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[BKARTS] Technique for hand made trade books



I just wrote the following for a private inquiry, so I thought some on the
list might be interested as well.  My correspondent was interested in
using  Singer sewing machine to sew books.  She was concerned about needle
breakage.  I haven't had any problems with needle breakage.  I have sewn up
to 48pp chapbooks with this technique, using 24lb inkjet or multipurpose
office paper.  That's on the extreme end, and the machine needs a run at it
to pierce the paper.  It stalls when the needle is in contact with the
paper to start with.  It needs to be near the top of its cycle.  The stitch
should be as long as possible: set the regulator all the way down the slot,
even beyond the numbers, if possible.  Close stitches considerably weaken
the paper, so the section should have a wide margin top and bottom without
stitching to prevent tearing in use.  Wet gluing with PVA actually repairs
some of this damage, because it tends to seep down the needle
holes.  Consequently, good clamping pressure is needed to prevent undesired
glue patches at the centre of sections.  However, it is also not necessary
to leave a long tag of thread or to knot to prevent unravelling of the
stitches.

I have used standard sewing thread, and thicker stuff.  Both work, and I
think I wouldn't bother with the thicker thread again.

The most difficult problem is to get the sewing straight and in the right
position.  Clamp a ruler onto the sewing platform so that the outboard edge
of the pages stops against it, and the section is guided under the needle
at the centre of the page.  The inside edge may not fit flat in the bow of
the machine, but it may curve up without difficulty.  Each section is
placed so that the inside fold is up -- that is, so that consecutive facing
pages appear under the needle.  This means that the needle piercing is
smooth on the inside, and ragged on the book back.  Start about an inch or
two from the top edge, and sew down to an inch or two from the bottom
edge.  Then push through until the next section can be started.  The sewing
needs to guided lightly, but not forced.  Light pressure with the tips of
the fingers is all that is needed, more on the inside half of the sheet
than on the outer, as this will gently guide the sheets against the
guide.  I print so that the book sections are pre-collated: all the
sections in a book are consecutively stacked in a feed pile beside the
machine.  Pick off a section at a time, usually four sheets for a section
or signature of sixteen pages, knock up and sew.  Sew up to a hundred
sections or more in one string.

The string of sections falls down into a basket on the far side of the
machine.  Cut apart and stack the sections, and then pull through the
inside tail end from the back of each section, so the inside (visible)
stitching is blind (no tag ends).  This is done by catching the last loop
on the back in each stitch row with a sharp awl, and then pulling the loop
through.  Then fold the sections, crease or nip them and collate them into
book blocks, add folded end papers, and knock up into as big a collection
of blocks as can be easily managed.  This depends on the size of the book,
the clamping arrangement, and how well the folded sections have been
creased or nipped.  When in doubt, gather fewer sections at a time, as the
difficulty of knocking up and clamping increases with size.  When satisfied
with the alignment and clamping, clip off the thread ends as close to the
back as possible, and glue up.  I use a standard book grade PVA over all
the back.  If the books are less than about eight or more sections, lay on
the glue quite thick, and do not use cloth super or other
reinforcement.  With a bigger book, use enough glue to wet the whole back,
and to fill in the rounds between sections, but not excess, as a
reinforcement will be applied later.  This stack is left to dry until the
wet glue is all at least tacky, and then the stack is unclamped and slit
apart into individual book blocks between end paper pairs.  This is easily
done with a fairly blunt knife.  If the glue has not dried sufficiently, it
may tend to pull away from the back.  However, when it has dried
sufficiently, there is no problem.

With or without the cloth, the back will end up a bit thicker over the
stitching, and the head and tail will therefore stand a bit away from the
back.  This is not desirable, and paper or cloth with glue can be used to
restore the level across the whole spine, if time is not of the
essence.  This can be done with paper during initial gluing, and slit when
separating the blocks.  At this time it takes little extra time.  The only
disadvantage is that it does stiffen the spine somewhat, and make slitting
a bit more difficult.  If the blocks are to be case bound, a headband can
be laid in this way.  The only problem is that a sharper knife has to be
used to cut the bands, and there is danger of slicing the end papers while
separating them.  It is best to use two knives for this: a sharp one for
the headbands, and a duller one for the rest of the block.

If the block is to be reinforced, the blocks are individually placed in a
clamp or lying press, or simply set in a collating frame or other suitable
support and fresh glue is applied to the back.  A suitable strip of cloth
is laid down when the glue is the right tack to hold it in place.  For this
I like a thin nylon gauze, but super or mull or muslin will also
serve.  The main problem with using a household Singer to sew books is that
the stitches are at most a tenth of an inch apart: far closer than standard
book stitches.  So standard super or mull does not fit well between the
stitches, and there is no particular advantage to using it.  Any fairly
open weave cloth will serve.  If the initial glue is remeltable, the fabric
can be glued in by ironing it on.  There should be half an inch to an inch
of material on each side of the back, which is why the cloth is not applied
during initial gluing.  The side flaps will later attach to the end paper
and cover, reinforcing the cover hinge.  To facilitate folding, care should
be taken not to apply excess glue, so that the hinges are essentially glue
free.  They will receive enough glue later, during backing.

