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Islamic Bookbinding with Katherine Beaty

The third presentation I attended (on day 2) at the Guild of Book Workers 2011 Seminar on Standards of Excellence in Hand Bookbinding was Katherine Beaty’s Islamic Bookbinding.

Katherine is my kind of presenter – intelligent, detail-oriented, and very thorough. Seriously, she’s wicked smaht.

Tools and materials for Islamic binding

She explained Islamic bindings can be identified by their flat spines, intricate headbands, and fore edge flaps.

Open book - Islamic binding

This structure wasn’t constructed to support itself on a shelf, so it had to be stored flat. They were read on the lap and not on a table. Sometimes a Rahl, a folding book cradle, would be used to help restrict the opening of the book.

When the book’s text was written, a ruling frame was used to keep the lines spaced evenly. According to Islamic Medical Manuscripts at the National Library of Medicine, the ruling frame was usually constructed of wood and parallel cords. Paper folios would be pressed onto the frame and the cords would leave an imprint on the paper. So cool!

Islamic binding - presentation slide of ruling frame

The surface of the pages was burnished to compact the fibers and to prepare it for fine calligraphy.

Silk thread was used for sewing to reduce spine swell and the color of the thread was usually repeated in the headbands. Two colors are used in the headbands to create the chevron pattern.

Woven headband demonstration card

Woven headband sample

Headband closeup - Islamic binding

Finished endband

Genius tip – put slips of paper inside each signature, like a bookmark. This makes it easier to find the center of the signature while you’re sewing. A leather core was used for the headbands.

Islamic binding headband sewing demonstration

Islamic binding headband sewing demonstration

The fore edge flap was usually 1/2 the width of the front board. The covers were made of pasteboard, which is similar in weight to mat board.

Two pieces of vegetable-tanned goatskin or sheepskin was used for the cover – one for the front board and one for the back board, which included the fore edge flap.

Assembly of leather cover - Islamic binding

Mat board is used in the joints while the cover is pressed.

Part of leather cover - Islamic binding

Decorative stamping was done while the leather was damp. The stamps were often made of brass, leather, or wood and were pressed into the leather using a mallet or press.

The surface of the leather was polished, which created a good surface for painting details with shell gold. Katherine mentioned that mica powder is chemically stable and is a good substitute for shell gold (it’s expensive).

Leather should be mostly dry before using a polishing iron. Katherine said that as an alternative, you could use an antique doorknob for polishing. So cool!

Katherine wrote a paper while at the Art Conservation Department at Buffalo State College21st Century Remedies to 19th Century Repairs of an 18th Century Koran: Materials Analysis, Treatment, and Housing. It’s an interesting read.

Lying press and bookbinding thread

So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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