Book Binding Sewing Bands

This entry is part 11 of 20 in the series The Art of Bookbinding (Joseph W. Zaehnsdorf, 3rd Edt, 1897)

Sewing Flexible Work


The “sewing press” consists of a bed, two screws, and a beam or cross bar, round which are fastened five or more cords, called lay cords. Five pieces of cord cut from the ball, in length, about four times the thickness of the book, are fastened to the lay cords by slip knots; the other ends being fastened to small pieces of metal called keys, by twisting the ends round twice and then a half hitch. The keys are then pressed through the slot in the bed of the “press,” and the beam screwed up rather tightly; but loose enough to allow the lay cords to move freely backwards or forwards. Having the book on the bed of the press with the back towards the sewer, a few sheets (better than only one) are laid against the cords, and they are arranged exactly to the marks made on the back of the sections. When quite true and perpendicular, they should be made tight by screwing the beam up. It will be better if the cords are a little to the right of the press, so that the sewer may get her or his left arm to rest better on the press. If when the press is tightened on of the cords is loose, as will sometimes happen, a pencil, folding-stick or other object slipped under the lay cord on the top of the beam will tighten the band sufficiently.

The foreign sewing presses have screw with a hook at the end to hold the bands,the screws running in a slot in the beam: in practice they are very convenient. The first and last sections are overcast usually with cotton or very fine thread. The first sheet is now to be laid against the bands, and the needle introduced through the kettle stitch hole on the right of the book, which is the head. The left hand being within the centre of the sheet, the needle is taken with it, and thrust out on the left of the mark made for the first band; the needle being taken with the right hand, is again introduced on the right of the same band, thus making a complete circle round it. This is repeated with each band in succession, and the needle is brought out of the kettle stitch hole on the left or tail of the sheet. A new sheet is now placed on the top, and treated in a similar way,by introducing the needle at the left end or ta

il; and when taken out at the right end or top, the thread must be fastened by a knot to the end, hanging from the first sheet, which is left long enough for the purpose. A third sheet having been sewn in like manner, the needle must be brought out at the kettle stitch, thrust between the two sheets first sewn, and drawn round the thread, thus fastening each sheet to its neighbour by a kind of chain stitch.

I believe the term “kettle stitch” is only a corruption of “catch-up stitch,”as it catches each section as sewn in succession. This class of work must be done very neatly and evenly, but it is easily done with a little practice and patience. This is the strongest sewing executed at the present day, but it is very seldom done, as it takes three or four times as long as the ordinary sewing. The thread must be drawn tightly each time it is passed round the band, and at the end properly fastened off at the kettle stitch, or the sections will work loose in course or time. Old books were always sewn in this manner, and when two or double bands were used, the thread was twisted twice round one on sewing one section, and twice round the other on sewing the next, or once round each cord. In some cases even the “head-band” was worked at

the same time, by fastening other pieces of leather for the head and tail, and making it the catch-up stitch as well. When the head-band was worked in sewing, the book was, of course, not afterwards cut at the edges. When this was done, wooden boards were used instead of mill boards, and twisted leather instead of cord, and when the book was covered, a groove was made between each double band. This way is still imitated by sticking a second band or cord alongside the one made in sewing, before the book is covered. The cord for flexible work is called a “flexible cord,” and is twisted tighter and is stronger than any other. In all kinds of sewing I advise the use of Hayes’Royal Irish thread, not because there is no other of good manufacture, but because I have tried several kinds, and Hayes’ have proved to be the best. The thickness of the cord must always be in proportion to the size and thickness of the book, and the thickness of the thread must depend on the sheets, whether they be half sheets or whole sheets.



Ordinary Sewing

If too thick a thread is used, the swelling (the rising caused in the back by the thread) will be too much, and it will be impossible to make a proper rounding or get a right size “groove” in backing. If the sections are thick or few, a thick thread must be used to give the thickness necessary to produce a good groove.

If the book is of moderate thickness, the sections may be knocked down by occasionally tapping them with a piece of wood loaded at one end with lead, or a thick folding-stick may be used as a substitute. I must again call particular attention to the kettle stitch. The thread must not be drawn too tight in making the chain, or the thread will break in backing; but still a proper tension must be kept or the sheets will wear loose. The last sheet should be fastened with a double knot round the kettle stitch two or three sections down, and that section must be sewn all along. The next style of sewing, and most generally used throughout the trade, is the ordinary method is somewhat different, in as much as the thread is not twisted round the cord, as in flexible work, when the cord is outside the section. In the method the cord fits into the saw cuts. The thread is simply passed over the cord, not round it, otherwise the principle of sewing is the same, that is, the thread is passed right along the section, out of the holes made, and into them again; the kettle stitch being made in the same way. This style of work has one advantage over flexible work, because the back of the book can be better gilt. In flexible work, the leather is attached with paste to the back, and is flexed, and bent, each time the book is opened, and there is great risk of the gold splitting away or being detached form the leather in wear. Books sewn in the ordinary method are made with a hollow or loose back is independent of the leather covering; the lining of the back only is creased, and the leather keeps its perfect form, by reason of the lining giving it a spring outwards.

FlexibleSewing-bookbindingMorocco is generally used for flexible work; calf, being without a grain, is not suitable, as it would show all the creases in the back made by the opening. This class of sewing is excellent for books that do not require so much strength, such as library bindings but for a dictionary or the like, where constant reference or daily use is required, I should sew a book flexibly. Some binders sew their books in the ordinary way, and paste the leather directly to the back, and thus pass it for flexible work; but I do no think any respectable house would do so. A book that has been sewed flexibly will not have any saw cut in the back, so that on examination, by opening it wide, it will at once be seen if it is a real flexible binding or not. Intelligence must, however, be used; a book that has already been cased (or bound and sewn on cords) must of necessity have the saw cuts or holes, and such a book would show the cuts. There is another mode called “flexible not to show.” The book is marked up in the usual way as for flexible and is also slightly scratched on the band, and the saw; but not deep enough to go through the sections. A thin cord is then taken doubled for each band, and the book is sewn the ordinary flexible way; the cord is knocked into the back in forwarding, and the leather may be stuck on a hollow back with bands, or it may be fastened to the back itself without bands.