Making Lists

I am keeping about four journals at a time: There is a sketchbook, a notebook both for random and occasional ideas just with different papers. And then I also keep a studio journal. (And a personal journal which I “keep” but unfortunately don’t find the time to enter anything at the moment, but that is a different story.) While the sketchbook and the notebook contain mostly undated stuff that just came to mind, or just needed to be jotted down, the studio book has more ordered entries, contains concrete plans what I want to do, and more importantly, what I did. Sometimes it feels like a waste of time to sit down and write up what I just did, but I think it is worth it. It is so much easier this way to learn from doing. Well, today I started my worktable weekend with sorting my ideas and arrange them in a long list, then re-arrange a selection of things I REALLY want to do by the amount of thinking that still needs to be done (see picture) just to make another to do list in my journal. That felt good and cost the better of the morning. Yes, I like to do lists. Somehow they manage to give me the feeling I already did, what I just wrote down that I wanted to do. For this weekend the lists says: Make a new journal for “consumption”, make leporello (?), make a new “artist’s study book”, wash bottles for messages, continue researching and thinking about them, then make pictures and blog.

stash of scrap paper

Things didn’t go to well at first: The next thing I did was sorting through my large cut-off bin in an attempt to sort them more logically. I failed to do so and just put everything back like it was before. Doh! At least now I knew again what kind of papers I have, and I selected some for the leporello and the consumption journal. The leporello was a total art fail and I won’t talk about it again. The Consumption journal actually got finished; I’ll take a picture tomorrow.

Then the artist’s study book. I already had the papers for the book block ready. So I started of with arranging leathers and fabrics, and thinking about how exactly to make the book.

thinking about materials

I find thinking about books in this studio-series difficult because there are so many variables. The common traits of the books in the series are: Comparably large format, mix of artist papers, “tassles” as book marks for specific sections, bound on raised support, leather+fabric on covers, headband. That leaves a good portion of decisiona open: I still can decide whether it has a completely, partial or not at all exposed binding, there is an abundance of different raised support bindings. There are a lot of different options for the support (what kind of cord – or leather thongs?, visible or not) and so on and so forth. No matter whether I choose a tight or exposed spine binding, the functional parts are always part of the design that can be seen, and so, even more so than with a Coptic binding, the design and the technique have to be thought about at the same time.

reading and planning

I studied different books, foremost I read the chapter about Carolingian bindings in Szirmai, and consulted Smith’s books. So I will be making a contemporary adaptation of a Carolingian binding.

planning cover attachment and decoration

Carolingian books had wooden boards with a thickness of 7-17mm including the covering leather, with V-shaped lacing channels for board attachment. The V was made at an angle with the holes at different heights to avoid splitting the wooden board. At the spine edge, my boards are about 6mm thick.

raw front board

Above you see the outside view of the raw front board: I made a raised design with recesses for cords and with some decoration. Carolingian books were rarely decorated, mostly with blind tooled (floral) designs – or they were overly ornate with jewels and precious metals. So I chose a simple geometric design here to make the books a little more interesting but still rather simple.

inside channels for the cords

I cut a similar (just mirrored) design for the back cover, and on the inside of both covers I also cut shallow channels for the cord to sit in. It won’t be deep enough for the cord to completely vanish, but will lessen the bulk a little, and thus the book will close better.

nice trick: Wet the leather before applying paste to attach it to the boards. This enhances opening time and facilitates working the leather in and around the raised design. The leather should be moist but not soaked.
laying the leather down

Next step is covering the boards. You see the first steps above. The natural end of the leather is visible on the board. I first lay down the leather, then very gently rub it on with the fingers. Only then the leather is worked into all corners of the design with a bone folder, or rather, with two different bone folder.

the design is visible – just before turning in

The boards are finished now, and dry under weights. Tomorrow I’ll start with the sewing.

Sunday, next day: Yawn, the day started early since little girl decided she was done sleeping at 5 am. At least I am early in my studio. The boards dried under weights between felt over night. The day starts with punching more holes:

punching holes for tie downs
this is how all the holes look on the inside covers
lacing in the supports in the front cover

Carolingian bookbinders apparently always started with lacing in the supports in the front cover, then bound pages to that cover to the supports and then added a back cover. Then trimming, lining, covering. So I started like that, too. That made it impossible to have real tension on the supports in the sewing frame, though, and if I to do this again, I’d rather first bind the whole book before attaching boards.

