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[BKARTS] Limp Vellum Binding



Hi rj... sounds like you have a good foundation to begin your project. Your paper cases had turned under edges, yes?
This is probably not very useful to you but perhaps will help some.


Its supposed simplicity insures that a good vellum case requires careful judgement and attention to your material's behavior if it is to work well. It is one of those "just gotta learn by doing it" things and as you already know, vellum is unlike any other binding material.

Did you read Cockerell online for his section on limp vellum cases? Not totally applicable but every bit will help.

If your skin is rolled up you want first to let it go flat. Resting a day or so under a few pieces of binders board will usually do the trick. Keep it there as your project proceeds.

You treat vellum much as you would paper in terms of scoring and folding, though the vellum takes more pressure. Also, one most often pares the flesh side edges of the turnunders, makes relief cuts (punched stop holes and cut slits to those holes) on the spine folds of the head and tail turnunders (reducing the bulk of the doubled vellum), and incorporates one of the styles of self locking corners. Does any of this sound familiar from other work?

As to the stiffness of your vellum it is not possible to judge at a distance.Your vellum cover is not meant to bend on a single line along the spine edge as boarded cases do but rather to flex, to bow across its width. And how large is the book? Weight of paper? You are making a machine whose work must flow and the niceties are only learned by experience.
So you must wing this part. Ready?


Check your flattened vellum for thickness all over; often you will find considerable variation over a large skin. Identify the area you wish to use on the hair side (the thickness across your chosen area should be even) using a window whose cutout is the size vellum you need for a case. If necessary (its a good idea until you have many cases under your belt) make a dummy case of cheap paper which you can adjust until you are satisfied and use that to make the window.

On the hair side punch needle holes at the four outside corners of the window then on the flesh side connect the dots with fine pencil lines. The spine of the case should run parallel to the spine of the skin. Don't cut the piece out yet.

Now cut out a small piece, but at least 2"x4", adjacent to the area you reserved for your case. Heavily score a line on the flesh side 3/4" in from and parallel to one long edge of this sample with a folder. You want a fine edge on the scoring folder but not so sharp as to cut the vellum; I prefer to use a very dull awl (it concentrates your force) with a smooth well rounded point. Some people suggest scoring with a needle or sharp awl. Don't do it! You will cut into the goodness of your skin and weaken it.
Score against a steel straight edge using lots of pressure on the ruler so it doesn't slip.


After scoring (make more than one stroke if necessary to get a clear, well defined, and deeply impressed mark), and keeping full pressure on the steel, use the awl or folder to lift the vellum from the hair side up and against the straight edge, pressing the fold vertical. If your vellum is at all thick you will need a fair amount of force on the folder or awl (and several strokes) but always more pressure on the steel to keep the edge from moving. Once the fold is vertical set the steel aside and use your fingers and folder to press the fold flat. Crease this piece at a right angle to the folded edge and you have a model of a spine corner of your case to be. Cut along the creases of the spine folds of the 3/4" turnunder to within 1/4" of the edge. This cut should actually be two cuts, the removed piece being wedge shaped and centered on the crease, like making a very narrow dart in sewing, the dart pointing to the outside edge. At the point of this dart punch a 2 mm hole (centered on the crease) to prevent the cuts from becoming a tear.

Flex your sample, examine all creases, and make a judgement as to whether the vellum is too thick. You are going to have to call upon your experience with paper cases. Perhaps you need a larger sample to judge?

If the vellum feels too stiff at the folded edge (it should bow not crimp as you flex it) you can reduce the thickness of your vellum before you cut the case out (easier and safer than after) by sanding or scraping the flesh side at the folds and turnunders.

One last suggestion is that you make a full size practice case out of two, three, or four ply card stock (try to match the stiffness of your vellum) and get some more feel up front.
Best, James


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