Bookbinder Mark Furness describes making 100 loose pages into a book that medieval monks would have recognised…
We are delighted that A BOOK OF OURS has been finished and now has a handsome leather cover, designed to last for centuries. It will have its final home in John Rylands Library, alongside neighbouring manuscripts that are hundreds of years old. A BOOK OF OURS contains a history that has not previously made it into official records — the histories and experiences of people who’ve experienced homelessness.
Mark Furness: Books of Hours were often personalised small books, lavishly decorated and bound, devotion equating to the wealth the owner spent in the books creation. Popular in Medieval times when book production was generally located in monasteries and centres of power, the most robust method of binding was of a Gothic structure. Inspired by such works in the John Rylands Research Institute and Library, I was asked to bind the pages in a form appropriate to that inspiration.
Fully sewn and bound in leather with wooden boards to control the strong but restless parchment that was used for the pages, it seemed the most appropriate structure to use in binding A Book of Ours. Not only for the historical simpatico but the larger format of the pages would benefit from a binding that is so strong. The main hurdle was taking the individual pages of the project and making them sewable. The solution is a guard book structure; strips of paper are added to the edge of each page, they are folded, providing the folded edge to sew through and the excess paper compensating slightly for the overlap of page and strip.
Creating the Guards
The paper stock used for the manuscript was a combination of 130-190 gsm paper, written and decorated with a variety of paints and inks. The paper is fairly rigid, which is fine, but for a book the pages need to flex; when the book opens the pages need to rise up from the spine, to splay and lay flat. The guards were constructed from 90gsm Fabriano Ingress paper, a fine quality paper with strength and great flexibility, of an off-white/beige colour. In this arrangement the sewing passes through four layers of paper in the guard, a good amount of paper to sew through that allows the sections to sit close together and not have the sewing span large gaps. Guards are attached to the verso (backside) of the pages. No decoration is obscured and the when the pages are opened it won’t pull against the adhesion between guard and page.
Each page is glued in sequence, the setting of the first page in the section guiding the addition of each subsequent page. From 100 pages this made 25 sections, each section took about 15-20 mins to set as it had to be done precisely, but even with such precision the sections will be variable in their height. The guards are trimmed to match the page edges. All the sections were placed on the sewing frame and sewing cords placed evenly spaced along the spine of the manuscript.
Covering the Book
Being such a large book, finding a piece of leather large enough to easily cover the book meant it would have to be calf leather. A Gambetta skin in gold was ordered from Harmatan, split to a thickness of about 0.9mm. The covering leather works best when the spine of the leather runs along the spine of the book. The leather is cut to size and the edges and areas of overlap from the turn-ins on the spine are pared thinner.
The spine of the book is lined with paper to even out the surface and give the leather a clear surface to adhere to. It is then ready to apply the leather to the book. Being such a large book the process of covering was difficult with just one person, taking pictures during the process was limited. With the book complete the title panel supplied was pasted into the recessed panel. A label in gold foil on tan leather was added to the spine: A BOOK OF OURS.
Preparation of sections – 9 hours
Sewing – 7 hours
Board preparation and attachment – 6 hours
Leather preparation and covering – 4 hours
Finishing – 4 hours
Total binding time – 30 hours
With thanks to all National Lottery Players and the National Lottery Heritage Fund who made this project possible.