Bookbinding

Handmade Books

by Casandra Johns

I've been hard at work binding books for the last month but it seems I can barely finish a book before someone buys it. How wonderful! However, it means that I am only now beginning to update the House of Hands website and shop with the few blank books that I have managed to stash away. At long last, they are here!

A selection of handmade books.

A selection of handmade books.

I am happy to bring a collection of numbered books to the shop. The type and style will ebb and flow as I feel inspired to create. This collection is purposefully diverse, featuring several different binding methods and a variety of natural materials. For those of you who may be curious about binding technique and design, I will describe a bit about my process below. If you would like to jump ahead to the books, please visit the House of Hands Shop!

Materials

My staple materials tend to by natural and nature-inspired: raw linen thread, 100% cotton text paper, beeswax, floral prints, oiled leather, hand-stretched vellum, etc. I also make and dye my own materials when possible using herbs like hand-harvested lungwort and back walnut, and simple pantry items like onion skins, turmeric powder, tea, and coffee. Finding ways to use repurposed material offers interesting inspiration for me as well. In this collection you will see sturdy card stock and weathered Filson canvas featured in one notebook which lent itself to a functional and sturdy design that I may not have imagined without access to such interesting materials.

Leather and vellum.

Leather and vellum.

Dying and drying cotton text paper with turmeric powder.

Dying and drying cotton text paper with turmeric powder.

A selection of Florentine prints for endpapers.

A selection of Florentine prints for endpapers.

Tools and Method

Bookbinders apply a variety of tools and methods to their craft. I tend to favor designs which allow the finished product to lay flat when opened. There is nothing worse that having to pry open a book while you are trying to write! Tools of the trade include everything from drills, knives, and saws to delicate awls, bone folds, and tiny paintbrushes. Each binder has favorites and preferences and some of my choices are pictured below.

A selection of bookbinding tools. Clockwise from the top right : Blank text blocks, twine and linen thread, tear bar, ruler, English paring knife, leather knife, several bone folds and awls, and sewing keys in the middle. You can see hand-tanned leather as a backdrop and a bit of my press and sewing frame in the background.

A selection of bookbinding tools. Clockwise from the top right : Blank text blocks, twine and linen thread, tear bar, ruler, English paring knife, leather knife, several bone folds and awls, and sewing keys in the middle. You can see hand-tanned leather as a backdrop and a bit of my press and sewing frame in the background.

Sewing on a frame with cords.

Sewing on a frame with cords.

Sewn-on binding is a method which has been used for many hundreds of years. Text blocks (a fancy term for the paper inside of a book) are placed on a sewing frame and sewn onto suspended cords or ribbons. Traditionally the spines of these blocks were then covered in board or leather, but I enjoy the look of the open spine and the flexibility it lends to the finished product so I tend to keep spines open.

 

 

 

Coptic binding sample.

Coptic binding sample.

Coptic binding is a popular method of "across the spine" sewing right now which has been used since about the 2nd Century AD. This method requires no suspended cords or frame. Signatures (the term for each folded bundle of pages) are hand-sewn together one at a time. The spine is traditionally left onen and the finished product is one of the sturdiest and most flexible books, in my opinion. 

 

 

 

Long stitch sewing on an open spine. The "long" part of the stitch has been turned into a loom at this point; a fun variation on the traditional technique.

Long stitch sewing on an open spine. The "long" part of the stitch has been turned into a loom at this point; a fun variation on the traditional technique.

Long-stitch is an "along the spine" sewing technique often seen on leather books. I enjoy it because it can be applied to closed or open spines alike and the beautiful stitching is visible regardless. It is also incredibly versatile, offering plenty of room for play. As much as I love this technique, the closed-spine version of these books do not always open completely flat for writing so I tend to shy away from it in my bindings.

Simple long-stitch sewing on a closed spine of vellum.

Simple long-stitch sewing on a closed spine of vellum.

With a handful of materials, tools, and techniques the possible permutations are myriad. I am currently enjoying filling custom-order books. If you have a book that you have been dreaming about and would like to work with me, please reach out via email at casandra@houseofhands.net. Stay tuned for more books and blogs!