Last week my studio was taken over by grey Davey board, linen threads, linen tapes and beeswax; paper, paint and relief-blocks; glue and glue-brushes and leather and many sheets of waxed paper; my Chinese chop and its porcelain pot of ink. The big bookpress was pressed repeatedly into service. I finished one small book that I'd already sewn but not covered, and made another one from scratch - a late Christmas gift for a close friend. Now that I've given it to her, I can share some of the process here with you. (It also gave me a chance to try out the close-up features of my new camera.)
The signatures, sewn on linen tapes, covered by a coarse linen mull, set between the cover boards.
The mull is glued to the inside of the cover boards, and then the tapes glued over the mull. The first page of the first and last signatures will be pasted over the tapes and mull, forming a strong hinge.
At this stage it starts to look like a book!
Printing the cover papers on a hand-painted base. I made four different sheets, different designs in the same basic colorway, and chose this one for this particular book. Unfortunately I didn't take any other photos of the process, but here are some pictures of the finished book, which is about 5 inches long by 4 1/2 inches high.
I love the fussiness of bookmaking -- it's probably perfect for a Virgo perfectionist like me. The binding process is very exacting, but there are a lot of creative decisions to be made along the way, and I especially enjoy making the cover papers. Parts of the process are meditative -- the sewing of the signatures, and sanding the edges of the cover boards, for instance -- and require a lot of patience. Other steps have to be carefully prepared and planned, and then executed very quickly. It's only through practice that you learn how to do that, and believe me, I've irreparably screwed up hours and hours of work at the very last minute! This one worked out pretty well, and I was grateful for that. Sometimes I realize I've been holding my breath for a long time, when doing the final gluing, for instance! That part can be pretty tense.
All the materials involved are tactile, special, and many have been used for centuries; for the same reasons that I like calligraphy, I enjoy this process and the feeling of being connected to so many anonymous, careful scribes and binders who have gone before. The Chinese signature chop was a gift from my pen-pal friend in Beijing; it's carved out of alabaster. She told me that the characters are a phoenetic representation of my name. I only seem to use it for bookmaking, where it feels appropriate, and it seems like it adds a special finishing touch.
I told the recipient of this book that she had to use it, it was meant to be written in! And today I was very happy to get a note from her saying she had written a short poem and some reflections in it this morning. Books should live.