Passion for Excellence
Keough Update #24: LABYRINTH SUBLIME
Bound to Please — August 7, 2011
The story of the binding of LABYRINTH SUBLIME continues. Today we are very pleased to introduce you to the master binders at Felton Bookbinding. From left to right in the photo below: Wilheim Albiez from Switzerland, Chris Narayan from Scotland, and Keith Felton from England.
This talented trio share 130 years of professional binding experience. In their former countries they graduated from art college having studied traditional binding courses (those which are rarely taught today) and participated in apprenticeship programs followed by years of employment in prestigious European binderies. Each immigrated to Canada where together they are a world-class bindery encompassing a great range of knowledge and skill. These artisans personally hand-bound all copies of ANTARCTICA. We have immense respect for them. We all hold the same ideals of perfection to the Nth degree. With complete confidence, we entrust to them the binding of LABYRINTH SUBLIME. Keith, Chris and Willie have been working steadily on our tomes since receiving the printed pages in early June. While Jacqueline and Joan have been sewing the book blocks, these men have been working on the leather covers, of which 70 are ready for the next stage. As of last week the binding of 20 copies of LABYRINTH SUBLIME was completed and Keith anticipates having a further 20 bound toward mid-September. The accompanying presentation boxes are yet to be made.
Continuing from the last missive that featured the hand-sewing using Irish linen thread with linen tapes stretched on a sewing frame, the story of how our books are bound to please follows with a selection of photos taken by Feltons during the making of LABYRINTH SUBLIME, augmented with a few we took ourselves when ANTARCTICA was being bound.
You’ll recall the description of the morocco sourced from J. Hewit and Sons in Scotland. This high quality Chieftain Goat leather received an archival, vegetable tannage specific for books, and was rough-cut by Hewit to the dimensions we specified. There being no such thing as a genuine, natural goat leather of the size needed to clad such large books as ours, the binders skillfully join two leather pieces, one larger with one smaller. With an eye to the natural grain size and pattern, Keith, Willie and Chris first sorted the shipment of leather pieces selecting the best matches for the required 39" length. They’ve also prepared the high density, acid-free binder’s board used for the front and back covers. Each cover board is actually a lamination of three boards which together make up the 1/4" thickness of the covers. One further piece is prepared, that for the spine, using a single ply board embellished with raised bands made of shaped card to which bevel-edged leather pieces are glued. To these three prepped boards — front cover, spine, and back cover — the matched leather pairs are adhered, the joinery being on the back cover. This seam is hidden within a blind line tooled by the binders. You’ll notice that both ANTARCTICA and LABYRINTH SUBLIME are ornamented on their back covers.
Here’s a stack of the the covers in progress. The leather is glued to the boards and extends beyond on all edges.
Chris is turning-in the leather, carefully mitering corners with exact cuts. Within the fold of the leather at the spine, both top and bottom, the leather wraps over a length of 1/4" diameter rope. The result is a spine-edge with a thickness consistent to that of the heavy front and back covers.
The leather-wrapped covers are kept under weight as the glue cures.
The next step is to decorate the covers using hand tooling and also engraved brass dies that we commissioned. Below Keith is giving the final touches to a cover of ANTARCTICA. He’s used all the tools that you see being kept warm on the “finishing stove” at right.
The embossing press is hand-powered; and the brass dies are heated. Keith did a number of tests of dwell time, pressure, and temperature to determine the optimum combination to result in a deep and burnished impression. To get maximum gloss from the burnishing, 450°F proved to be the best temperature. The pressure is all that the men can give. Sometimes Chris finds it necessary to hang with his whole weight on the press handle. As to dwell time, each leather piece potentially responds uniquely to the press. Thus the binders lower the die, hold it in position, then raise it to inspect the impression, and at times lower the die again for a little longer. The photo below features Chris, the antiquated press, and the many dies engraved for ANTARCTICA. The large KEOUGH die is being used today for LABYRINTH SUBLIME.
Keith shares this view of the spine LABYRINTH SUBLIME being embossed.
Progress.... a cover on the flat, showing the ornamented leather. The very skilled work for the interior is yet to be done.
The strength of our bindings lies in the “split-board” method of construction. In the photo below you see the cover board being split at the spine between the leather “turn-ins.” The linen tapes and linings from the spine of the book block will be permanently glued into this split, which is then laminated shut under pressure. In essence, the book block becomes a single unit with the cover; the weight of the pages structurally transferred by the linen tapes to be supported WITHIN the cover boards. With 99.9% of all other books, a lining glued to the spine of book block is merely pasted to the SURFACE of the cover board, providing very little strength.
The reality is that hand binding is very expensive and time consuming. To be truthful, binding traditions such as we have selected with Keith’s guidance are a dying art. So few collectors or publishers request such rarified bindings, most being quite unaware of their existence. It follows that very few binders have maintained and passed along the skills and techniques for these ancient binding styles. There’s more to come in our story of the binding of LABYRINTH SUBLIME. The next update will tell of the marriage of the hand-sewn book blocks with the hand-made leather covers, to complete the binding of a tome.
Here at our studio on Salt Spring Island, we have prepared the limitation certificates, the various handwritten notes, reply cards and information packages which are to accompany each book. We’re very pleased with everything we’ve made for you. All is in readiness.
Meanwhile at Friesens in Manitoba, development of the prototype of the presentation boxes continues.
With our very best wishes,
Rosemarie and Pat