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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

In the Thick of It: Part 2 in a series on the treatment of Summerfield D544

August 15th, 2016

Back in February, I wrote about undertaking the treatment of the 1683 volume Kazania na niedziele calego roku [Sermons for Sundays of the Whole Year] by Pawel Kaczyński (call number: Summerfield D544). At the time of that writing, I’d gotten as far as disbinding, cleaning, and mending the folios before it was necessary to put the treatment aside for a while to focus on other things. This summer I’ve brought the book out again to tackle the next phase of its treatment, preparation for rebinding.

I had already mended most of the folios along the inner spine folds, but they still needed reinforcement, or guarding, along the outer spine folds in order to be strong enough for sewing. Because there are exactly 100 single-folio sections in this volume, I chose a tissue for the guards that was as thin as possible to minimize added bulk while also providing the needed strength to the folds.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Guarding of folios in progress. Note the smooth spine folds on the guarded folios, left, and the more ragged edges of the unguarded folios on the right. Click image to enlarge.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

The text block with guarding completed.

The amount of damage to this volume was so significant that for the sake of efficiency it was necessary to keep the mending fairly minimal, adding stabilizing mends with very thin tissue where it was most needed, rather than filling in every loss with color-matched tissue. However, there was a very large loss to the lower portion of the title page, so I chose to fill in that area; the page was physically stable, but a fill greatly improves it aesthetically. I selected a Japanese paper of about the same weight as the text paper and toned it with diluted watercolors to achieve a color that is sympathetic to the color of the text paper.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Title page of Summerfield D544 with toned Japanese paper compensation along lower edge.

With the mending and guarding completed, the next step is sewing. The text block was originally sewn two-on, which means that two gatherings are sewn on at once with a single pass of thread, rather than sewing the gatherings one at a time. This method of sewing reduces the swell of the spine that occurs when thread is introduced; with 100 gatherings in this text block, it makes sense that the original binder chose to sew it this way, and I decided to re-sew it in the same manner. To further reduce bulking (in addition to sewing two-on), I chose a thinner thread than I’d normally use. The last step before sewing was to select endpapers for the volume; I opted for Nideggen, a paper whose tan color and subtle texture go very well with that particular warm, grimy tone of old paper. Once the endpapers were cut, I lined up the text block on the sewing frame to mark the positions of the cords, strung the cords onto the frame, and at long last, started sewing.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Stringing up the cords on the sewing frame.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Beginning to sew – three sections down and only 97 to go!

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

About one-quarter of the way through sewing.

Conservation treatment of Summerfield D544, Spencer Research Library

Detail of double cords and kettle stitch at tail end of text block.

Sewing multiple gatherings at a time can be a little awkward at the outset, but now that I’ve found a rhythm to it, the sewing is progressing at a nice pace. Soon all that will be left to do will be to put the book into a new paper case. I look forward to presenting the finished volume in one last installment of this series later this fall!

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Sewing a book

March 20th, 2014

When guests come on a tour of the conservation lab, they are sometimes surprised that book pages are usually held together with thread. (Since many modern paperbacks are glued, not sewn, younger guests are often less familiar with sewn bindings.) There are many sewing techniques, useful in different situations.

Traditionally books were sewn on a piece of equipment called a sewing frame. The frame holds the sewing supports taut so the binder can keep her hands free for the actual sewing. Sewing supports are usually either a broad, flat tape (made of cotton, linen, ramie, leather, or vellum), or a cord (usually linen), around which the sewing thread progresses. Cords make raised bands on the final, covered spine, whereas tapes can be flat to the spine.

Sewing a book

A sewing frame set up with three sewing supports of linen tape.

In this example, the book is being sewn with what is known as a supported link stitch, in which each row of stitching is linked to the one before. The center of each folded section of paper is pierced with a sewing needle at a sewing station. At the head and tail of the book are two more stations, called kettles. The kettle stitch is a half-knot or chain, and serves to cinch the newest section of paper to the previous ones.

Sewing a book Sewing a book

Left: Supported link stitch with curved needle.
Right: The finished sewing. Note the kettle stitches at each end of the book.

Once the book is sewn it is often rounded and backed, to create a rounded shape on the spine and shoulders for book boards to be set into. Rounding and backing is often done with a special bookbinding tool called a backing hammer in a cast iron contraption called a job backer.

Job backer with backing hammer. Job backer with backing hammer.

