I was introduced to the concept and importance of "opening action" in a class with Gary Frost at PBI this year. I had never thought much about it before, but it made me very happy to learn about it and to learn why it is good and how it happens and all that good stuff. It also answers some questions that I've been asking myself.
The questions I've been asking myself are primarily concerned with exposed spine bindings like the chain stitch binding and some other similar sewings where the spine of the book is so often left unlined, but which historically would have been lined. I have made some of these chain stitch bindings (popularly termed "coptic") because they seemed to be very common and I thought I should keep up with the Joneses, so to speak. I was never happy with how the covers were just sewn on and just laid there, dead. I wondered if this was really alright, and how durable it would be, and wondered if I was missing something.
To show you what I mean, I made this little video of an exposed-spine chain stitch binding with a very dead cover:
It is dead because it has no relationship with the rest of the book; as if the cover and the book are entirely separate objects. In my class with Gary Frost, he talked at length about the "opening action" of books: the opening of the cover should facilitate the opening of the book. The cover and the text block should function together. In this class we made a book that demonstrated the opening action really well so I am beginning to understand what is happening.
I decided to try infusing life into this chain stitch binding with the dead cover. This is the result, showing the same book with opening action:
Achieving the opening action just requires a few extra steps and ultimately a covered spine. I prefer a covered spine anyway. The whole point of a book's covering is to protect the textblock, and an exposed spine isn't very well protected, is it?
For those of you who are now thinking, "oh no! the book won't open flat anymore," do not worry, it will still lie flat.
I made a couple of these chain stitch bindings with opening-action-improvements; however, I don't particularly like sewing the chain stitch binding so I started sewing onto raised cords instead, which, I think, is a more suitable binding for various reasons. And the raised cords look really cool.
The book shown here with the really dark brown cover is made from wooden boards given to me by Simon over at Paper Curious when we swapped a while back and I'm keeping that one. The others are made with wooden covers that my Dad prepared for me, thanks Dad! He made them using a variety of hardwoods: teak, oak, cherry, and maple. Those are available on Etsy.