Codex Binding with an Asian Look

This year I am participating in Sommerpost (summer mail) a swap project for which I am to make a single signature exercise book, well, 7 in fact, and send them to other participants. I’ll end up with 7 myself, from which we are then binding a book. Because my work will be further used in that way, it has to be a pamphlet bound in the fold.

But, since for the decoration I have quite a lot of Asian inspired imagery, I thought that a stab stitch would look nice. And so I it in my mind to develop a binding that would functionally be a western bound pamphlet but look like an Asian stab bound book.

Ta-Da, here it is:

Asking social media, it looks like no-one has seen this before, so here’s a step-by step:

Cut and Fold the Covers

For a cover material I chose a blue, cotton rich cardstock. I cut them to A4 size, as we are required to submit A5 sized booklets for the swap.

re-enforce the spine when using paper

To emphasis this Asian look, I like paper covers with a fabric spine. With paper covers the fabric is indeed needed as a spine re-enforcement. However, if you are using a tougher material for covers, the choice of whether or not to add a fabric strip becomes an aesthetic choice rather than a necessity.

trim head and tail

Like with an Asian stab binding, you won’t be able to trip the head and tail after binding, so you have to do it before. I left the front edge uneven, for now, because like in any pamphlet, you can still trim that later.

The next step is to design a punching template. For this I folded a strip of paper the size of the fabric re-enforcement, and first drew my stab-stitch design on to there. You could do any Asian stab design, but I like this fairly simple one.

design on punching template (marked out for better visibility, I would normally just mark the holes)

Punch through the holes on the template where you would drill for an Asian binding. Then fold the strip open. You now have pairs of holes there on either side of the fold. Connect these pairs with a pencil line. I now have 6 (4+2 corners) lines crossing the centre fold. On four of them (I chose the 4 in the middle, but it could be argued, that including the outermost or maybe all of them would be preferable) I punched holes through the centrefold.
I marked all holes for you with a little arrow here:

the completed punching template
pre-punching the centrefold holes

Next comes the pre-punching of the holes. First punch the holes in the centrefold through the complete booklet. Then put away the inner pages, lay the cover flat, and continue to punch the “Asian” holes into the cover.

punching the “Asian” holes into the cover

And then we can proceed to sewing the first set of stitches. I used a silk thread of a lovely, ever so slightly varigated pink colour.

starting to sew

It is easy to measure the length directly if you really want to. Approximately you’ll need four times the height of the book plus 12 times the width of the fabric strip plus a bit for knotting.

starting the stitch

For these first stitches ignore the holes in the centrefold completely. The stitch pattern is essentially the same as for an Asian stitch. Start on one of the two middle holes on the inside of the cover. Now every time you’d normally go around the spine of your text block, switch to the other side of the fold and make sure you mirror the stitches already done on the other side. Make sure your pattern is “complete” both on the inside and the outside.

complete stitching on the outside
ending on the inside; knotting will make the pattern complete here

At this point, this stitching looks purely decorative, but we’ll use the spanning threads to hold our secondary stitches in place, and those in turn will hold these first stitches in place. Be careful for now with moving your cover, because the position of those threads is less secure than you might think.

now on to the secondary stitching

Put the pages back into the cover. If you all did correctly, the holes in your signature line up with the spanning thread from the first stitching.

Start on one of the outermost holes on the inside. Go through the holes onto the spine, taking care not to pierce any thread as usual.

first stitch

Then loop the thread around the spanning thread and go back inside the signature and pull tight.

Repeat with all the remaining holes. Now you have an end of thread dangling both head and tail, but the pages are securely in place. All that needs doing is to knot that thread.

I chose to wind the two ends around the stitches and knot them together. You could also just knot each end to itself if you prefer.
The sewn book outside view. The little spanning threads at the centre line are hardly visible at all, but help to keep the thread in place.

The final step now is to trim the front and you are ready and done.

last step: trim the fore edge

Now you have a booklet sewn throught he centrefold with a decorative Asian stab pattern.

Next I’d like to try with several signatures. It shouldn’t be hard to do the same with a thicker spine. Although it might become a little pointless, not to just simply do an Asian stab binding in that case.

Mhm, the general ethos for that swap seems to be, not to show finished parts before sending off. But just the cover won’t hurt, don’t you think? So what are you thoughts: Top or flop?

