Bookbinding Adventures

Bookbinding Press

Time for adventures in bookbinding.

I went on my first bookbinding course last summer run by the Field Studies Council (FSC) at the National Trust property at Flatford Mill in Suffolk. I’ve just been there again.

I’m acutely aware that my bookbinding skills are limited and need to be developed. The final year of my BA course is about to start and I would like to make a statement book to present some of my work.

Presenting photographs, as distinct from a photobook, is a challenge. You can’t fold photographs, which means that you cannot make a section (aka ‘signature’ in the US) as without the fold you can’t sew folios together.

There are various options, which usually involve gluing pages at the spine. I e-mailed the tutor with what I was looking for and he devised a potential solution.

Flatford Mill is in fact the location of John Constable’s famous ‘The Haywain’. For me, it’s well over 200 hundred miles to get there with only about one third of the route being via motorway, the rest is a mix of rural ‘A’ roads and dual carriageways. I left home at just after 9am and arrived around 2.30pm in a journey that included one 30 minute stop.

The site is used by the FSC for running various courses for children, schools, as well as adult art/leisure courses. Accommodation varies from your own bungalow, to rooms in various farm buildings (fancy a room in a C14th farm house?). My room was in the main mill building. I’d booked a single room. What I had was an en-suite room but it’s usually a dormitory type room with 9 beds used for school groups.

Classroom for the week

There were 9 in the group: 2 female, 7 male. Age wise, I was somewhere in the middle I would guess. Two of the guys were a lot younger (late 30s / 40s), both ladies were significantly older (well into 70s). Experience levels varied from expert to novice.

The tutor had devised a book construction to help me to present photographs in book form. Standard book construction requires folios to be folded then sewn together to create sections (known as ‘signatures’ in the US). The sections are then sewn together to create the text block, which is then cased in.

This doesn’t work with photographs as they don’t like being folded. What is required is a construction that keeps the photographs flat and somehow connects them at the spine. None of the ‘usual’ book constructions, including drum leaf binding really achieves this.

The solution that the tutor devised was quite simple and shows promise. To test it out, I had brought some A3 images left over from test runs of project work earlier in the year. These were printed on 300gsm art fibre paper, so much nearer weight and feel to traditional watercolour paper than photographic paper.

The front and back boards

Images are paired back-to-back. Each pair is glued by tipping in at the fore edge. You take two pairs of images and using book cloth, create a hinge between them. You build up as many pairs as you need. You can add title pages, a colophon, end papers etc., as required.

Creating the text block and adding the spine

This becomes your text block. The spine is created by adding glue to the spine, then adding a layer of mull, more PVA, then kraft paper. A strip of leather is prepared then glued to cover the spine.

Boards are prepared. I opted for ‘quarter bound’ in reality I measured 1/3 of the width and covered that with book cloth. As this was a mock-up, the rest of the cover was just 140gsm cartridge paper. Once the back of each board had been in-filled with more paper, the book could be assembled. The boards were glued on with the ends of the boards being flush with the spine.

The end result is a very large book (it’s A3 closed) which can be opened completely flat. Some of the book cloth from the hinges shows between the pages, which gives it an elegant appearance.  

Completed book

One thought on “Bookbinding Adventures

  1. Thank you for sharing such good content on your blog.
    Your approach to showing the intricacies of photography makes your posts truly engaging.
    Please keep on delivering such quality content, and thank you for expanding our knowledge of photography.
    Best regards, Anja

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