Backing is a simple matter of laying a bead of PVA into the pre-folded
cover, and dropping the book in.  I use covers produced by ink jet
printing, and cold-laminated with a 3M machine.  The methods can be applied
to books from chap book size all the way up to large tomes.  If the book
has cloth reinforcing, this can be glued or pasted down to the end papers
before dropping it into the cover.  This operation can be as simple as
swiping a brush load of paste down the exposed end papers under the cloth
flaps before pushing down into the cover.  There is no need to let this dry
before assembly, unless you experience problems with cockling in the book
pages, or other excess water defects from covering.  In that case, paste
down the cloth against the end papers, insert tins or plastic barriers, and
press until dry.

The completed book is then placed back down between a pair of bricks or
weights, so that the cover is held closed, and the book rests against its
spine.  The block is pressed down to ensure that it is fully inserted, and
then left to dry.  The critical part of this operation is to ensure that
the cover is accurately creased so that the book block fits.  If it is too
narrow, the block will not easily press down flat against the back, and a
gap may remain.  If it is too wide, there will be no difficulty in gluing,
but the book will end up wider at the spine than at the fly edge, and this
may give problems in trimming in a clamp, as the excess space will be
crushed, and the book may end up deformed at the spine.  With care, and if
the book block is well formed, the groove can be made self-gauging by
making only one crease, gluing in and then folding the second crease
against the book block while the glue is still wet.  This requires
considerably more skill that using a preformed back, but there is less
danger of the defect noted above.  The danger is that the back will not
achieve a sharp edge, and may be rounded with glue voids.  A hybrid
technique that takes more time is to assemble dry, make the second fold
against the book block, disassemble and finish the second fold true and
sharp, and then glue up as above.

If there is too much PVA in the cover groove, or the reinforcement paste is
not dry enough, then there is danger of water damage to the cover or book
block.  Tins or plastic barriers can be used to protect the book block, but
it is not possible to protect the cover.  Therefore, it is imperative to
take care not to over glue, and to use stiff paste for the reinforcement
paste down.  For this reason it is well to let the blocks dry thoroughly
before covering.

Trimming is done as usual, in a plough or guillotine.  If the books are to
be case bound between hard covers, the trimming is done before backing.

This technique was developed as a way of making hand made (very short run)
trade style books for poetry publishing in Canada, where the market is too
small to support contracted out trade work.  Accordingly, all of the steps
above have been refined to save time, and corners have been cut where
possible consistent with achieving a durable, serviceable and attractive
product.  The resulting books are very similar to sewn signature trade
books, and are probably more durable, because of the flexibility of the PVA
contrasted to most hot-melt glues commonly used.  They feature double fly
leaf end papers which are used to prevent glue-down of the title and back
pages from excess glue from the spine during covering.  This permits the
book to have a reinforced spine and a strong hinge without excessively
stiffening it.  We are also producing books with cds bound into the back
covers.

The same general techniques can be applied to perfect bound book
blocks.  With double fan adhesive technique in the book block, a fully
adhesive structure can be made which is a bit less flexible, but otherwise
quite durable and serviceable.  I use this technique to make a low labour
Asian style binding with no stitching.  Pages are printed on one side only,
with the fly edges toward the spine.  They are then folded, collated and
knocked up to the folds, and trimmed to fit a cover at the fly edges, which
are actually the spine.  The covers are pretrimmed to size on the fore
edge, and the book is glued by inserting the glued blocks as above.  Head
and tail may then be trimmed after gluing.  With very small books, the book
block can be inserted unglued, and head and tail trimming forgone as
well.  I have used this technique on our children's books, for use by
school age kids.  The resulting books are very easy to produce, but also
very attractive and durable.

These techniques can be refined in numerous ways, as for example by linking
the sections by tying them together with the free thread ends.  However I
do not consider these refinements seriously, because the whole exercise is
aimed at producing market priced books by hand.  Where there is liberty to
spend time, I prefer to apply it to making books sewn and bound with
traditional techniques and their variants.

That's about it. If you have any questions, ask. Gavin

***********************************************

MDE - Innovation 2004: An International Bookbinding Design Competition
                      60,000 Euro in total prizes
             Full information at <http://www.mde2004.org/>
           E N T R Y  D E A D L I N E  -- J U N E 1, 2 0 0 4


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