Communion Of Dreams


I mentioned on Facebook the other day that sometimes I stop and consider the sort of chutzpah it takes to think that I should be mucking around with a 700 year-old book. That thought occurred to me following a session in the bindery working on the bible I have blogged about earlier. I had just done some work on it, then had to put everything into one of my presses and let it dry overnight, hoping that I had done the work properly. Hoping really hard.

What follows is a bit long, but might be of interest to some. At the risk of spoiling the suspense, the book came out well, though not entirely perfectly. You’ll see.

* * *

In my last post I had an image of the interior of the spine of the book. This one:


That shows the paper liners adhered to the inside of the spine cover material.  If you look at the top of the image, you can see some of the damage which had happened to the book — basically, some tears in the vellum cover at the hinge joint.

Repairing vellum is a bit tricky. You can’t use too much moisture, because it can cause the vellum to warp and shrink, even become brittle. So carefully I removed all the old liner material, then selected some heavy kozo and applied a methyl-cellulose/PVA mix adhesive, allowing the adhesive to dry partially before mounting the kozo to the damaged areas. That’s when I put everything into the press and hoped for the best. Here’s how it looked when I took it out:


One problem – in order to get the kozo mounted securely, I had to flatten the entire vellum spine, losing the nice shaping where it went over the sewing structure cords. We’ll come back to that.

On the textblock, I had to mount some new endpapers before I could add in the spine liners and hinging material. Fortunately, I had some nice handmade flax paper I made some 25 years ago which was a nice color tone match for the vellum. Here you can see it mounted:


Then I was ready to mount the hinging material to the spine. I chose a very heavy type of kozo, which would be strong enough but wouldn’t add much bulk, and applied it so that it conformed to the sewing cords:


Then I cut panels of another flax paper, and mounted those between the cords. Here is a pic when a couple of them have been mounted:


When those were done and dried, the text block was ready to be mounted back into the cover. But I had two problems. One was the spine vellum had been flattened by mounting the repair kozo, as mentioned above. But there was also another problem, part of the reason why the book had become damaged in the intervening centuries: the vellum cover had shrunk slightly, and the text block had swollen slightly, with the result that the cover no longer fit properly.

How to make it fit?

Well, I had actually already done one thing: I had placed the text block into a heavy press and slowly compressed it over a period of several days. But that only did so much.

The other thing I decided to try was to force the spine to stretch a bit. I did this by VERY slightly dampening the vellum, then putting a jig in place which would slightly push the front and rear covers away from each other. At the same time, I had mounted some cords the same size as the ones on the text block, and positioned the same way. This jig went on the inside of the spine, and on the outside I used a piece of foamcore which would partially compress, making the vellum conform to the shape of the cords and spreading it just a tich. A couple times over the course of a couple days I swapped out the jigs, using a slightly larger one each time. Here’s the final set, with the spine of the finished book alongside to better help envision what I mean:


That bought me about 3 or 4 mm of space. I worried about trying to stretch it any further. When I positioned the cover over the text block, the spine conformed perfectly, as you can see in the image above. I went ahead and pasted out the endpapers and mounted the text block into the cover.

Here’s how the pasted endpaper looked when everything dried:


And here’s the fore-edge of the book in its cover:


Yup — that right there is what is technically known as an “oops”. The cover doesn’t *quite* come around far enough, with perhaps 2 mm of the text block showing at the widest point. I hadn’t been able to stretch the cover (or compress the text block) enough.

However, the book was solid, and my interior repairs to the vellum damage turned out nearly perfect. Here’s a picture from earlier which shows the damage:


See that crack on the spine at the left side? Actually, if you look closely, you can see there’s a couple different cracks. Well, here’s an image of the spine at the same point with my repairs:


The cracks are still there, but they’re no longer a structural problem. The underlying kozo will now handle the structural forces. That should mean the cover will work as intended, and propagation of the cracks further down the spine should be stopped for at least a couple centuries.

It’s not a perfect repair, and that tempers any temptation I might have to inflate my ego any more. But it’s a pretty damned good repair, one I can take a measure of satisfaction with.

I can live with that.


Jim Downey

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[…] Full disclosure: Kwakkel has featured my work previously, and so I may be biased. Link to Pottinger’s site via […]

Pingback by The beauty of the old. | Communion Of Dreams

[…] my work now and again gives me joy. Several times I’ve posted a number of images along with a description of the work, and there are other such photo essays on my business […]

Pingback by Preserving the very worst. | Communion Of Dreams

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