Winter’s Tale Miniature Binding

~ ‘Winter’s Tale’ sample board

I am rather fond of working on miniature books, and my latest binding is one of them. Having just completed a much larger book (Giacomo Joyce by James Joyce) this little book is tiny in comparison!

This miniature concertina book was sent to me by Neale M. Albert in the spring of 2021, shortly after it had been printed and assembled. It was created by Kitty Maryatt from Two Hands Press, who chose the text and designed the book and it was published in 2020 by Neale Albert’s Piccolo Press. The book is based on Shakespeare’s text and features many of Neale’s daily photographs of flowers which he sends to his friends, “…created to bring a spot of joy to each passing day”.

This is one of 30 copies that were sent to binders worldwide to bind, of which some have been completed and can now be seen on Neale Albert’s website here. I was quite sure when I received this book that I didn’t want to recreate an image of an actual flower on the cover design, but instead wanted to create a more abstract design that enhanced the wonderful colourful photographs that made up the text block.

We see circles all around us in nature, including in planets, stars, tree rings, raindrops and flowers. I therefore chose to use concentric circles for the cover design to convey this. I first worked on a sample board, as I do with each of my binding projects, to test out this idea. I decided that each ring would contain a different type of stitch made using different colours of thread.

The stitches and colours for each ring were to be built up to look like different flower stamens, inspired in colour by the flower pictures in the book. As you can see in the top right image, I drew the circles on the reverse of the leather using a fine pen and then noted down my plan for each ring on the turn-in section of the leather.

~ Embroidering the sample board

The circles were made up using a mixture of different colours and stitches including lots of French knots, running stitches that were then whipped, French knots with additional ‘tails’ and some chain stitch too. Where the leather was to turn-in around the boards, I drew two reference lines. The innermost one was the top edge of the board, and the outer one was the bottom edge of the board. I knew I wanted the stitches to flow around the outer edge of the book so I made sure I worked the stitches up to the outer outline.

Once the stitching was completed I tested out the sewing of the title onto a strip of black goatskin and stuck that down across the central panel of the sample board. The edges were then cut straight and the corresponding edges of the pink and purple pig skin were also trimmed to size. I then stuck the pig skin pieces down and turned in the edges before allowing it to dry.

~ The back of the completed embroidery before sticking it down onto the sample board

I pondered for a long while over what to do for the doublures of this book. As the text block was a concertina I wasn’t planning on making endpapers for this binding, the cover was to be made up as a case in which to stick the concertinaed pages. I looked through my drawers of paper for something to match or compliment the cover design and then suddenly wondered if it would be possible to use crepe paper. As I’ll explain later in this post, I intended on making paper flowers to accompany this book – inspired by some paper flower making I did to help a friend of mine for her wedding in the summer of 2022.

I had already bought some rolls of florists crepe paper to try out making the three dimensional paper flowers with. Florists crepe paper is sometimes referred to as “heavy” crepe and is in the 160g to 180g weight range. It is perfect for making lots of different flower types and foliage as it holds its shape well so is very versatile. The stretch of this particular crepe paper is around 250%. The process of making crepe paper involves a technique conveniently called creping. Creping occurs when the paper is dried in a way that allows the paper to stick to the dryer can. The paper is then scraped off the dryer can with a blade that causes the paper to wrinkle. This wrinkling is what gives the crepe paper the ability to stretch.

To allow me to use this paper for the doublures with the wrinkles still in place, I had to first back it onto something to stop it from stretching when trying to stick it onto the back of the sample board. I also wanted to check that this particular crepe paper was colour fast, as wasn’t going to run when moisture was applied.

I cut two oversize pieces of the pink and lilac crepe and first rubbed it down with my teflon folder to try and flatten it a bit. I then applied PVA glue with a roller on the back, and then laid a piece of Japanese tissue down onto the glued surface and rubbed this down through a piece of silicone release paper using my Teflon folder. Once dry, I further rubbed the paper to flatten in more before trimming the two pieces to size and gluing them onto the back on the sample board. I was really happy with the result and the colour didn’t run at all!

~ Crepe paper used for the doublures

Following swiftly on from the success of the crepe paper doublures, I started to make up some paper flowers from a book called, ‘The Fine Art of Paper Flowers’ by Tiffanie Turner. You would hardly believe when flicking through this book what it is possible to make from crepe paper as the flowers all look so realistic!

The Fine Art of Paper Flowers is an elevated art and craft guide that features complete step-by-step instructions for over 30 of Tiffanie Turner’s widely admired, unique, lifelike paper flowers and their foliage, from bougainvillea to English roses to zinnias. In the book, Turner also guides readers through making her signature giant paper peony, shares all of her secrets for special paper treatments, candy-striping, playing with color and creating botanical imperfections, and shows how to turn paper flowers into gorgeous garlands, headdresses, bouquets and more. These stunning creations can be made from simple and inexpensive materials and the book’s detailed tutorials and beautiful photography make it easy to achieve dramatic and lifelike results.