Finished single signature pamphlet with Asian Stab Stitch look

Interview: Sarah Roach

Sarah in her Nottingham Studio

In my last “feature find” I told you how I met Sarah Roach at various events here in Nottingham. She is a photographer and printmaker whose style is easily recognizable. I came across her work on various occasions in and around Nottingham. Most recently I saw her represented at the Derby Print Open at Banks Mill. Her minimalistic, often black and white prints combine crisp edges that stem from exaggerated contrast in photography with softening elements like blurring, layering or printing on a textured substrate.

Although I saw her and her work at various events, we didn’t come closer. After almost two years of first meeting her, I gathered up my daring and asked her whether she could invite me to her studio. To my delight she agreed.
And so it came to pass that on a sunny day in April I climbed a few steps, pressed the bell button and then stood there, anxious to see whether she’d open the door. – Of course she did, and I was greeted first by her two friendly (but to me huge) greyhounds, and then by her.

From the door we climbed up two flights of stair until we reached the small space directly under the roof. Fabrics with screenprints hung like gauze curtains on one side, the staircase up to here showed as a slanted surface on which there were some of Sarah’s work, and on the other side books were piled to form a small wall.

“Considering Silence”, photograph by Sarah Roach

Hilke: Hello Sarah, thanks for welcoming me here today! Let’s start with some basic questions first: How would you say you became an artist?
Sarah: I don’t remember to ever consciously make a decision to be an artist. I always enjoyed art and the process of thinking about things, having ideas and creating but I was never your traditional artist. I was about 15 when I realised I wanted to study art. I started as a painter but it was never just straight painting with me, there was always another dimension to it. And even while I was painting I also made things.

You mean like taking photos?
The photography came much later. After my fine art degree, around 1999, I was living in very small rented accommodation. I was working full time then, but to keep my creative side happy I did a photography course as I thought it was a way of being creative that didn’t take up much room.

Was that when you started your current practise?
For a while I took photos but didn’t really do anything with them. It was my partner who made me realise I should do more with my photography and with my creative side. He told me it made me happy – it’s funny how sometimes you don’t realise that by not doing something you’re making yourself unhappy, until it’s pointed out to you.
Quite a few years later I had the opportunity to study for my Masters while working part time. It was then that I started with printmaking, and developed my current style of work.

“traces of silence”, photograph by Sarah Roach

On your website you call yourself a “photographer and printmaker”, and you also bind some of your works into books. All three of them, photography, printmaking, and bookbinding have this craft-aspect to them and can be very technical. How do you see this navigation between art and craft?
I don’t see a dividing line there. To me it’s all part of the same thing – a way to express ideas and be creative. It doesn’t necessarily need to be defined as anything other than art.

The dividing aspect that is important to me and my practise is how abstract a process is, how removed you are from your subject matter.
I mentioned before that already when I was a painter there was always another aspect to my work. I like to do things with my hands and I like to make things. With photography (especially with digital photography) I often felt a bit removed from the subject and ideas, and once you had printed the photograph that was it. I always felt slightly dissatisfied with that.

That’s where it becomes important to me to develop my photos further, and add a more hands-on process to it. I work with photographic etching, and the making of the plates and the printing of the images is very close to working with analoge film, but you get the added loveliness of the textures, the ink, and the edges created by the plate. You get inky hands, the whole of you becomes part of the work.

“circlestone”, photopolymer etching by Sarah Roach

The techniques I use in printmaking make me look at photography differently and it helps me experiment more – they feed into each other, which makes me think beyond the photographic image – the photograph almost becomes just a step in a journey.

The book making came about through my love for books and paper. Binding semi-transparent pages with my prints allows me to build up a work through means of layering. There are several aspects to this that I like: the building up of an image, but also the blurring and softening that comes from not looking at one print directly but through additional layers of paper. I screenprint on thin paper, too, and often I like the backside of my prints better than front.
But mostly I like books, and I like for my work to have a tactility about it – and what’s more tactile than a book?

I guess that can be seen as related to craft – that you can touch someone’s work.

