Islamic bindings – instructions part 1

Islamic Headband Feature

These instructions are to coincide with the Islamic binding lessons that we have been having with Kristine Rose from the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Sewing and spine preparation

The two sewing stations must be prepared in advance of sewing as the paper is not good enough quality to work blind on the book, this can be done by piercing the paper or by scoring the stations with a knife. Commonly sewing was in yellow silk.

Islamic Binding Sewing two stations
Sewing two stations

Sew the first two sections twice as it is not initially sewn off, then continue to sew using link stitches. For sewing off, make the final stitch a kettle stitch, so that it is secured.

Knock sections up between boards and put into a laying press.

Stipple a small amount of paste into the sections to stick initially, then repaste with stippling and put spine lining on and bone folder down. The spine lining should be an evenweave linen, commonly mauve was used.

Islamic Binding Pasting up the spine
Pasting up the spine

Excess linen is to be trimmed and pasted to the book block. This will be hidden by the board attachments. The linen should only be a couple of millimetres either side of the spine.

Islamic Binding lining the spine
Lining the spine

Endbands:

End band cores should be the same material as covering, cut 3mm and just wider than the text block, these are to be glued up on the flesh side of the leather and moulded so that no fibres stick out. The cores should then be stuck onto the spine, adjacent to the spine and just hanging over either side.

Each section centre should then be marked.

Islamic Binding The end band core
The end band core

Sewing of the endbands is done using three threads:

Primary thread – this should be a bright colour, often a gold, so that it can be seen in contrast to the other two. This is sewn through every section and over the cores, which creates the basis for the second two threads.

Islamic Binding Working the primary
Working the primary
Islamic Binding working the first two rows
working the first two rows

Secondary thread – this is woven over and under the primary thread at the middle of the core and left at the other end

Islamic Binding Locking the secondary with the tertiary
Locking the secondary with the tertiary

Tertiary thread – this follows the secondary thread on each row, going ‘under the overs’ and ‘over the unders’ meaning that every time a secondary thread goes over the primary, the tertiary will go under both, and when a secondary thread goes under a primary, the tertiary goes over both.

Islamic Binding Starting the tertiary
Starting the tertiary

The tertiary then anchors the secondary at the other end, allowing the secondary to weave back through the primaries to the starting point. Once the tertiary has come back and two rows are complete, there should be a chevron pattern starting. These two rows are then shuffled along the primaries to sit on the text block, before the next row is started.

Islamic Binding Chevron
Shuffling the chevron down the primary
Islamic Headband The finished end bands
The finished end bands

To finish text block:

Tie down end band knots within the text block.

Trim decorative end papers just smaller than first sheet and wet before pasting. Paste just over the fabric on the spine and press. Once pressed, trim any excess decorative papers.

Pair endband cores very slightly and paste down onto book cover.

Paste and fan out text block threads onto spine.

Boards:

Three boards are used per cover, which should be lightly wetted prior to pasting.

Boards are exactly the same size of text block in height, though not in width – Square up one corner of board and measure against cover of book, leaving a joint space at the spine, about the same size as the endbands, trim the boards to this size once pasted.

Islamic Binding trimming boards
Measuring up the board for trimming

Leave boards sharp without back cornering them.

The foredge flap will only be the thickness of one board not three, and will be done when covering the book.

The foredge envelope will be as the covers and three board thicknesses. It should be the same height for the boards and measured to exactly half the width of the boards. The point is central and the depth of the angle is half the width of the envelope.

Islamic bindings – a background

Last week, we were lucky enough to be visited by Kristine Rose from the Fitzwilliam Library in Cambridge, who is spending time teaching us Islamic bindings, their history, their structure and their necessary conservation. So here I will record what I have been learning as I go – it may be staggered.

Kristine Rose Islamic Binding
A binding made by Kristine Rose

History

Kufic bindings are the earliest script known, dating back to the 7th-10th century. They were commonly in landscape format, made with wooden boards and parchment text blocks. They were sewn using a link stitch.

The Mamluk manuscripts followed dating back to 1250-1517 in Sultanate-Egypt and Syria. These had paper text blocks with pasteboards and were elaborately tooled with individual hand tools. The Battle of Talas in 741is meant to be the start of paper in Islamic territories, as Chinese soldiers were kidnapped and forced to give up the secret of paper making to save their lives. It was a more refined structure due to paper and pasteboards though it remained a link stitch with a finer thread, and almost always using two sewing stations with single stitch – there were very few exceptions to this.

The Maghrebi style was dated from 922-1492 is small and square in format, looking like a standard Islamic style with heavy gold tooling and an envelope flap, however the board attachments at very different.

The Persian style of islamic binding dates back to the Safavid dynasties and Mongol ancestry (1501-1732). The bindings had decorative paper and leather inlays with extremely fine filigree. All the tooling was done by cold tooling as the leather was so thin and the paste boards, very receptive to the tooling.

The style of bindings made during the Ottoman period (1453-1924) were extremely refined bindings – both quality workmanship and made with the finest of materials and techniques. They were everything that the Persians were doing, but better and more refined in every way. At this time books were in abundance – everyone was expected to read or at least recite and understand the Koran.

The artists who designed the books used numerous techniques to decorate the smallest areas including burnishing, piercing. Filigree was used to decorate deblures, very intricately designed, cut and applied. There is some indication that the envelope flaps were used as page markers though not in every case. Binders in the Islamic world were very mobile, light materials and few tools, they would move about all over the place, working for different people.

