Back in February, Peter Geraty came to NBSS to teach a two-day workshop with the second years on parchment over boards bindings. Parchment has a reputation for being somewhat unruly as a binding material, and the goal of Peter’s workshop was to provide us with a system by which we could more easily work with the material. In general, it was a fun couple of days and my confidence in using parchment on stiff board bindings has greatly increased.
These bindings are elegant and particularly satisfying binding to handle. The covers are cool to the touch and the visual texture of the skin is eye-catching. They are quite durable, chemically stable, and take gold tooling well. Parchment is hygroscopic, however, and dimensionally unstable (Wood, 1995). For this reason, covering stiff boards with parchment and keeping them flat can be quite challenging. It is much easier to use parchment in a limp, non adhesive structure (see my post on those here). When the book is finished, it must be stored at a stable temperature and relative humidity to keep the boards from warping.
Unfortunately, I was too busy trying to finish my model over those two days to take any photos during the binding process. Therefore, I will just share images of the finished binding and include a brief description of Geraty’s method of construction at the end. Peter Verheyen has written a well-illustrated procedure for parchment over boards (see link at bottom), but as a case structure, rather than with the lacing that I will describe.
Spine and fore-edge views.
A view of the open joint, showing the lacing of the sewing and endband supports.
A detail image of the sewn endband and headcap.
In the first step, we chose parchment for our book and cut it to size, leaving ~2.5 cm for turn-ins. Like the limp bindings, the thickness of the skin should be based on the size of the book. The skin that we used was quite thin and flexible, however, the opening may end up stiffer than one would like for a book of this size. We lined the flesh side of the parchment with text weight paper, using high bloom gelatin as an adhesive (available from Kramer). The paper lining reduces the transparency of the parchment (which will keep the color of the boards from showing through after covering) and stabilizes the skin, making it easier to work with later. Animal-derived glues are recommended for this step, as they are most similar to the character of the parchment and keep the moisture (and distortion) to a minimum.The laminate is then placed between Hollytex or Reemay and blotters and left under weight to dry overnight.
As the parchment dried, we prepped the textblock and boards. The endsheets for this model are a single folio of Hahnemuhle Ingres, hooked over a single folio of text paper. We also tipped Japanese paper hinges to the inside spine edge of the first and last sections; some binders call these loose guards, but I’m sure there are other names for them. The sections are sewn on 4 narrow (2 mm) parchment slips. Historical examples of this style of binding that I have seen are often sewn on much wider parchment slips. The binder would often then split the support at the shoulder, so that only a narrow portion of the tape laces through the cover at the joint. For a model of such small dimensions, wider sewing supports were not warranted. After sewing, the free ends of the Japanese paper guards are adhered to endsheets.
The textblock is squared up, the spine is pasted up with wheat starch paste, and the fore-edge trimmed. The book is rounded and backed, creating a 45° shoulder, and the head and tail edges are trimmed. If the book was getting edge decoration, now would be the time to do it. Simple, 2-color silk endbands (with a bead on the front) were sewn on two layers of 2 mm parchment for cores. The inner layer of parchment is trimmed to the width of the endband, while the outer is left long and will lace through the cover with the sewing supports.
When the book is rounded and backed, boards of the appropriate thickness can be constructed to fit the textblock shoulder. Geraty and Verheyen recommend making a “floating” board to control the warp from the parchment. This board is composed of a thicker base board with a thin board tipped to the spine edge (See Verheyen p. 5 for diagram). We used millboard (from Conservation by Design Ltd.) as the base and 10 pt. Bristol board as the thin board. Each were lined on both sides with text-weight paper. The boards were nipped in the press and left to dry under weight. When ready, they are cut to the size of the book and the thin board is tipped to the thicker with PVA.
The spine of the textblock is patch-lined with muslin and a hollow tube of handmade paper is adhered over that. After trimming the hollow to height, it is slit down the shoulder about 2 cm at the head and tail to allow for the turn-ins. The boards are attached to the textblock by putting dots of PVA on the extended muslin lining and putting the boards in place (leaving an open joint). This weak attachment is only temporary, and serves to hold the boards in place during the covering process.
The parchment must be marked out and prepped a bit before covering. The spine width is measured and transferred onto the parchment. Lines are scored with the bone folder at the spine markings. A Dremel or Foredom Flex Shaft with a sanding drum attachment is used to thin the parchment at the endcap area. This is much easier than trying to pare it with a knife. The spine of the textblock and spine area of the parchment are then brushed out with PVA, and the textblock put into place. After working the parchment down a bit with a teflon folder, the book is placed between press boards made with small dowels that fit the joints. This applies tension to the parchment across the spine and holds the book in place so that it can be really rubbed down with the folder. Proper adhesion is key. The faces of the boards are then glued out with PVA and the parchment is worked into the joint and across the boards. After doing the head and tail turn-ins (and forming the endcaps), the fore-edge turn-ins are done.
The sewing supports and endband cores pass through the covering material at the point of the shoulder and back inside the covers at the edge of the boards. The ends of the parchment lacing are then glued down to the inside of the board. After trimming out the turn-ins, the glue spot attachment between boards and muslin is pulled off. The textile is fully glued out and put down on the inside of the boards. The tapes and muslin are trimmed back and, to finish, the pastedowns of the endsheets are glued out and stuck down.
I keep hinting at the long list of projects that I have yet to write about and post. Rest assured, I’m going to keep ’em coming. Your patience will be rewarded!
Brockman, J. (1993). A Vellum Over Boards Binding. The New Bookbinder, 13, 43-53.
Verheyen, P. D. (2004). Vellum on Boards. Library Publications. Paper 16. (available for download here)
Wood, C. (1995). Conservation Treatments for Parchment Documents. Journal of the Society of Archivists, 16(2), 221-237.
2 thoughts on “Parchment Over Boards”
Henry, as always excellent. One clarification on the cased structure that I demonstrated at GBW Standards in 2001 and that you reference. Even with the cased structure, the vellum slips can easily be laced through at the joint. I do this after all the turn-ins have been done and the case has been attached to the hollow. I don’t generally lace through the endband cores (except on limp structures), but that has more to do with aesthetics – I like a triangular core.
Looking forward to more. Cheers, p.
Thanks for the clarification, Peter. I had forgotten that you include instructions for lacing at the end of your paper. The diagrams that accompany your description are fantastic!