After having so many guest bloggers this summer, it is my turn now, to write about another one of the PBI classes. I absolutely loved this class taught by Adam Larsson. Partly because these book structures have been a particular interest of mine for several years and as such, I have actually made a lot of books like this and have tried to incorporate the techniques into a lot of my work. More importantly though, this would be the first time that I ever had instruction from an expert in this area, from someone who is working with actual historical examples of these books, from the 13th or 14th centuries that he has examined and studied first-hand.
My previous experience with this type of binding, was all based on tidbits of information here and there, scattered around the internet and overviews in a couple of books (Szirmai and Langwe). I have had to extrapolate a lot of the details about how the books were made, how the sewing was started, how the covers were folded, how the buttons and straps were attached, etc. I would often just try to replicate what I could see in photographs (example) without any detailed instructions.
The instructor for this class, Adam Larsson, has worked with these bindings enough that he was able to give me some insights about how these things were typically done. Adam works in the conservation lab at Uppsala University Library in Uppsala, Sweden, home to one of the most important collections of historic bindings in Scandinavia.
The class was called "The Three Ls: Limp - Link - Long" and that's exactly what it was. We learned three different methods of stitching a limp vellum binding, using just link stitch, using just long stitch, and using a combination of both.
The first book we did, was sewn with only link stitches. I think most people in the class found this one to be the most difficult of the structures that we covered. It is tricky to do this one, and I had only attempted it a couple times in the past. Having now seen how Adam does it, I may be willing to use this more in the future. Admittedly though, I haven't tried it again since the class. During the class, however, I did two books with this structure. The first was four rows of link stitches. The second was three rows of link stitches (which was harder than four!). The stitched circles are just decorative and were done on the spine before the book was bound.
After the link stitch book, we did the combination of link stitch and long stitch. This structure was most familiar to me, and I did three of this style during the class. The first one, I added the extra weaving on the long stitches. The second one, I added the decorative holes punched in the spine piece, and the third was made with soft leather (rather than vellum) and has the buttons on the spine rather than on the front of the book.
Adam demonstrated a third structure, which was a long stitch done without a link stitch. I don't think everyone tried this one, but I was a real keener, and surged ahead and made two of these. In fact, I really liked this structure. I had tried this technique only once before and I did it very differently that time. The way Adam explained it, it suddenly became far more attractive as an option for future work! These are the two that I made in the class, both with two spine pieces, one for each set of stitches.
Although we did most of our books without turn-ins, I did one with turn-ins and consequently made my first parchment tacket. I've made tackets with linen thread before, but making them from strips of vellum is much cooler. Starting with a long skinny strip of vellum, it has to be really wet, then twisted and stretched until it is dry. Then it is dampened again to make it pliable to create the tacket. As the tacket dries in place, it becomes a super solid attachment. This was certainly one of the highlights of my week!
Although I had a lot of questions for Adam about the details of these bindings, the main thing that I learned, was that these historic bindings are greatly varied. The sewing techniques vary from one binder to the next; and, the use of spine plates and buttons and straps and decorative elements also vary from one binder to another and from one region to another, etc. So, there isn't one single correct way to construct these types of books and it is possible to be very creative with them. Other members of the class proved that over and over again. As I surged ahead trying to memorize the stitching techniques, other people in the class were creating masterpieces with decorative elements that I did not even attempt. Here are a few photographs taken at the end of the session where everyone's books were on display. The variations seen here are only a small sampling; the possibilities are truly endless.