Collections

The  Chester Beatty Library Dublin is the greatest collection of Islamic bindings outside of the east. There is evidence from Chester Beatty that the Islamic structures are often not case bindings as previously thought, though the inner join still remains quite sensitive. The  structure is not inherently weak as so many will suggest – if it used in the correct way – pulling it flat will damage the book, as it is not meant to be used like this and should be read with a rull for support.

Islamic Binding Rull
A Rull

Damage

Damage has often been caused by natural aging of materials.

Commonly the boards will delaminate due to the way they are made.

Often the books are rebound in a western style which will damage the book further, the paper is not as limp as western paper, they are sized and are very stiff, so the sewing has to do all the work, which is why putting the text block in a western binding, where the flexibility of the paper is relied upon.

Binding styles

Type II – claimed to be the most common, though not necessarily – most important difference to others that it is a case binding with the boards prepared separately to the book.

Turkish two piece – very similar to the above, though boards are prepared separately to the book though leather flanges extend over the spine.

Andalucian style – same silk thread and two sewing stations, spine lining is extended and non adhesives and secured with long stitches. End bands are adhered with a Chevron sewing pattern. The board attachments use the extended spin lining to attach the boards.

Boards

The majority of boards were paste boards, which were made using many different sheets of paper.

When tooling, they would have cut out the tooling shape in one of the boards prior to laminating, then when pasting up for leather, they would have added additional paste to the tooling bit. Once pasted down, a tooling shape would have gone straight into the recess and pressed cold.

In some cases there is evidence of sewing onto fabric which has already been pasted onto part of the boards so that it would have already been in the correct place, then additional paste boards were added on the back of the initial one.

Collection of Pamphlets | Flatback Binding with Slipcase

This little book uses sections from a collection of Poetry booklets that came free with a newspaper. This is something the broadsheets often do over the Christmas period and are a great thing to collect if you spot them early enough.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Hand sewn sections onto tape and linen thread.
  • Complimentary coloured endpapers adhered as a single folio to front and back.
  • Spine lined with mull and kraft paper.
  • Boards and spine covered buckram book cloth and hand decorated papers.
  • Cased in as a quarter bound flat back book.
  • Complimentary slipcase was made in the same buckram book cloth, and a sympathetic coloured ribbon.

ORDER YOUR BESPOKE FLATBACK BINDING WITH SLIPCASE

If you have a collection of pamphlets that you would like bound in a similar manor with a slipcase, please do get in touch. Prices start from £200.00 and will vary depending on any additional requirements you have, such as labels and cover tooling.

For other examples of bespoke bindings, have a look at the bookbinding page of this website.


This particular book was for my mother, who was extremely pleased with it, but is still a bit scared to sit down and read it! The paper was paper we had made together one afternoon, so all very appropriate.

City Lit Bookbinders Exhibition

‘So much variety and fabulous work with the definite feel of a top of the range gallery – indeed much better than many exhibitions I have seen’ 

The Principle of the City Lit, Peter Davies

As our bookbinding year came to an end, we were given the opportunity to exhibit some of our work in the display cases at the City Lit. Unsurprisingly I was immensely excited about this, and so diligently went to photograph my first exhibited work!!! Our books were displayed in two glass cases on the ground floor of the City Lit, which you can see here.

These show my two books on display, my coptic binding and the limp binding with the circles and ribbons next to Emily’s japanese binding.

I think these two were Bob’s – one was his coptic binding, which he made amazingly by carefully cutting out paper (BY HAND!) to make the intricate designs. For the second one, a disappearing spine pamphlet, Bob made the cover design and then had it printed onto book fabric, which he then used to cover the book – amazing! This final coptic binding was Kate’s, which I loved!

Bookbinding Update | Week 26

Well last night was a success, if not a little nerve wracking! I learned how to plough a book for the first time, my first time attempt being on my project 2 book (Journey to the Centre of the Earth). I don’t think it went too badly, though there are a couple of wrinkles on a small part of it – though I’m hoping these won’t be so visible to the normal eye!
To plough the book properly, you have to make sure the spine of the book is completely straight, as there is no moving it when it is gripped by the press (the bit that looks a bit like a Black ‘n’ Decker). If it’s put in wonky, when you take it out of the press, having ploughed away, it would then resume its original shape and distort the ploughed edge – most disappointing. I’m pleased to say that I did manage to get mine fairly straight, and have now got a beautifully ploughed foredge!
The funny looking wooden contraption sitting on top of the press is, in fact, the plough. Once aligned all correctly, you run this (very carefully) up and down the text block, and it will shave off the paper, a few pages at a time – genius! Any dodgy running, and the pages may snag, leaving you with a ruined text block.

We will also  be ploughing the head of the book at a later stage, which will be done after rounding and backing. The method will be a little different, so I will tell all when I know – bet you can’t wait!!

Bookbinding Update | Week 24

Sorry for missing out last week – I am sure you are all pining for the missing update and having not so minor withdrawal symptoms! 

Well last night was fairly productive, I was continuing on from my task last week, which was to sew my sections – rather nerve racking, as it is important to keep the straight edge in line. This edge I had already trimmed on the board chopper. You can trim the edges after they have been sewn, but it is quite time consuming, so our tutor was keen for us to get a bit of a head start on this one. I don’t think we could risk doing anymore than one trimmed edge as it is very hard to keep them in line when sewing.

I managed to complete sewing the sections of my book, sadly they went a little skew at the top, when my hard edge that was keeping it all in line was outgrown by the text block, but its good enough for a first attempt. I then had to sew on my end papers, I only managed one this week as time was short and I didn’t want to rush anything. This was a little tricky, as you may remember they were a little wonky when I made them, but hopefully it will look alright. I’m a little concerned they’re not tight enough, but we shall have to wait and see.

I’ve also included a picture of my desk, as its always nice to see people’s work spaces!