Saturday, July 17, 2010

Beautiful Books & beautiful baby!

Earlier this week, I visited the Anna Leonowens Gallery, which is an art gallery at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. There were two concurrent exhibits that I wanted to see.

The first exhibit was all the winning books of the 2010 Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada. Thirty books were selected for the awards, chosen from 252 entries published in 2009, from 108 different Canadian publishers.

It was nice to see so many beautifully designed books all in one place. I especially liked one of the children's books City Alphabet by Joanne Swartz, which received an honorable mention in that category. It is a modern abcedarian using imagery and words captured in our urban landscape. A couple of the books in the reference category were among my favorites too. Living Proof: the Essential Data-Collection Guide for Indigenous Use-and-Occupancy Map Surveys is a gorgeous book. The title may not sound very exciting to some, but the presentation of the content is irresistible - even if you don't have a penchant for reference books!


I was disappointed to find that the winners in the Limited Edition category were not on display, boo! I would have liked to see those. If you are interested, there is a full list of the winners on the Alcuin Society's blog.

The second exhibit, was Tactile Notebooks and the Written Word. This was a collection of journals filled with all manner of text, image, object, etc, that were created by NSCAD students in a class where their goal was to "to heighten their sensory experience, expand understanding in unexpected directions, and deepen their artistic vision." It was fascinating to flip through these books and see and feel what each of the artists conveyed.


This visit to the Anna Leonowens Gallery was refreshing since I have been just a little out-of-touch with the book world over the past few weeks. Obviously, since I haven't added anything to my blog for over a month! Apologies for that. As some of you know, my little girl Mallory was born on June 20th so she has been distracting me! As we settle into a new routine, I plan to get back into my bookbinding studio occasionally.

Introducing Mallory! Born June 20, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A little history of the Chain Stitch


Early multi-section Coptic codices
Dating from the 2nd century AD, the Copts used a chain stitch to bind multi-section books. In most documented cases, it seems that these books were sewn with a continuous thread and a single needle. The first and last sewing stations thus having half the number of loops as the other sewing stations. There are variations in the chain stitches from this period, though, since the technique was still in development. The cover would be made separately & attached after the textblock was sewn, covering the book completely including the spine. The textblock was attached by pasting it directly to the covers.

Later Coptic codies
After about the seventh century, there are very few extant Coptic bindings and most remnants are very badly damaged but it is evident that the chain stitch was still used. It also seems that the cover boards started being attached as part of the sewing process – unlike the separate attachment of the cover described above for the early Coptic codices.

Ethiopian Codices
Dating from about the sixteenth century, chain stitch binding had also evolved in Ethiopia. These books typically had paired sewing stations, sewn using two needles for each pair of sewing stations (so if there are 2 holes, use 2 needles…or 6 holes, 6 needles etc). The covers were wooden and attached by sewing through holes made into edge of the board. Most of these books were left uncovered without endbands.

Byzantine bindings
There were also Islamic bookbinding methods employing the link stitch, and Byzantine/Greek bookbinding methods using a link stitch. An interesting variation employed by the Greeks was sewing the sections in two groups, then joining them so the chains meet in the middle. This makes it look like the chain stitches change direction in the middle of the row. The Byzantine bindings are more likely to have elaborate endbands which are worked onto supports and anchored to the cover boards through holes in the boards. These books typically had full leather coverings.

This quick summary is largely based on information in Szirmai’s text, The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding. There are five chapters dedicated to link stitch bindings so this is really a miniscule summary of what I read.

There is some debate surrounding the various terms used to described the chain stitch binding methods that are so often used today, especially concerning the very loose application of the term "Coptic binding." Ekthesis has a nice article about the Coptic binding which includes some discussion of these issues.

Photo courtesy of The Crafty Kitten
Originally posted to the BEST Blog, Oct 2007