were adhered down properly. I did the turn-ins as a separate process so I wasn’t under such time pressure to work whilst the PVA glue was still tacky.
The embroidered gold borders were filled with strips gold leaf after the cloth was stuck on the book, creating a solid outline on each of the covers.
EMBROIDERING PAPER FOR ADDING TO THE DOUBLURES
As well as embroidery on bookcloth there was also a fair amount done on paper for this project. The thing with embroidering on paper is you have even less margin for error than on bookcloth (which in itself is more difficult than leather), as you can imagine making all these holes is essentially making the paper weaker as the definition explains, “A perforation is a cut or hole in a piece of paper that makes it easy to tear, like the neat row of perforations that allows you to rip a sheet out of your notebook cleanly”. There would be no ripping involved here though!
The mother and father of the baby had each written a letter to her, to be stuck into the front and back covers of the binding. The words were all hand-embroidered, with reference holes pricked through a template onto the sheets of paper.
In order to deal with the paper I use a few different tricks to try and protect it but this has all taken quite a bit of practice over time. The most scary bit is gluing it down once it is complete! The back of the sheet of paper was glued using PVA on a roller and then placed down on the paper doublure and rubbed with a Teflon folder through silicone release paper.
The book had a large wooden box made for it from Tulipwood, with a well in the base and top meaning the wall was thicker, making it more stable. The box was lined with paper and a title label and an embroidered panel was stuck to the top of the lid.
For images of the completed book and box please visit the page here.