Thursday, January 22, 2009

Adventures in Medieval Bookbinding, Part 1: Tegumentum Subflavum

In a previous post, I told you about my exciting new book purchase--one on medieval Estonian bindings, written by Monica Langwe Berg. In her book, Monica recreates eight of these bindings (the originals are in an archive in the city of Tallinn, Estonia) with the idea of inspiring other bookbinders to create their own versions of these lovely old bindings.

I 've spent the last couple of days working out how I wanted to do the first binding (which Monica calls "Tegumentum subflavum"--any Latin speakers out there?). According to Monica, this binding dates from 1531, and was originally owned by Jesper Kappenberg. It was a "table of accounts for consumption taxes." Not a very exciting purpose! I thought it would be much nicer as a place to record thoughts and drawings. Here is a little bit about my process in making my own variation of Tegumentum subflavum:

First, I got the all-important cup of tea (in my favourite mug) and some tunes sorted out:

The cover is made from two pieces of leather sewn together lengthwise. I chose to use black and brown cowhide. I picked out a few possible thread colours (I use waxed Irish linen thread to sew my books). The red thread won out.

I made a paper pattern for cutting the pieces and marking stitching holes. I usually use a paper pattern when I'm working out a new design, since I always end up changing things. After I have a final design, I make a permanent pattern from matboard.

Next, using Monica's instructions, I set forth:

I used a backstitch to sew the pieces of leather together. It's funny that two things I thought were fun but not especially practical when I first learned to do them--typing and hand embroidery--have turned out to be very, very useful after all.

Then I sewed the pages to the cover (oop, forgot to take a photo of that part :)

This is a card showing the stitch that I used on the spine (it's the one at the top of the card). The first time I try out a stitch, I often work it out first on a card. Saves having to take the book apart over and over, because if I don't practice that stitch before assembling the book, mistakes most surely will be made. I got this tip from Abi over at EvilRooster.

Finally, I added a tie closure made with twined red thread. I learned to do this kind of twining last fall in a class I took from Dan Essig.

And at last here he is, Mr. Tegumentum subflavum:


Acornmoon said...

Your book turned out really well!I find it very difficult to follow instructions from a book but you seem to have mastered it. I especially like your choice of thread.

Joyce said...

Looks great! I look forward to seeing more or your versions. And I ordered the book myself now (you inspired me!), do you think it's appropriate for an intermediate bookbinder?

kind regards,

moonandhare said...

Thanks, Acornmoon and Seneris!

Joyce,to answer your question, Monica (the author) says herself that this book is for experienced bookbinders, and I would agree.

She doesn't include any patterns, just some general instructions and diagrams to cover some of the trickier sewings. That isn't to criticize--Monica's intention isn't for people to make direct copies of the books, but to come up with their own interpretations, and have fun experimenting.

For those reasons, I think it would be pretty confusing for a beginning bookbinder. Beyond that, it depends on whether you're looking for a creative challenge, I guess! :)

moonandhare said...

P.S. One thing I would advise is to have some experience in making limp leather bindings before you tackle this book. All of the bindings are variations of limp bindings, and the basics of doing limp bindings aren't covered.

Joyce said...

Hi there, thank you for your comments. As I am not a beginning bookbinder anymore I feel like I'm up for the challenge ;) I will practise other limp binding first, thank you for your advice.

kind regards,

Kiley said...

It is a stunning book! I'm off to revisit that issue of bonefolder and check out the book!

Dana and Daisy said...

All beautiful!
I am sure I once knew the answer to this question, but where did you take Dan Essig's class?

I would like to get some instruction from him.

moonandhare said...

Dana, I took Dan Essig's class at the Art & Soul workshop last year in Portland, Oregon. It was a great class--all about toggles and other kinds of book closures

B├╝chertiger said...

Your Tallinn-style books turned out very beautiful and thanks for the additional explanations!

Laren said...


I was wondering if you might be able to tell me what brand and weight of linen thread you are using for these historically inspired works?