Sunday, 15 April 2012

Leather Love - A Bookbinding Day at Knuston

Cup-of-Tea Warning!  This post is quite long and has lots of photos - you may need a cuppa and a bikkie, before attempting to read it all through!
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A Bookbinding Day at Knuston Hall

I spent yesterday at Knuston Hall, on a bookbinding course and had a fab time.  The tutor, Doug, was a very nice person, who is a book conservator and restorer "in his day-job" and so knows loads about paper, leather, bookbinding methods and history.
It was a pleasure to be taught by someone who really knows his stuff and who was really interested and keen to see what his students produced.  There were seven of us altogether, which was a good number to have, as there was plenty of space for us all to work and to see the tutor's demonstrations.  There was a good spread of ages across the group too - from a young woman in her 20's, to two ladies who are retired and still busy - and Doug wasn't the only male member of the group, as there were male students too.

I think we were from quite varied backgrounds too - the two men in the group were engineers (I think, from the way they were talking to each other and jokes they made about measuring machines and special drills to do their paper-holes etc!), there was an upholsterer, someone who works at the council offices, people who sew and knit - and a bookbinder (guess who?).  I think we were a good group (I hope Doug would have agreed - I think we behaved ourselves and I tried not to be a smart-alec, as I was very aware that I most certainly did not know nearly as much as the tutor!!).

The course was to make a leather book, using a traditional Longstitch Early Codex binding method.  I had been looking forward to this very much and was a teeny bit excited... (perhaps I should get out more, but, you know...books...paper... bookbinding... well...).

So, we had some lovely examples to look at, which Doug had made:

Some beautiful details in these books - decorative stitching on the spine, lovely shapes cut into the fold-over flaps, interesting fastenings....

The last two photos are of a book with a vellum cover (that's vellum made with skins, not "vellum" paper).  It really was translucent and rather beautiful.  The fastening is made with two straps, that are attached to the fold-over flap on the front, then wrapped over to the spine, where they are fastened by pushing two hand-made vellum buttons through holes cut into the straps.  I think the design is based on original mediaeval bindings.  It certainly was rather impressive, with the fabulous stitching details and clever fastening. 

In fact, all the examples were lovely (I didn't photograph all of them... duh...). 

Inspiring - makes you want to make something lovely too!

So, we had some very nice leather pieces to choose from...
lovely paper for pages, and good instructions and demonstrations...
So, we made a spine stiffener, learned how to mark up the positions of the holes and how to mark the paper sections (which were already prepared for us by Doug-the-super-star!)...

Then we stitched our books... (for some reason I didn't remember to photograph that bit... too busy and forgot the camera, I think!)

...then spent some time making decorative fold-over flaps, fastenings and embellishments.

This lovely book was made by Katherine, whose table was facing mine.  She used a strip of the same leather, reversed to show its sueded side and made a wrap-round fastening.  The strip of leather wraps round a flower, which she made herself, from two short lengths of leather and a third piece that she wound into a flat coil and glued to the centre.  Isn't it beautiful? (I did ask her permission to photograph it and publish it on my blog - thank you Katherine!).

There were so many clever ideas and variations of decoration and fastening.  Everyone was really quite clever and ingenious.  I loved seeing what the other students all came up with - I think Doug did too, as he said he was leaving his example book unfinished (which he was making to show us the various techniques), so he could see what ideas we came up with for ours and maybe be inspired to do something new with his own!

And several of us began a second book, as we had some time left at the end of the afternoon and our tutor had brought spare materials (which we all paid him for, so he didn't lose out!)

* * *

I really had a lovely day yesterday.  And, being at Knuston, it meant that we were also very well cared for and well fed!  There was excellent coffee, homemade biscuits at morning break, cake in the afternoon (though we didn't go for our break... we were all too busy - but I know there were very nice cakes, because I snagged one on my way home - oink...).... and lunch was really yummy too - a proper cooked meal, with the choice of three different hot dishes, with rice or potatoes, or cold meats if we preferred.  There was a salad table too, with a great selection to help ourselves to.  And two different puddings to choose from also.  Amazing that we didn't all fall asleep after lunch - I think it was a testament to the tutor's excellence that we were too interested in our work, to even think of dropping off at our desks!

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And me... what did I make?  Of course I intend to show off a bit, because I am proud of what I made, both yesterday and also an extra little book, which I made today:

Lizzie's Book One

Longstitch Early Codex Leather Binding - Buff-coloured calf leather, stitched with ivory hand-waxed linen thread.  Four sections of 14 leaves (28 pages/ sides per section - 56 leaves/pages - 104 sides in total), of  120gm cream-white smooth paper by Conservation by Design.  The paper was pre-cut and folded into sections, so I had only to bind it into a book (lucky me!).  Measures 20 x 14cm / 7.75" x 5.75" (almost A5 size).

I made a fold-over flap with integral tab, which is used to fasten the book, by tucking into a decorative leather bar on the cover.  I used a patterned stitched panel on each side of the fastening bar, stitched in matching linen thread. 

When I got home, I modified the tuck-in tab, by trimming the end corners, so it was more pointed and would slide through the bar more easily (the corners kept catching when I tried to slide it through - now it works very well).

