Sunday, November 02, 2008

More about Coptic Sewings

I had a few people ask me about the Coptic endbands after my previous post. I answered a couple of emails, responded to an inquiry through Flickr and just now also in the comments here on my blog. So, I'm going to post about it again and maybe answer questions for a few other people too.

I have seen instructions for sewing Coptic endbands in just one book, Making & Keeping Creative Journals by Tourtillott. I found the instructions difficult to follow, and I'm not sure that I actually ended up doing it quite the way it was described, but I had some success with it. There may be a better resource - if anyone has a suggestion - please share. Edit: Headbands: How to Work Them by Jane Greenfield is apparently a better resource! thanks for sharing that, Marloes.

One of the other questions was, would these endbands help stabilize the book's spine and prevent it from skewing diagonally. The short answer is, Yes. And if this kind of skewing is a problem for you, keep in mind that this kind of chain stitch binding is not well suited to big or thick books. So if you are making a really big and thick book with many signatures, an unsupported and exposed chain stitch is not a good choice. On the other hand, when used on a smaller slim book, the unsupported, exposed, chain stitch could be perfect!

This question also led me to my bookshelf, to refer to Szirmai's descriptions of the early and late Coptic bindings because I seemed to recall that these bindings were not really meant to have exposed spines. In his description of the early multi-quire Coptic bindings (pre 7th Century), Szirmai describes one example which had leather strips pasted across the spine, then a larger piece of leather pasted over the whole spine surface, obviously completely covering the chain stitching. And in the later Coptic bindings, Szirmai writes that the chain stitch bindings of that period had cloth pasted to the spine for stability. Usually a coarse blue cloth, pasted directly onto the spine and extended on both sides and pasted to the outside of the cover boards.

Here is a beautiful example of a leather-covered spine, from Kaija, Paperiaarre. Thanks for finding that perfect example for me, Astrid!

To some, it may seem crazy to cover up the beauty of a well-formed chain stitch, but if a book is meant to be durable and reliable, then having a binding that is functional and effective should be more important than having an exposed spine. As always, I keep ranting about structures. So now I'm wondering, what's my point? We just need to keep this stuff in mind when designing books. All the different elements have to work together. And if a binding needs support, then support it.


Marloes said...

Much better: "Headbands, how to work them" by Jane Greenfield. Not a book with glossy pictures, but more like Keith Smith's books.

tulibri said...

"It may seem crazy to cover up the beauty of a well-formed chain stitch," -- that's probably from our today-perspective? I imagine that back in ancient times, the beautiful chain-stitch was just the "ordinary necessity". Apart from this, I find leather covered coptic spines very appealing when they are done like this :-)

DangAndBlast! said...

Several of my pocket-sized books (text from Gutenberg) are done that way -- sewn with chain stitch only, and then given a standard full leather cover, with an unlined spine attached directly to the text block spine. Makes lovely lines across the spine like in the book tulibri posted, still opens nice and flat, but doesn't have the fragility (caused by other things in my pocket wedging themselves in between signatures!) that straight-up exposed-spine coptic would have.

Rhonda said...

thanks marloes, i should add that t my little description. i also should try to get a copy of that book for myself!

tulibri i agree completely. i'm sure that's true, they were not concerned with the appearance of their chain stitch as so many people are now. Thanks for sharing that link, that's a fabulous example! I'm going to add that to the main post - I was looking for an example and couldn't find one last night.

dangandblast, so true, the books become much stronger and durable with that covered spine.
Hmmm. The term Coptic is being overused and misused all the time. The "coptic" binding that is so widespread now, with exposed spine and paper boards etc, should be given a new name. It has evolved into its own form. Then we could more easily distinguish between the contemporary exposed spine chain stitch, and an actual Coptic binding!

Anonymous said...

Brava! I like your idea of renaming the modern exposed spine stitches. It becomes too confusing, especially for the novice, to call everything Coptic.
From here on, I shall refer to it as "exposed chain stitch."

jai and Lauren Soloy said...

Hi Rhonda,
Thanks so much for clarifing that! I really appreciate the info, and also all the thoughts that you and others have shared on the nature of coptic binding. Now to hunt down those books... :)

Puglette said...

Hi Rhonda,
Thank you for visiting my little blog. Your books are wonderful!

... Paige said...

good info and thanks for posting who won the spooky book contest.