Medieval on the Go: The Girdle Book with Karen Hanmer – Day 1

I just finished my first day of Karen Hanmer‘s workshop, Medieval on the Go: The Girdle Book. This is the third workshop I’ve taken with Karen at the Focus on Book Arts conference (not all this time around). I guess I like her!

The girdle book is a bit of an odd duck of a book that makes a lot of sense – the structure has a leather extension off the bottom of it (like a tail) that allows the owner to attach it to his or her belt. Karen told us that there are only 23 known examples of girdle books in existence and those date from 1400 to 1550.

Although the book we’re working on is a medieval structure, we’re also using some modern techniques in its construction. We started out by preparing 24 signatures for sewing.

Folded paper signatures

Count ’em – they’re all there

We used something called Pergamenata for the single leaf hooked endsheets. It feels a lot like vellum – it was very thick and somewhat difficult to fold. And kinda hard to glue.

After that, we punched holes in our signatures and got ready to sew. Since I flew to OR for the conference, I couldn’t bring my own sewing frame with me. Thankfully, Karen had little baby sewing frames available for us travelers.

Sewing frame

The book is sewn on double cords with packed sewing. You wrap the thread around the cords as you work across the spine and ideally, you shouldn’t be able to see any of the cord between your stitches. That didn’t quite work out with my sewing – I had issues with my tension and the cords were loosey-goosey. But it’s my learning book, so I’m okay with that.

Some sewing happened…

Binding a book on double cords

…and more sewing…

Binding a book on double cords

…and then 3+ hours later, it was done! Well, at least the sewing was done.

Binding a book on double cords

The next step was to use a bone folder to flatten down the spine edge of the signatures. This was to eliminate some of the extra space between the folds where glue likes to sink in. We worked a PVA/paste mixture into the spine with our fingers.

We didn’t round the spine using a hammer. Instead, we started the process by pushing down on the edges of the spine with our hands. After that, we put the text blocks in between boards and into a finishing press. We added more paste to the spine to soften it – the PVA mixture was drying too fast. Then we worked the spine some more using a bone folder.

I freely admit that I am not good at rounding. My book is roundish and that’s good enough for me.

Text block in finishing press

The final step of the day was to add the first spine lining, a thin suede. We cut out slots in the suede so that the lining rested in between the stitching/cords – it did not extend over the kettle stitches at the head and tail. We applied the PVA/paste mixture to the spine and glued down the lining.

Text block and spine lining

The ends of the cords were pulled through the slots to the outside of the lining. We finished off the lining with a layer of paste on top.

Text block with glued-down spine lining

It was a full day! I’ll leave you with some awesome Karen quotes:

In general, don’t be like me.

Yakkity, yakkity, yakkity…spine lining, spine lining, spine lining.

One Response to “Medieval on the Go: The Girdle Book with Karen Hanmer – Day 1”

By Anonymous - 26 June 2015 Reply

Wow! Looks awesome to me.

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

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