Volume 13 - Spring 2002


lslamic Binding

A Report by Alan B. Parker

In October 2001, John Mumford taught a Mastercraft class at Morley College, London. The following is a report on the event, as it appeared in The Quarto, the newsletter of the London South East Region of the Society of Bookbinders. Alan Parker is the editor of The Quarto.

Islamic Style became distinctive from the 12th Century. Its most visible feature is the fore-edge flap. End bands have a different construction and often show a chevron pattern. The overall style with thin boards and leather is attractive. However, the text is sewn rather lightly without linking and without supports, and board attachment is simply case, so it is elegant but not robust. The book needs to open well, because the text, often with illuminated surrounds, begins close to the spine. Rebinding in a conventional western style can lack flexibility, and pigments close to the spine can be damaged. So restorations need to reuse an Islamic structure and this was the basis of the demonstration.

End Leaf Structure - In order to minimise stiffness in this region, the end leaf structure is simply attached by a paper hook which is sewn on with the end section. Simple end papers (a single fold paste down and fly) can be tipped to the hook. But the most traditional style is a leather lined board and an exposed leather joint. The joint is pared very thinly, tipped to the hook together with a single or stiff (pasted double) fly leaf. The joint edge can be hidden within the attachments onto the hook. Historical bindings often have the joint leather as a continuity of a board doublure.

Sewing - The classic structure uses only a loop of silk thread with the two holes at 1/3 and 2/3 position. The sections are connected with a linking stitch and no supports are used. Restorations adopt this system if there is evidence for its original use. However, it is not ideal and if no evidence is available, the book is resewn with 4 holes, 2 loops and a link stitch, using unbleached linen thread. To strengthen larger books, the end sections can be resewn through the linen after spine lining.

Spine Lining - These are pasted on - first a layer of thick tissue, such as Kozo 33, followed by a layer of aero linen. The linen extends 5cm on each side for later attachment to the case.

End Bands - A core, 3-4mm wide is cut from the same leather as the board cover, and a paper marker is placed in the centre of each section. The core is laid down flat along the spine edge, and then with a needle and thread penetrating the spine it is tied down at each centre section. These tie downs on top of the core act as the warp for the main stage which is decorative thread woven into the warp on top of the core across the she spine from side to side. Silk twists in 2 colours are used with the weave starting along the outer edge of the core then working progressively towards the spine, alternating the colours. By changing the sequences at the cross threads from under/ over to over/under for each colour, and looping back in a linking fashion at each cross thread position, a chevron pattern emerges. The colours are tied down at the start by knotting together and feeding the first up through a needle hole in the end of the leather. Avoid too much tension during the weave or the band will distort.

Boards and Covering - Historically the boards only cover the text block without a square. The are covered and cased on, but pasted to the flexible spine with added added attachment of the linen. There is no hollow. The case is constructed from separate pieces of thin board for the main boards, fore-edge and flap and are covered in thinly pared leather. The flap originally fastened outside the front board with a tie., but later as fashion became more elegant and decorated, the flap was fastened inside. The case fore-edge therefore need to reflect the different spacing. The pentagonal flap in each case extends so that its point is half way across the book. The board decoration may be conventional gilt and coloured work, or deeper inlays with a laminated front board using sculptured front laminate.

Paste - The best wheat starch paste is used for most of the adhesive tasks in these bindings. made from 100g starch in 700ml of water, using a sauce maker, then sieved when cold. Tackiness is enhanced by brushing cold paste to and fro with a wide brush in a suitable dish. Without a sauce maker, the starch is stirred into into water for 30 minutes whist cold or cool, then raised to top heat for 3-4 minutes and stirred again. This hot stage is repeated until the product is clear. It is then cooled and sieved.

John Mumford - John works in the British Library’s conservation studio at St. Pancras, London and deals with book structures of less conventional kinds. John was apprenticed at the British Museum (British Library), and his personal in interest in Islamic binding began during later employment at the India Office Library.


Skin Deep - Volume 13 - Spring 2002

Download Skin Deep - Volume 13 in PDF Format