Whilst a lot of the work in making a book goes into the spine, ultimately this part is covered over and none of the detailed work is seen. This is of course how it should be although the very first books were simply sewn together and had either no spine or a simple piece of leather wrapped around the book. In fact covers came relatively late in the development of books and a book doesn’t have to even be sewn together in order to qualify under the definition of a book.
However, I recognise that the interesting part for most people is the cover and I have been working on making the covers more interesting recently using different papers and colours of book cloth. Having watched a tutorial on working with wet leather to make a small pouch I thought that the same ideas could be used on the cover of a book.
I like to use recycled leather and I had a small piece of leather from an old leather coat that I have used for some of the wrap around books which was large enough to cover an A6 book so I thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to try out the technique on a smaller scale. I made a simple book block in the usual way and as this was a trial I decided to simply use the first and last pages as the paste-down endpapers. I make traditional raised band books. The cords onto which the signatures are sewn eventually become the raised bands that you see on the outside of old leather backed books. You can watch a video here to see how the cords become the raised bands on the back of the book. This was an A5 book I made a while ago and also had a paper cover on the front and back of the book.
The design I decided to create was a pentacle as it seemed straightforward being made up of straight lines and is an evocative symbol for many people. Having created the design in strips of cardboard on the front of the book I laid on the spine and formed that first before wetting the leather and forming it into the shape of the cardboard beneath. Creating the angles in the pentacle was an interesting project!
I originally planned to put some gold lines around the spine bands but I think the simplicity of this design is really good and it would probably become too fussy if I did that and the gold tooling would detract from the raised leather design on the front.
The final book is really effective and I am pleased with the outcome. It is the sort of detail which would be very personal and so rather than making a lot of different designs I would welcome commissions from anybody who wanted a particular design on their book. This design would make a great ‘recipe’ book I think and would certainly attract the admiration of others but in theory as long as the design isn’t too intricate and I can create it in raised cardboard, any design is possible. Cost would depend on the size of the book; an A5 book would need a much larger piece of leather and so would be more expensive but this could be discussed and agreed before any commission was taken on.
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