Friday, August 12, 2011

Guest Blogger Fran Kovac, on 6th Century Coptic Binding

Fran Kovac is a bookbinder in Columbus, Ohio, and teaches basic bookbinding techniques at the Morgan Conservatory in Cleveland, Ohio. She is ridiculously camera-shy, but has allowed me to to use a picture of her fingers sewing a link-stitch endband, very much like the endband for the Coptic structure she describes here.

I first encountered Fran's work, way back in 2006, when we were both participating in a book swap through Volcano Arts. I think she ended up with the first book that I sent. Later I acquired a couple of her marvelous books through the swap. In 2008, I attended PBI for the first time and was chatting with her when suddenly I realized it was the same person, Fran Kovac! She's been at PBI every time that I've been there - and now she's kindly agreed to write about one of her 2011 PBI classes for my blog. Thanks so much, Fran!

While Rhonda was slaving away in John Townsend's Extreme Bookbinding (see her post, below), I was spending the week with a Late 6th Century Coptic structure taught by conservator and book historian Julia Miller. This is an exquisite structure that is a recreation of an extant manuscript known as "Chester Beatty Ms. 815" but also called "Codex C." The original has a parchment textblock sewn with a link stitch at three sewing stations, on papyrus boards. The book is leather covered with an inked design, with a wide wrapping band held with a bone clasp and an attached bookmark.

We began by making our papyrus boards. Pasteboard is simply a board made by laminating sheets of paper or papyrus together. Julia pointed out that there is evidence that boards were often made with fragments, scraps, inscribed sheets and bits of leather and vellum, pressed together, and in fact, we made samples with scraps left over from class. Codex C had papyrus boards, though, so for our books, we laminated papyrus until we had boards approximately 5 mm (~3/16") thick.

We used paper for our textblock, alas, parchment being rather expensive. I added one parchment end sheet to my model for the most verisimilitude I could afford. We folded and marked our textblocks for sewing. This link stitch is recessed in the original, so we carefully cut notches in our textblock to accept the thread. The sewing is rather different than that which is usually taught today: three stations, single needle, with the thread doubled inside each signature. A note about "Coptic" sewing: historically, not all link sewn books are Coptic in origin. We commonly use the terms interchangeably, but unless what's being talked about is an actual Coptic binding, such as Codex C, we should probably use the term "unsupported link stitch."

After sewing, we added link stitch end bands in colored thread, and lined the spine with linen. We made and decorated our bookmarks, wrapping band and bone clasp. The original clasp is vaguely fish shaped, with a single hole for the strap, and is undecorated except for some scratches. We used cold tooling and ink to decorate the bookmark and ink designs on the wrapping band.

We had lovely goatskin to work with to form the case with the papyrus boards. Goat, sheep, and other hides such as camel are believed to have been used in history. This is, essentially, a very early (the earliest?) case binding; the boards are not sewn to the textblock. The boards and leather were laid out pretty much as we would do today when making a case, although with extra wide turn-ins.

Inside front board showing the wrapping band attachment

The end sheets are pasted down to hold the textblock in place. Prior to putting in the textblock, however, holes are punched through the front board to accept the wrapping band and bookmark, and the tricky work of drawing the inked design began. The model of Codex C which was made shortly after its discovery served as our model for the design; it incorporated a Maltese cross, which seemed the wrong time period to me, so I incorporated a Coptic cross in its place.

My thanks to the extraordinary Julia Miller for another wonderful historic bookbinding class, and to Rhonda for the chance to talk about it!


Carol said...

Great post, Rhonda, thanks to you and to Fran for her generosity. I'll link to my blog because I think it's just fascinating.

Piami said...

A seriously lovely book! Thank you for posting this, I will read it more thoroughly one of these days, maybe I can try. :)

Giorgia said...

Rhonda thanx for your post, i'm sorry but i don't speak english