Leather Binding Fundamentals with Karen Hanmer – Day 2

Day two of Leather Binding Fundamentals at the Wells College Book Arts Summer Institute has come to a close. I think I’m finally settling into the routine here. I’m especially digging the coffee break at 3:00 p.m.

The first thing we did was trim our cover boards. The boards were originally oversized so we could customize them based on the resulting dimensions of our text block.

Hand-sewn text block with covers

Next came headbands. I love sewing headbands. Actually, I love sewing in general, but headbands are especially fun. The beginning is a bit tough, as things can be loosey-goosey. It gets easier as you go along and the stitches eventually get snuggly with the text block.

The headband core was made of a sandwich of leather and vellum. We cut a piece of core to be a smidge shorter than the size of our squares. The type of headband we made was a single core with a front bead.

Headband sewing in progress

Looking okay from the back…

Headband sewing in progress

My beads were a bit inconsistent, but I was able to adjust them by finagling with a microspatula. Mmm…stripey.

Hand-sewn headband

After trimming off the excess core, we secured our stitches to the spine with Japanese tissue.

We made a different type of headband on the other end of our books – a rolled leather headband. This one took much less time to put together. I think I might have trimmed the ends a bit too short.

Rolled leather headband

Rolled leather headband

Our next task was to carve channels in our covers to allow the text block tapes to lie flush with the surface of the board. Channels were also carved into the inside spine edge of the covers. I’m not sure why, but I love seeing a bunch of penciled scribble on the cover of a book in progress.

Carved out channels on book covers

We added thin strips of 2-ply mat board to the spine edge of our boards, in between the cut channels and at the head and tail. This was to help counteract the anticipated shrinking of our covering leather.

Spacers on the spine edge of the cover boards

Karen taught us a nifty trick for lacing in our tapes. We wrapped the tips of each one in blue tape and cut them off at an angle on each side to create a needle. It really helped with getting the tapes through the cover slots.

Using blue tape to create needles for lacing in tapes

See? I told you it worked.

Tapes laced into the cover boards

We loosened our tapes and brushed PVA into the carved channels. We also glued both sides of our tapes so that when we pulled them through the slots, adhesive would get on the inside, helping to secure them. After the tapes were pulled taut and glued into position, we hammered them down. The ends of the tapes were then trimmed. On the outside of the covers, we added a layer of Japanese tissue over the recessed areas.

Tapes laced into the cover boards and secured with Japanese tissue

At this point, we had to put our books into the nipping press. If you were everyone else, you put styrene sheets in between the covers and the text block. If you were me, you spaced on this detail and used mylar instead. Thankfully, it came out of the press just fine.

Hand-sewn book in the nipping press

Arches text weight paper was used for the inner board lining. We used paste for this step because it creates a pull to counteract the opposing pull of the leather covering material. It will be interesting to see how the covers eventually balance out.

After pasting down the linings, we wrapped our text blocks in saran wrap (capping up) and let our covers dry overnight (and get their dangle on).

Text block and covers drying overnight

That’s the end of another fun and full day! Tomorrow we start leather work…oh boy…

I leave you with today’s gems from Karen:

Don’t do that. Be better than me.


Your text block is a wonderful blotter that you may never use.


This will be my last retreat to my seat of shame.

4 Responses to “Leather Binding Fundamentals with Karen Hanmer – Day 2”

By patti.harden - 28 July 2016 Reply

I’m envious. Looks so fun

By Elissa - 31 July 2016 Reply

Patti –

It is fun, but lots of hard work.


By Hilke - 3 October 2016 Reply

Mhm, many yummy details. – And many details! I never thought of adding mouting board to the board’s edge! May I ask what thread you used for the headband?

By Elissa - 5 October 2016 Reply

Hilke –

If I remember correctly, we used Gütermann silk thread.


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