You wrote: “I am fascinated by silence and its relationship with sound and the world around us.” Could you please explain that in more detail? It sounds very poetic, but I don’t really understand it. How do you photograph silence?
I’m naturally a very quiet person and I enjoy time away from a lot of noise. Walking and spending time outside in nature is often where I can experience feelings of calmness and stillness and I think that is what I was always striving for in my images.

“early grasses”, photopolymer etching by Sarah Roach

So that’s why most of what you photograph is nature?
Yes, I like nature and the landscape, especially grasses and stones, and I photograph what I like. I just love grass. There’s so much variety to it, and it can look like branches and even trees when blown up.
I also like trees, but they are hard to photograph without background, and a discernable background is like adding noise to me.
I sometimes photograph grass in situ. I then use overexposure and play tricks with light to isolate my motif from the background. I also have a collection of dry grass and stones at home that I simply place on a white surface to photograph.

I can perfectly see how a minimalistic image of a single blade of grass or a single pebble is “quiet”, and a bright, colourful painting might be loud. But the tangible connection you seem to feel is remarkable.
Silence is important to me.

It took me a while to realise this, but when I did, it opened up a whole new world to me. I began to read about silence (I know it sounds boring but you wouldn’t believe how fascinating it is) and what I did realise is that you can’t have silence without sound – how would you know what silence was without sound? Then the big thing – that silence doesn’t actually exist.

photo by Sarah Roach

Sarah picked up a couple of books and told me about them. People who went to the desert in a quest for silence, and – I probably shouldn’t have been surprised – a range of books about music. In the books stuck hundreds of post-its, colour coded, marking passaged to be entered into a database on her computer, so she can quickly find quotes and ideas again that struck her as remarkable.

She told me how we can hear our body when other noises are drowned out, and as a human, apparently you can’t ever experience the total absence of any sound.
We also talked about ambient sound, and how different rooms, landscapes all have their own sound. And how different vegetation generates different sound. Going to the desert to experience sound is not just to escape humans, or other animals, but also to escape the sounds of vegetation.

Did you ever go on such a trip, to the desert or elsewhere to find silence?
No, I’ve never had the opportunity, but I’d like to. I think I would love it, but I have read that some people don’t, it’s too much, that much silence.

Coming back to your art. How does it relate to sound or silence?
In my photographs I am trying to create a visual representation of the space that exists between sound and silence, the moment of stillness, of silence that occurs just before sound.

Do you have plans for future work? Do you have any work in progress you would like to talk about?
I just started printing on a range of different fabrics, and I am playing with the idea of presenting them folded up: In that manner one can see part of it, in a layered block, but a part also remains secret. I find this idea very appealing. But my thought process is not finished yet. I also played with other thoughts of how to layer them. – This might end in a new body of work.s

I am looking forward to seeing what will come out of this.
Sarah, thank you so much for having me today!

screenprinted scrolls by Sarah Roach

All images except the first are copyrighted by Sarah Roach and have been used with her kind permission.

Feature Find: Sarah Roach

all rights reserved by Sarah Roach, posted on instagram on November 18, 2018

Welcome to my early summer “feature find”. In this edition I want to invite you to take a look at Sarah Roach‘s instagram stream.

You’ll find a lot of nature photography, and prints often minimalistic and abstract. The abstraction comes from blowing up images, focusing on small details like a single blade of grass, or a scratch on a stone. Also colours often are muted or absent, silhouettes of grass or trees against the sky or the shoreline rendered black between the white sand and blazing sky. Some are almost unbearably harsh in their contrast, others are smoothened out by bluriness or layering effects similar to multiple exposure photography.

all rights reserved by Sarah Roach, posted on instagram March 30, 2018

I find it hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes me love these images. But many fill me with a certain longing, a feeling similar but not quite the same as nostalgia when I look at them.

I first met Sarah back in 2017 at a friendly crit group session organized by Tracey Kershaw at Backlit. She was one of three or four or five (depending on what you count) who brought books to the session, and thus I naturally felt drawn to her work. Her books were made from semi-opaque parchment paper, had black covers and were bound with a bright red thread. On the pages were prints of grass, layered by the binding, turned into a field of grass in a book.

all rights reserved by Sarah Roach, posted on instagram April 13, 2017

On that evening we talked mostly about the binding technique, and thinking back, I must have come across as a know-it-all, I suppose. Well, we were talking about bookbinding, and when it comes to that, I find it hard to suppress the urge to impart my knowledge. – Even where maybe a little inappropriate (*blush*).

all rights reserved by Sarah Roach, posted on instagram June 8, 2019

Since then we met a couple of times, both being connected with Tracey, and I found her more and more interesting, if not to say a little eningmatic. She never talked much, and when she did, she didn’t reveal much about herself. And so I am very glad that she agreed to meet me for an interview which I am going to present here next week. I hope you’ll come back for the interview. For now: do have a look at her photos, and enjoy!

