If you're jumping straight into this post without reading part 1, that's fine by me, there's nothing here that absolutely requires preexisting knowledge about my bookbinding studies, but if you're curious, you can read part 1 here. Now, let's get started!
The main focus of my bookbinding studies was on the fine binding side of things, perhaps because it's the hardest to master and requires most practice, but perhaps also because that's what the people in charge appreciated the most. My favourite decorating technique was back pared leather onlays (used on the book above, and many others), right from the start. I think I was taught that while still on the artesan program, though it most definitely wasn't on the syllabus at that stage. I'm not really sure we actually even had a syllabus most of the time, but it worked for me. My teacher kept teaching me new things whenever he saw I'd finished with the previous task, and that's something I really appreciated even then. He also forced me to practice hand gilding even though it was something I really didn't like doing (and I still don't - the technique I use for my gilt linen books is worlds away from hand gilding fancy ass leather books), which I appreciate now, despite never doing it anymore.
These two books are from the first months of my bookbinding studies. The blue one is the first quarter leather binding I ever made (I protested against combining cloth and leather even then). The difference between the two is obviously huge - lots and lots of progress in a short time. Headcaps don't just happen accidentally. (Headcap is that part of leather turned in and molded into a nice crescent shape at the head (and tail) of the spine.) Just hearing the theory of how a headcap is formed is pretty much meaningless until the first time you actually try it yourself and feel how leather behaves and just how quickly or slowly the paste begins to dry. Different dyes and tanning lots result in hides that seem to behave differently - sometimes leather is stiffer and needs to be pared thinner than usual, etc. - and it takes lots of practising to recognise how this particular piece of leather needs to be treated in order to get the wanted results. Maybe if I'd have had money for grade I leathers while studying, I'd never run into all the problems and learnt how to solve them. And no, I still have never worked with grade I leather.
Just in case you're interested, that dotted edge was done with a pyrography pen.
This book was made on a fine binding course taught by Lester Capon. He was quite unsurprisingly one of my favourite teachers - always generous with his knowledge, super patient with his students, some of whom knew no English at all, and just a perfect gentleman (we don't usually run into many of those in that particular neck of the woods). The focus of his course was on leather doublures stretching from edge to edge - see, that terracotta leather on the inside cover is what we call a leather doublure (must come from French, that word...). My book is far from perfect and after all these years it's still missing the cover decoration I never got round to designing. Now I feel that if I planned and finished a design for it, I'd be tempted to sell it and it's not really a book I want to let go of. I wish I had saved more of my work just for myself.
As I was saying, fine binding was the thing we were expected to focus on. Sure the artisan students did thesis binding and that sort of menial tasks, but the others got away with it most of the time. My interest in making modern versions of historical bindings was not exactly greeted with open arms. This tiny book (about a 5cm / 2" square) is a link stitch binding with reindeer vellum covers. I taught myself the technique from Keith Smith's book about non-adhesive bindings, as our school had an extensive library of books about bookbinding to help a girl out when sailing to uncharted territories.
Luckily not all teachers were hostile towards the "craftier" techniques. This Coptic binding with double leather covers and Ethiopian headbands was made under the watchful eye of Nina Judin. It's a shame for the world of bookbinding she's no longer making her amazing books, but I can't blame her for pursuing other great dreams. Nina visited us a few times, teaching historical bindings as well as a wonderful course about the philosophy of craftsmanship (which is a subject I totally should write a post one day). I made one of my favourite books on her course and she always brought such a good energy to the classroom with her. Being around other people isn't always that great for me, so I really appreciate it when a teacher manages to free up most of the energy I usually end up wasting on tolerating sensory stimuli.
The pages in this book are of mixed colours and varieties. The fore-edge flap closure was decorated by hammering and tooling a texture with a metal bone folder onto the leather, painting over with acrylic paint and sanding over the dried paint. The flap closure was also stiffened and reinforced by gluing on a layer of reindeer vellum to the reverse side.
If you have any questions about my bookbinding studies I've not yet written about, do leave a comment below, and I'll do my best to answer in the next post!
surprise bonus: my favourite books about bookbinding
Both during my studies and after, I've found one bookbinding book more helpful than any other. The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding by J.A. Szirmai is a treasure trove for anyone interested in historical binding structures. It doesn't have tutorials per se, but it has detailed illustrations a person with basic knowledge about bookbinding techniques can interpret. It's an expensive book, so I recommend checking it out at a library if you're not quite sure what you're after.
If you're more interested in fine binding, Jen Lindsay's Fine Bookbinding - a technique guide is the way to go. I'd say it's a book very near perfection. It's a really detailed step by step guide that explains not only what to do, but also why you're doing it. Understanding the whys is absolutely essential in my opinion.