Or: All The Things I Will Do Differently With The Blank Books I make For Christmas Next Year

This year, lacking the funds I have had in previous years, and wanting to give my family and friends really special Christmas presents, I decided to make a series of blank books for them. The books were bound using limp bookbindings, with covers made from paper, vellum, and leather. The book blocks were all the same - a decent, normal weight acid-free stock, with endpapers and cover material chosen with the specific recipient in mind.

The books were all aproximately 5.75 x 4.5, with a pocket in the back for papers or other small objects. Each book had a printed colophon, describing the general type of book, who it was for, and the number.

I began by making a model for the book, using a vellum cover, following the same general structure described in limp bookbinding. This worked reasonably well, with a few flaws. I made a set of patterns based upon this model - for the cover and the endpapers. Then I made a book based upon these patterns. The book looked reasonably good, so I decided to proceed based upon this pattern.

It seemed that mass production would allow for better results, faster. I folded all the signatures for all of the books, cut all of the endpapers, printed all of the colophons, and cut and folded the paper for about half of the covers. I then set about punching all the holes in all the signatures and sewing together all the book blocks.

With all the of the book blocks sewn together, I began choosing the material for the covers of the books. At the same time, I received my first order of bookbinding leather, and was eager to put it to use. So I began using it in the Christmas books. There was a bit of a learning curve, but the leatherbound books did look nice. After far too much time, I finished the series, having learned quite a bit.

This is what I learned from this group of books, in no particular order:

  • It is not necessarily best to do things in an assembly line fashion - there are things one learns having done a couple books that can be applied to the rest of the series more easily if one is making one book at a time. Also, I am not completely convinced that making books in an assembly line fashion is actually faster than making them one at a time.
  • Both bookbinding and noding go faster if you do not try to do them both at the same time. The books went considerably faster when I just sat down and worked on them instead of trying to work on them and check e2 every three minutes.
  • Leather is considerably thicker than paper, even heavy paper - thus you will need a bigger piece of material and a different pattern than would be needed for even heavy paper. The folds that were in the right position for the paper cover will be too thick, due to the additional layers of leather, and will not look right. Additionally, the difference in thickness between goat and calf is sufficient that separate patters are needed for each.
  • I am not sure that patterns are necessarily the fastest way to go. It seemed that I spent more time recutting edges of things cut from patterns than it would have taken had I not used patterns.
  • Print more colophons than you need - there will be problems with some of them - you will put the wrong name on them, or something - it is far easier to just print a few extras.
  • Fold more signatures than you need, too. You will likely mess up the folding of a couple.
  • Slow down. It may have actually taken me more time to do some things, just because I was trying to hurry through them and do a lot, quickly, because of the errors and problems I had to fix.
  • It's ok to change the design if it will signficantly speed things up. Really. This should be a learning experience.
  • Learn from the experience.
  • Start early. This will take longer than you think.

Most of this could probably be applied to many things. This is just what I learned in bookbinding, this year, for Christmas. I am sure next years series will be even better.