Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Learning how to get knocked up (the right way)

Last Thursday Neil walked up behind me and said, Now that's what I call a bad knock-up job.
I replied, He's actually a lovely kid, now he's grown up a little. BOOM TISH!

Actually, it was a bad knock-up job. This is what it looked like:

I'm talking about bookbinding. I've decided to take myself back to TAFE and learn Teh Traditional Way of binding books. And it's a humbling experience. I'm being taught by someone who works as a conservation bookbinder at the National Library by day, and has been teaching adult education by night for years. He really knows his stuff.

When I explained what I did for a living he wanted to start me doing something quite complex, but I talked him into starting me from the very beginning, because I want to see things that I've just read in books. No one has ever shown me simple things like how to apply glue properly, so it's time to find out.

I don't know about you, but this photo makes my mouth water. Look at all that book cloth! We have about three rolls at the Book Studio, and a smattering of implements, but here they have everything you need: bookcloth, endpapers, paperstock, thread, headbands, embossing machines, and all the proper tools.

Follow the photo link back to flickr to see this image with explanatory notes!

So far I've done a Quarter Binding (I seem to have lost my photo of this), which is the old way they used to do school exercise books: simply sewn, cloth spine, and pasted paper covers with the raw cardboard edges after it is trimmed.

The Bad Knockup Job above is my first attempt to sew a 'proper' spine with tapes. My tension isn't steady and I didn't hold the book-block spine firmly after knocking it against the bench to make it straight before glueing. So when I put it on its side and weighted it, the spine was crooked. And the cardboard I was using between the weight and the table flaked off onto the paper from my wayward glueing. And therefore it was a bad job. And thus Neil told me so, quite bluntly.

I like Neil tremendously, because he's very encouraging, highly knowledgable and able to tell me easily when I'm wrong, why I'm wrong, and what I can do about it. People like that are worth the hefty course fee.

As well as learning to make books, he's also teaching me to restore old books. I cast around my bookshelves to find a worthy first contender, something fun but not overly precious, and decided upon Georgette Heyer's Regency Buck. Fantastic title, and a ripping read. Originally bound in a jaunty pink, it had fallen apart over years of someone's avid reading, and faded badly on the spine.

I ripped off her bodice, and started teasing at the layers... when you pull off an old spine, there's a lot of hard, crusty adhesive matter, and no matter how gently you tease it, some of it just will not move without tearing the paper sections. Neil's solution was a paste 'poultice', slathered on and left for anything from half an hour to a number of hours.

I thought this might wet the bookblock too much, but we carefully avoided the actual paper, and only covered the crusty stuff. I only had an hour to leave it on, but when we cleaned off the spine after that hour, removing the crust was a lot easier, and I now have a relatively clean spine to work with:

There's still a bit of yellow goop to prise out, but most of the really hard stuff is gone. Those black dots are what gives the binder the order of the book sections without having to look at the page numbers. Book restoration, I'm finding, is akin to archaeology. This is a machine-stitched book, and the stitches are still pretty firm, so I'm not unpicking it. I'm going to make a brand new hard cover for it -- again in a jaunty pink -- and emboss some gold lettering on the spine. Then Georgette will be a thing of beauty on my shelf.

This week I have to miss a class because of a prior commitment, and so I have to wait another week for my fix of wheat paste and bookcloth. Still, I've been printing a lot, and next time I can steal a few moments (far and few between right now) I'll tell you about that.


lucy tartan said...

This really is the best blog ever. Can't wait to see the new Miss Heyer all trussed up in her freshly jauntified pink duds.

Anonymous said...

You get good TAFE subjects over there.

I've been trying to sign up for a darkroom class over here so I can try to become a better photographer and it's darned near impossible to find one that isn't a million miles away and run at some ridiculous time, like on a Monday morning.

Mummy/Crit said...

That sounds like a great course. TAFE is fantastic in general - I've always wanted to do a chicken sexing course, but the only bloke who taught it the last time I checked was at some rural location and expensive. So I ended up studying childcare.

I envy your future book binding/restoration skills. I have old books that need fixing, but I think they're past it (my mum and uncles' AA Milne - depression era copies). I"ve been feeling that springy craft itch again....I want to _do_ something.

Jennifer said...

i'm so jealous. i've mostly taught myself bookbinding from books. your class looks incredible!

worldpeace and a speedboat said...




Ducky, you make me so jealous. I've learned how to make simple books and solander boxes but that's just not enough... I need to do a bookbinding course.

not just want. need!

I think the only way to do it in sydney is a private course in the venings. nothing at TAFE that I know of.


btw -


Kerryn Goldsworthy said...


anyresemblance said...

hey, i just bought two georgette heyer's for the covers - I can't wait to see what your's looks like