Volume 7 - Spring 1999


'Tops' and 'Tails'

by Brian Orley & David Lanning

Headbands - not the bands of cloth around a tennis players head, but 'Book Headbands' or to give them their full title, 'Book headbands for the topping and tailing of all hard case-bound books, including bibles, ledgers, theses, etc.'

They may be small, they be unobtrusive and they may only cost a penny a book. They are sometimes plain or chequered, but more often than not, stripey.

George Bowden invented and patented the then new process of printing on cotton headbands on 5th January 1855, shortly after Bowden & Son was formed, to manufacture Book Headbands.

George Bowden was a Bookbinder at this time working from No. 1, Little Queen Street, High Holborn, then in the county of Middlesex. The original patent by George Bowden was "Bowdens improvements in adhesive Book Headbands and Register Ribbons". From this process, Book Headbands could be made from all types of material, including Cotton, Silk, Linen, Vellum, Calico etc. The design on the material, being printed or sewn across the width of the cloth and then slit down, very precisely into strips. These strips were sewn and folded over in one operation, to make the colour bar. The colour bar is filled at the same time, to give height and thickness required. This filling is obtained from various sizes of split cane or string, depending on whether hand or machine binding is used.

This was the first time sewing machines were used for the complete production of Book Headbands. At the time, the volume required by the bindery trade was increasing.

With the co-operation of a mill in the Midlands, weaving our flat tape, the Woven Art Silk Book Headband was produced. This is a headband woven on the old type shuttle loom, but including the bar filling in one operation of weaving. This was a big step forward, and although it can only be produced in one size, the production was very much faster and is now also woven on needle type looms.

We at J. Hewit & Sons, are still using the same mills that Bowden & Sons used for many years with excellent end results. The need to have good working relationships with the mills is very important. Trends in colours can change very quickly and most Commercial Bookbinders have to produce a finished book at very short notice and may need our Headbands on a very quick delivery.

Prior to the development by George Bowden, Headbands were produced by sewing a coloured cord onto a tape, a very slow process, hence headbands were only put onto the more expensive books. Today they are added to a vast price range of books.

J. Hewit & Sons, now carry a range of over 25 colours and 44 designs including Lurex Specials in Gold and Colours. All sewn headbands can be produced in six sizes (0,1,2,3,4,and 5), depending on the width of the book.

Our stock as you can imagine is somewhat large, in the region of 300,000 to 700,000 metres of Woven Art Silk, Art Silk, Lurex and Printed Cotton Flat Tape, ready for sewing.

The sewing is done by sewing machines originally designed for the lace glove making industry, at the beginning of the last century.

The attachments for turning over the material and the feeding in of the string/cane centres are made for us by a retired engineer. Every one is precisely hand made out of Brass or a very workable steel, which can be hardened afterwards. This helps prolong the life of the attachment tool.

At Hewit's, we will always endeavour to improve on the quality of our headbands in both design and appearance and in the production methods used. By using the very best materials and by implementing high standards of quality control, we will continue to produce the finest headbands on the market.


Skin Deep - Volume 7 - Spring 1999

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