Google Books

Tiffanie Turner is a San Francisco botanical artist, therefore all the instructions in this book are in inches rather than cm which took some working out! I scaled the flowers down about 20% as I knew that the flowers I was making needed to be small enough to sit alongside the miniature book. I was also planning something slightly unconventional for the box of this book which also required the flowers to be smaller in scale.

~ ‘The Fine Art of Paper Flowers’ by Tiffanie Turner

I looked carefully through the text block and tried to choose flowers that were similar in type and colour to those in the book. There were so many I wanted to make I had to limit my choices or else I would have spent all year trying out each flower from the book! I started with a carnation. Carnations are fringe-petaled flowers that are extensively used in the floral industry. They are among the most popular commercial cut flowers, being used in floral arrangements, corsages, and buttonholes.

I followed the instructions which involved outstretching a strip of cream crepe paper, and colouring it with watered down orange acrylic paint. This was to give the strip a graduated colour across the width. I cut out petals in four different sizes and shaped each separately with my fingernails to get the right shape and form to them. A piece of florists wire was wrapped in florists tape, and then the petals were stuck to this in turn to build up the body of the flower head.

The bottom of the flower head and the stem of the flower were then wrapped with green crepe paper, using watered down PVA glue to secure the thin strip. The final touch was to make up some leaves to add to the stem using the same colour of crepe paper.

~ The crepe paper carnation

My choice for flower number two was a cosmos. They have leaves opposite each other on the stem and heads of flowers that form on long slender stalks, or together in an open cluster. The dainty petals grow in a single row and are sometimes notched. They may be white, pink, red, purple, or other colours.

The centres of cosmos flowers look like little pom-poms and the instructions said to make up a fringe strip which involved outstretching three different colours of crepe paper (pale yellow, black and bright yellow) and laminating them together. This strip was then fringed along one edge by cutting little slits using sharp scissors. The fringed strip was then wrapped around a doubled-up piece of florists wire and secured with PVA glue.

Once this was dry and secure, I stuck the petals to the base of this centre piece and again left the glue to dry. Finally, the sepals were made from green crepe paper and attached. Sepals are the outer parts of the flower (often green and leaf-like) that enclose a developing bud.

The final flower I chose to make was a zinnia. Zinnias have stiff, hairy stems and oval or lance-shaped leaves arranged opposite each other and often clasping the stem. Each flower contains many small individual petals, which can vary in colour on a single flower from the centre outwards. The petals were made up using strips of outstretched crepe paper, gaining in size from the centre outwards. The strips were cut and formed and then wrapped around a piece of floristry wire to create the flower head.

The sepals were made from green crepe paper and attached underneath the flower head and stuck in place with PVA glue. The same colour of crepe paper was then wound wound the flower stem and secured with watered down PVA glue.

Templates and instructions for leaf assemblies were also given by flower type in Tiffanie Turner’s book so for each of the three flowers I made I constructed leaves for them in the same colour as their stems and sepals. Once all three flowers were complete I put them aside and began working on the binding.

Having worked on the sample board I knew that there were a few adjustments I wanted to make on the embroidery of the actual binding. The lilac and pink pigskin pieces were first cut to size and edge-pared for the turn-ins. The back of the leather was then marked with the sewing rings.

For each ring of embroidery on the binding I opted to sew an outline in the same colour that was going to be used within that ring, which I hadn’t done on the sample board. Using a running stitch that was then whipped either side, this extra detail helped to define the outside semicircle of the ring better, in which to then place the ‘filling’ stitches. The book was to be symmetrical, so each ring I completed on one side I repeated on the other.

Many of the rings were filled with French knots using varying colours of thread. For one of the rings I made sure that the orange French knots were sewn apart from each other a bit, to allow space for each knot to be circled with a double thread of bright yellow thread to wrap around them. These yellow threads were anchored down with tiny stitches to keep them in place and I was really pleased with the appearance of this particular row, as seen in the images below.

For the row that was to have black stamens sewn to it, I first marked the lines lightly with a fine black pen before sewing over them and adding a French knot to one end of each of these lines.

I tried to take a photograph in the same position of front and back of the pigskin during the embroidery process to create a very basic stop-frame type reel out of. If this works out I’ll try and add it to this post! For now I have included a compilation of some of the images I took during the embroidery process.

~ The stages of the embroidery

The case for this binding was made up by laminating watercolour to a piece of half-round dowel to create a false round spine piece. The width I needed to build it up to was the thickness of the text block, plus the thickness of the boards. The boards were bevelled and then hinged onto the spine piece using a piece of linen, that was stuck down so that it lay level with the rest of the board. I made sure I had a spacer in place on the inside of the spine piece when attaching it to the boards, to allow space to be left for the leather joints to be glued into.