Lizzie's Book Two

The photos are of the finished book.  I brought home a completed binding, with the cover and fastening not completed.

Longstitch Early Codex Leather Binding - Dark green sheep leather, with embossed false grain, stitched with ivory hand-waxed linen thread.  Four sections (56 pages/ 104 sides) of off-white Zerkall Butten 145gsm paper.  Measures 17 x 13.5cm / 6.5" x 5.25".

Once I was home, I added the red leather thongs, as fastenings - also to make a pen-holder inside the fold-over flap.  Even though I had fixed the ends of the folded strips, by glueing them inside, they still flapped and didn't sit very well, so I added some stitching to secure them and make nice, firm loops. 

I spent some time messing about with the other ends of the strips, tried adding beads to the ends, considered whether I should have some kind of button to hook the loops over and wrap the ends round... In the end, it was the simple solution that worked best - pass the strips through the loops, then double them round and tuck in on the back of the book - "simples", as the nice meerkat says!

Lizzie's Book Three

Today was "Scrap Club" day!  Two days out in a row - and Mr. LizzieMade didn't mind at all... he even made me a packed lunch (of course, it may be that I am impossible to live with and he was relieved to have some peace...but he hasn't complained and I hope that it's only that he is so nice and generous and kind, that he likes me to have fun!). 

Aaaanyhooo.... I spent part of the morning on this:


Longstitch Early Codex Leather Binding - Deep teal-coloured suede (calf I think...), stitched with golden yellow hand-waxed linen thread. The suede is lined with patterned paper (it's medium-weight scrapbooking paper). 
The book has 30 leaves/pages (60 sides) of hand-made cotton paper.  I used water to wet the folds, before tearing the large sheets into pages, so all edges are either natural deckle or hand-torn.  As the paper is quite bulky, I decided that only thirty pages, in five sections, was plenty for a small book (this measures approx 11cm / 4.5" square). 

I tried a variation in the stitching on the spine - having waffled on at length yesterday lunchtime, while wondering how "people I know" manage to make this particular stitching pattern.  I had thought it must be complicated and need two separate needles...

Of course it isn't complicated at all.  The basic stitching method is like a back-stitch, so there are two threads on each section of the spine.  The pattern is made by simply passing the needle beneath the previous thread, on the second and subsequent stitches. 
It really is very easy-peasy and I felt like a real twit yesterday, when I tried this stitching for my fastening bar, on the buff-coloured book, and discovered how very straighforward it is - after all my daft wonderings!  Sometimes I wonder how I've managed to live so long...  

Anyway, there it is, a nice crossed stitch effect in golden yellow.  I then stitched a deep yellow button to the fold-over flap (If I had been clever, I'd have done this before I stuck down the lining paper, then I wouldn't have had to tease it apart and re-stick it!).  The fastening is simply a piece of turquoise linen thread, which is passed through the leather from inside.  The thread wraps round the button.  That's it - nice and straightforward, for a change!

I really do like this little book and it was great to make one "all by myself", without an expert to hand, to rescue me if I messed up.  I didn't mess up anyway - just the little hiccup with the lining paper being stuck down, but that was just lack of experience, which meant I didn't think the whole design through before I started.  Next time...

* * *

So, this is what I made this weekend:
Three Longstitch Bindings, that I'm very proud of!

One or two things I need to improve on, but I think it's a very encouraging start.
Thanks to Doug, for a great day's workshop and for patiently bearing with my idiot ramblings about "difficult" stitching patterns. 


  1. Impressive stuff Lizzie - glad you had a great day and managed to achieve so much - they all look fab!

  2. I'm impressed! Also somewhat embarrassed that I have not done any books for ages!I rather favour long-stitch.
    Oh, yes-this bit
    " Mr. LizzieMade didn't mind at all... he even made me a packed lunch (of course, it may be that I am impossible to live with and he was relieved to have some peace...but he hasn't complained and I hope that it's only that he is so nice and generous and kind, that he likes me to have fun!)"

    could well be applied to the Main Man here.
    See you soon!

  3. Lovely work Lizzie, glad you had such a good, inspirational day :-)

  4. These are so lovely sounds as though you thoroughly enjoyed yourself!
    Alison xx

  5. It looks like you had a fabulous day at this workshop! I'm just venturing into leather bindings, so I would have LOVED to be there too! Thanks for sharing, and I look forward to seeing what you do with this!

  6. Lizzie, they are absolutely amazing. I love that fancy stitching on the spine and am very jealous that you had the chance to learn how to do it! These are real works of art. Brilliant!

  7. Beautiful lizzie! Your little tale made me chuckle too! You are very talented. Xx

  8. These are amazing - what a fantastic skill!

  9. Oh what lovely lovely books! I love the idea of making books, if only there were more time. You must be very proud of such gorgeous books!

    Kate x

  10. 3 books in one weekend is pretty impressive - I still haven't managed to try the binding you taught us at Coalport! Speaking of which is there going to be another one?? (I don't get out much either LOL!)
    BTW, please check your e-mails (incl spam folder) I sent you some I thought you would have replied to... Shazza at Soul Scrappers asked if you would be a guest designer and do a bookbinding tutorial and challenge.


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