All photos used with kind permission of Sarah Roach.

Mini Coptic Binding

It’s been a while since I have shared any making of here on this blog. But while I made this mini book the other day I remembered taking some photos:

folded signatures and cover fitting

Step 1: The individual steps are really like for any book. The first step for me is always the cutting and folding of signatures and then cutting board for the covers.
In this case, the pages have a format of approximately 1.3cm x 2xm big.

mitred corners

Step 2: Step two is the covering of the covers. In a miniature book this small you don’t have to worry as much about warping as in a larger book. For the pages it is exra important to align all fibres because it moves with less ease anyway. But for the covers I am not that bothered about grain. I have not even checked how it all works out in this case. For the covers I used left-overs of a fun dotted fabric I still had lying around.
Cutting the corners obviously works just the same as for a big book. I recently treated myself to some corner guides, and this was the first try using them.

Folding over the fabric

I do find it harder to get neat corners at this format, especially with fabric, as the slight fraying looks gigantic.

A tiny piece of paste paper for the paste-down

Step 3: The pre-punching of holes works just the same as for big books. I cut a punching template exactly the same way. Jogging the signatures is tricky, though, as gravity just doesn’t assist as much as you might be used to from larger pages. Essentially I just push them with my fingers best I can.

planning the sewing and prepunching holes

For book of this format I like to use the linen buttonhole thread by Fil Au Chinois. It is a thin 3-ply thread and comes in a variety of colours. I went here for “tango”.

Preparing the sewing

And because is nothing of we don’t challenge ourselves, I decided to go for a 2-needle Coptic binding. Two needle sounds deceptive. It is called thus, because you need 2 needles for each piece of thread, one on each end. For this binding I worked with four needles.

Cover attachment

The sewing is exactly the same as for a big book.

sewing the book; the first signature

Although the sewing procedure is exactly the same, it can be a little fiddly to get the knots to all sit in the right places. And you have to remember to not cut down on the extra thread you give yourself for knotting – although the book is smaller, your fingers are not. (A piece of advice I like to give, but often fail to follow.)

sewing procedure

But if you just follow through with all the steps as usual eventually you get to attach the back cover, and you are finished. Here’s my finished mini book:


My new Studio At Backlit

You are welcome to take a guess what this view is. – It’s looking outside at a surprisingly clear sky over Nottingham tonight from my new studio at Backlit.

This is how my Backlit studio looked like on 1st of May

Backlit is an artist-led gallery space and provides studios for rent. And since May 1st, I now have a studio here. Moving in took me longer than expected, nearly 2 weeks, but now I feel finally settled here.

I still have my studio in the washhouse in Wollaton, and next weekend I will be holding my open studio day there. – A situation that feels a bit unreal. But I nevertheless hope to see as many people as possible there of course!

bringing some stuff into my new studio

With two studios I now have to make the decision where to work on a given day. – Not always easy. But I tried to split my practise a little. I can write here or there, but I brought my yudu machine and my paper mache to backlit – both messy processes. The rest for now stayed in Wollaton.

But apart from this difficult decision, it is great so far, and I am so happy about the decision to apply and being accepted in! I actually meet people which is great. I hope I am not expecting too much, but it would be great to just have the occasional unexpected exchange with another artist.

getting there – studio after a week

Surprisingly, this split of studios and work, generates an increased peace of mind for me. It comes especially surprising to me after I thought about stress and chronic lack of time so much lately. The fact that I have less things I can do after I made my choice for the time being brings a welcome feeling of rest. – Even thought I am probably much less efficient. Well, time will tell. For now the next task is to fill my shelf space. – And I need to make some prints to fill these white walls!

Studio today

O.k., after talking about work, it’s time to start. – I want to get another head done, preferably before the open studio (not likely) and work on some miniatures (on it 🙂 ).