The Art of Bookbinding/Chapter 18

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The Art of Bookbinding by Joseph William Zaehnsdorf
Chapter XVIII.



Few binders work their own head-bands in these times of competition and strikes for higher wages. It takes some time and pains to teach a female hand the perfection of head-band working, and but too often, since gratitude is not universal, the opportunity of earning a few more pence per week is seized without regard to those at whose expense the power of earning anything was gained, and the baffled employer is wearied by constant changes. Owing to this, most bookbinders use the machine-made head-band. These can be purchased of any size or colour, at a moderate price.

Head-banding done by hand is really only a twist of different coloured cotton or silk round a piece of vellum or cat-gut fastened to the back every half dozen sections. If the head-band is to be square or straight, the vellum should be made by sticking with paste two or three pieces together. Damp the vellum previously and put it under a weight for a few hours to get soft. Vellum from old ledgers and other vellum bound books is mostly used. The vellum when quite dry and flat is to be cut into strips just a little under the width of the squares of the books, so that when the book is covered, the amount of leather above the head-band and the head-band itself will be just the size or height of the square.

If, however, a round head-band is chosen, cat-gut is taken on the same principle with regard to size, and this is further advanced by using two pieces of cat-gut, the one being generally smaller than the other, and making with the beading three rows. The round head-band is the original head-band, and cord was used instead of cat-gut. The cords were fastened to lay-cords on the sewing press, and placed at head and tail, and the head-band was worked at the same time that was sewn. I am now speaking of books bound about the 15th century; and in pulling one of these old bindings to pieces, it will compensate for the time occupied and the trouble taken, if the book be examined to see how the head-band was worked, and how the head-band then formed the catch-up stitch; the head-band cords were drawn in through the boards, and thus gave greater strength to the book than the method used at the present day. To explain how the head-band is worked is rather a difficult task; yet the process is a very simple one. The great difficulty is to get the silks to lie close together, which they will not do if the twist or beading is not evenly worked. This requires time and patience to accomplish. The hands must be clean or the silk will get soiled; fingers must be smooth or the silk will be frayed.

Line drawing of a pair of hands sewing a cord through a book in a vice.


Suppose, for instance, a book is to be done in two colours, red and white. The head-band is cut to size, the book is, for convenience, held in a press, or a plough with the knife taken out, so that the end to be head-banded is raised to a convenient height. The ends of the silk or cotton are to be joined together, and one, say the red, threaded through a strong needle. This is then passed through the back of the book, at about the centre of the second section, commencing on the left of the book. This must be passed through twice, and a loop left. The vellum is put in this loop and the silk drawn tightly, the vellum will then be held fast. The white is now to be twisted round the red once, and round the head-band twice; the red is now to be taken in hand and twisted round the white once, and the head-band twice; and this is to be done until the whole vellum is covered. The needle must be passed through the back at about every eight sections to secure the head-band. The beading is the effect of one thread being twisted over the other, and the hand must be kept exactly at the same tightness or tension, for if pulled too tightly the beading will go underneath, or be irregular. The fastening off is to be done by passing the needle through the back twice, the white is then passed round the red and under the vellum, and the ends are to be tied together.

Three Colours Plain.—This is to be commenced in the same way as with two, but great care must be taken that the silks are worked in rotation so as not to mix or entangle them. The silks must be kept in the left hand, while the right twists the colour over or round, and as each is twisted round the vellum it is passed to be twisted round the other two. In fastening off, both colours must be passed round under the vellum and fastened as with the two colour pattern.

The head-bands may be worked intermixed with gold or silver thread, or the one colour may be worked a number of times round the vellum, before the second colour has been twisted, giving it the appearance of ribbons going round the head-band.

With regard to stuck-on head-bands, the binder may make them at little expense, by using striped calico for the purpose. A narrow stripe is to be preferred of some bright colour. The material must be cut into lengths of about one-and-a-half inch wide, with the stripes across. Cords of different thickness are then to be cut somewhat longer than the calico, and a piece of the cord is to be fastened by a nail at one end on a board of sufficient length. The calico is then to be pasted and laid down on the board under the cord, and the cord being held tightly may be easily covered with the striped calico, and rubbed with a folder into a groove.

When this is dry, the head and tail of the book is glued and the proper piece of the head-band is put on. Or the head-band may be purchased, as before stated, worked with either silk or cotton ready for fastening on, from about 2s. 3d. to 4s. 6d. a piece of twelve yards, according to the size required: it has, however, the disadvantage of not looking so even as a head-band worked on the book. I have lately seen some specimens of as good imitations of hand-worked ones as it is possible for machinery to manufacture.

After the head-band has been put on or worked, the book is to be "lined up" or "made ready for covering."

Decorative pattern