Left: The job backer and backing hammer.
Right: Detail of the rounded and backed book in the job backer.

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services

Books Will Speak Plain: Creating a Design Binding

November 15th, 2013

The Guild of Book Workers (GBW) is a national organization whose members are bookbinders, book artists, book conservators, calligraphers, and other book enthusiasts. The Midwest Chapter of GBW recently hosted a jurying of design bindings for a traveling exhibition, which opened at Spencer Library on Monday, November 11. Entrants were required to bind a copy of Julia Miller’s Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings (Legacy Press, 2010).

What follows is a description of how I bound my copy of Books Will Speak Plain. I gained inspiration for my binding by examining historic bookbindings from Special Collections at Spencer Library. Because Miller’s book covers the history of bookbinding, it seemed logical to create a book that touched on book history in some fashion. In my role as conservator, I am fortunate to have the chance to closely examine books and have long been interested in evidence of past repair. I found various examples in Spencer’s stacks of books that had been repaired by sewing on loose parts, such as a detaching spine or cover board. I decided to use this concept as the driving force in the design of my book.

Detail of sewing repair on Sunderland, La Roy. Pathetism; with practical instructions. New York, 1843. Call number B6443. Special Collections, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Detail of sewing repair on Sunderland, La Roy. Pathetism; with practical instructions. New York, 1843. Call number B6443. Click image to enlarge.

The 500-page book arrived in folded sheets of paper. The textblock paper was dense, which ruled out certain styles of bookbinding that could not support the weight of such heavy paper. The book was sewn on three sewing supports made out of the fiber ramie. The book was sewn on a sewing frame, using a link stitch.

Image of folded gatherings of paper, copy of Julia Miller's Books Will Speak Plain (Legacy Press, 2010).    Whitney Baker's design binding of Books Will Speak Plain (Legacy Press, 2010).

Left: Book in sheets. Right: Sewing book on a sewing frame. Click images to enlarge.

I sewed silk endbands in cream and orange. The silk bands were sewn around a core of linen thread. Next the book’s spine was lined to provide some rigidity and set the round spine shape. I first applied a layer of Japanese paper with wheat starch paste, then a layer of Western paper, and finally airplane linen.

Whitney Baker's design binding of Books Will Speak Plain (Legacy Press, 2010).   Whitney Baker's design binding of Books Will Speak Plain (Legacy Press, 2010).

Left: Sewing endbands with orange and cream thread. Right: Spine linings of paper and airplane linen. Click images to enlarge.

Next the ramie bands, around which book was sewn, were frayed out and adhered to the book boards.

Sewing supports attached to board of book

Boards attached to textblock via frayed-out ramieband sewing supports. Click image to enlarge.

Once the boards were on, it was time to cover the book. I decided to use two contrasting colors of morocco (goatskin) leather, sewed together with coarse thread.

First I cut out templates for the leather pieces. The edges of the leather were pared to a thin edge, especially where the two pieces overlapped in the middle of the book.

Cut out pieces of leather   Whitney Baker's design binding of Books Will Speak Plain (Legacy Press, 2010).

Left: Cut leather pieces with templates. Right: Joined leather pieces wrapped around textblock. Click images to enlarge.

The leather was attached with wheat starch paste.  Here you see the headcap tied up with thread in a finishing press to help give the leather a good shape where the boards and spine meet.

Whitney Baker's design binding of Books Will Speak Plain (Legacy Press, 2010).

Book covered with leather, with headcap tied up with thread. Click image to enlarge.

Once the leather was applied to the book, next came labeling. I used individual brass letter tools, heated on a hotplate. (A stove designed for the purpose is preferable, but I didn’t have one at my disposal.) Each letter is “branded” individually in the leather. When it is left like that, with no gold leaf or foil applied over it, it is called “blind” tooling.

W. Baker Plainly Spoken Exhibit entry: heated tools on stove   Whitney Baker's design binding of Books Will Speak Plain (Legacy Press, 2010).

Left: Tools resting on hot plate. Right: Detail of finished book with blind tooling. Click images to enlarge.

This book was accepted into the blind juried show. You can see it and other fine bindings in the Plainly Spoken exhibit at Spencer Library through January 6, 2014. If you are near Lawrence, please come to the Gallery Talk on November 21, from 3-4 PM. The Spencer exhibit features both the design bindings as well as historical examples from Special Collection that complement them.

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services