~ The case of the binding

I chose lilac and pink pig skin for the book covers, as I wanted a bright colourful appearance to the binding to marry with the colourful flower content. However I decided to combine these with black goatskin on the spine, due to the black backdrop of each of the flower pictures in the text block. 

The leather for the spine was pared down using my Brockman paring machine to about 0.5mm in thickness. A centre line was marked onto the back of the leather and the title of the book was then sewn onto it using a colour gradient of green threads. The goatskin was then glued onto the case and the ends were cut into little triangles and folded and glued onto the ends of the dowel.

More goatskin was pared for the inside of the dowel, and this was marked and cut with half-rounds at each end so that they could be glued down to cap the ends of the dowel. This piece also created the leather joints inside the case. Once the black leather was in place, I was able to infill the inside of the boards using some small pieces of watercolour paper.

As I had chosen to use crepe paper for the doublures, and it has a certain transparency to it, I decided to line the inside of the boards with black paper (rather than with white Zerkall as I usually would which can sometime show the colour of the turns-ins through it), in order to give an even colour coverage. This paper was sanded once dry so that it was completely level.

To give further textural detail to the black goatskin I decided to blind tool it all over with a half-round gouge, to tie it in with the half round pattern on the boards. Finally, the crepe paper was cut to size and stuck down on top of the sanded black paper. I chose to back the board covered in pink pigskin the lilac paper and visa versa.

The final touch was I added small strips of flattened crepe paper in a variety of colours to the foredge folds of the text block, that would provide a satisfying visual detail when the book was closed.

And so it was time to create a container for the book and the paper flowers! I had, what some may think to be the crazy idea, of sitting all these elements inside a glass cloche. A cloche (from French, cloche for “bell”) is a covering for protecting plants from cold temperatures. The original form of a cloche is a bell-shaped glass cover that is placed over an individual plant, acting like a mini greenhouse in the garden. The use of cloches is traced back to market gardens in 19th century France, where entire fields of plants would be protected with cloches to offer frost protection to small plants and relief to newly planted seedlings trying to develop adequate root systems.

In the 19th century, glass cloches were mainly used by naturalists as tiny “curiosity cabinets”, to showcase collectors delicate finds such as insects, plants or small taxidermic animals. I thought that a cloche would make a very suitable container for the book and these flowers, and due to the miniature size of the book would help give the appearance of it as part of a prized collection of objects.

~ The original cloche

The original cloche I found had a base made from pine, sitting on three little pine feet. I knew it would be a bit tight to fit the book and all three flowers and their leaves under it so in order to work out the placement of the contents under the cloche I did a mock-up using a piece of MDF.

I decided I’d like the flowers to be removable, which would also help with the shipping of the commission. In order for the flowers to stand upright I decided to mount them into pieces of brass rod, with the inner diameter chosen to match that of the flower stems so they could be slid in and out. I marked the size of the circular glass lid onto the MDF and drilled a series of holes in it, pushing the brass rod through and then pushing the flower stems in before covering them with the glass.

It took quite a few gos, and repositioning of the rods to get the rods in the right place, plus the length of the rods and the flower stems correct so that the flowers sat happily under the dome in a staggered fashion alongside the miniature book. In order for the book itself to sit in the correct position I made a little ‘well’ for it to sit in. I traced the outline shape of it when it was closed, and cut this out of 2mm board. This shape was then covered in green crepe paper.

I painted the base and feet of the cloche black, and sanded the feet flat before sticking a small disc of black leather to each one. The placement for the brass rods was then transferred onto the base and holes drilled.

I checked everything was in the correct place on the real dome base, before then removing the rods and covering the base with the green crepe paper. The holes for the rods were recut out of the crepe paper layer and then the rods were pushed back in and glued in place with epoxy glue. I also added small discs of green leather around the rods where they met the base to neaten up the join. The well for the book to sit in was then stuck to the base with PVA glue and weighted down whilst it dried.

When it came to shipping it I must admit I did curse myself a bit, how to ship a glass cloche across the Atlantic to New York in one piece?! Not only that, but delicate paper flowers. The cloche arrived in a box filled with a block of polystyrene, within which was a perfect cloche-shaped void for it to sit in. I therefore took the flowers and binding out and wrapped the cloche up separately re-using this packaging but adding extra tissue and bubble wrap for extra security. The flowers were bagged up separately in zip-lock bags, which I blew air into to give them some cushioning! And then the book was in a little extra box of its own. I provided some images and notes to help with the reassembly at the other end and kept my fingers firmly crossed that it would get there in one piece. I am really pleased to say that it did – phew!

For more information and images of the completed binding, cloche and paper flowers please look on the Fine Bindings page of my website here.

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