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binding parchment books

This year I encountered a binding problem which I thought might interest
other binders, and hopefully any feedback will help me cope when it
happens again. This is not the first time that I have faced the problem,
but I am finally admitting that it is not likely to go away.
        Firstly, the book is written on parchment. We Jews use a lot of the
stuff, and it's a much sought after item amongst Jewish collectors,
despite its problematic nature. Secondly, the parchment that is
generally available here is intended for scrolls and tends to be heavy
for book use. And lastly, the calligraphers want to write on one side
only. I have seen parchment that can be written on both sides without
too much show-through, but the local product, being intended for
scrolls, is finished for writing on one side only.
        The writer's solution is usually to fold the parchment at the fore edge
and plan on an oriental style binding, which we all know is impossible.
So I came up with the following solution. Each folded sheet was one
signature, and I asked for large margins opposite the fore edge. After
trimming the sections to size, leaving about two cm. more on one side, I
folded that extra bit under the shorter side to make an envelope. I was
able to sew through that fold and then glue the loose side to it.
        Obviously the sewing took a little time, since I would sew one
section, glue the fold to the loose sheet, and then clamp the whole book
lightly under a pressing board in the sewing frame and leave for 20
minutes or so before doing the next section. (You can sit down and rest,
play a few games of solitaire on the computer, or even do some other
        This method leaves the spine 1.5 times thicker than the fore edge,
which might be tolerable in a thinner book. Luckily the books I did had
cut-outs on each page (paper cuts) and the artist wanted coloured sheets
behind each page, so I inserted sheets of a thickness equal to the
parchment into each envelope before sewing, and anchored them with dots
of glue at the fore edge. I made a blank envelope at each end for
endsheets, and attached the edge of a leather joint when gluing the
envelope together.
        Since this parchment was too thick for normal rounding and
backing, which I would hesitate to do anyway, I rounded the book dry and
made boards with a substantial beveling on the inside to accommodate the
swell. I had used heavy thread and had a nice swell without having to
manipulate it too much and then only with my fingers. With the book in
the lying press in its boards, I glued airplane linen to the spine
between the tapes and beat it in with a stiff brush. I tried to use
Japanese paper, as I do with paper books, but it always pulled away from
the parchment. When it was dry I sewed on the endbands through the
linen. It is also possible, by opening the endsheet envelopes, to sew
the linen to the endsheets.
        I then lined up the spine with leather and sanded it smooth. The
boards could then be attached and the binding proceeded as usual.

Yehuda Miklaf

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