The bookbinders back then did it that way, by the way, because they used a single cord for the double cords and anchored then in the front board by this loop. Thus board attachment on the front- and the back cover is different. For aesthetic reasons, because the method of attachment in visible in my case, I decided to make them symmetric, so there would have been no need to follow this procedure.Well, lesson learned.

done with lacing in and tying down.

Just tying down the cords in their respective channels cost me crazy 90 minutes.


I finished sewing the book just before lunch which appeared magically before me, thanks to a caring husband. (Yesterday I forgot to eat. Oops.)

lacing cords into back cover

To attach the sewing support to the back cover, you force them through deliberately too narrow holes. I don’t enjoy this pulling and twisting and coaxing them though. But if done well, they will hold even without further knotting or sewing just through friction.

done lacing in – yay!

Of course those got tied down, too. – But I forgot to make a detailed picture of that.

Carolingian books had the spine lined with leather longer than the spine. Then endbands got attached through the lining. When the boards were covered with leather it was done with one piece of leather so the spine got covered a second time. After turning in, on the spine the outward leather is again larger than the spine. The two cut cut flush, usually in some kind of arch and then saddle stitched together.  (Look for example here to see examples.) The headband itself often was an unsupported link stitch, like a Coptic headband that doesn’t extent to the boards.

So I made such a headband without a leather lining:

adding an unsupported endband

But I then removed it again because it didn’t fit in color and style. Instead I decided to partially cover the spine (as initially intended, actually).

Then I added the endbands through the tabs. But instead of leaving them long, I rolled them up flush with the book boards.


Sorry the image quality is waning. By now it was rather late. Here is a last picture of the book finally finished:


Well, almost finished. As I am writing this I realize that I forgot to tip in the endsheets that I still wanted to add since there is such extensive stitching on the inside covers. – More work for Wednesday.

While the glue was setting on the spine I at least managed to make the photos I had planned to make. But no work got done on the bottles project which thus still is a secret 🙂 Now the schedule for the remainder of the day/evening: Have a supper, then write some emails and list the two books I just photographed: The playing cards notebook and the jeans book.

Just before packing everything back in I actually have the permissions to post some of the photos of the opening of my solo show. So the plan is to post those early next week and then determine randomly who will receive my owl print. Talk to you then!

8 replies on “Worktable Weekend”

  1. What a comprehensive and fascinating post Hilke! Thank you for taking the time to share this beautiful binding in such detail. It’s wonderful! You work with such precision, and each finished piece is perfect! I’ve long admired your work. 🙂 x

  2. Hi Carol
    That looks amazing. I will study it more closely later.

  3. Wow–I read your post through a couple of times. Fantastic binding! And like the others have said, it’s wonderful to read through your work process. It’s like visiting you in the studio, chatting about how you go about things, and then watching over your shoulder. I like how you take historical structures and tweak them into something modern that have your style and sensibility about them.

    And starting from a beginning at 5am! I’m amazed you didn’t sew the whole thing upside down and backwards…. you are an inspiration!

    Excellent idea, also, to keep a written log of what you’ve done. I’ve attempted something similar in the past, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be disciplined enough… but there have been several times I’ve wished I’d kept better notes on things I’ve finished. Perhaps I should try to follow your example.

    1. Often when I feel to tired from lack of sleep and frustrated from lack of time for myself, I am thinking of hoe you and Amanda manage to work with even harder constrains, and I tell myself: “If they can do it so can you.” Funny how, apparently, it works in the other direction, too 🙂

      And it is not like I started work at 5 am. I just got up with little girl, read to her and made breakfast, and entertained her further until hubby and little boy got up, too. We first had breakfast together, and then I entered the studio. However, when little girl gets up this early, and she does this two days out of three, little boy seems to note that life is starting early and wants to get up, too. On the third day, however, we can coax her into sleeping again and the night lasts until half past seven or so. – Ahhh, the joys of life are getting simple with small children.

      And thanks for your enthusiasm. Of course it pleases me that you like the binding and enjoy my blogging about it, even though it was typed in a hurry and with – as I realize now upon re-reading – a lot of mistypings.

      1. You may not have started at 5am, but your eyes were open from 5am! Agh! (I’m not a morning person myself, in case you couldn’t tell.)

        As for mistypings, I do think we are our own worst critics. I was too focused on your explanations and the pictures to notice.

Comments are closed.