Making Fern Dragonstar's Book of Shadows.

Jan 21, 2007

Here is a picture of the book just after being bound together The covers are two layers of cardboard cut from a box that were glued together and then cut slightly larger than the size of the pages used, which puts it at about nine inches in width by twelve inches in height. The holes were drilled with a 0.25 inch diameter masonary bit and an electric power drill. The pages were stacked on top of the back cover, the front cover was added to the stack, and I started boring the holes one by one. They aren't perfectly lined up, I'm afraid, but on the whole it's not too bad for a first try.

After the holes were drilled I separated the pages into signatures, packets of twenty to twenty-five pages each, which adds strength by distributing strain on the binding and makes the book easier to assemble in general. Each signature was stacked on top of the previous one and sewn in place, until the front cover was reached and sewn in place. You can examine the binding job more closely in this image. As you can see, near the left side of the image/top of the book the stitching's a little messed up due to an error in drilling the holes. I compensated for this by carefuly regulating the tension on the cord used to bind the signatures together. The neat thing about a Coptic binding is that you can adjust the tension on the string uniquely to each signature to compensate for this. I made the binding just loose enough so that it'll lay flat, making it easy to write in, while not being so loose that the pages move around inside the binding easily. In contrast, you can look at how well the pages lined up from the long edge of the book.

The discolouration of the pages is due to an artificial aging process I employed over a span of four months of work. I made a strong batch of ordinary tea, the cheap stuff from the local supermarket (ten teabags per gallon of boiling water, steeped for twenty minutes), which was allowed to cool. I poured the tea into a long foil serving pan (two gallons of tea per batch), mixed in a few drops of liquid dishwashing detergent to act as a surfactant, and allowed it to cool. After cooling, I soaked between twenty and twenty-five sheets of laserjet paper in the solution for twenty-four hours, agitating it occasionally to make sure the tea was circulating between the pages. Some of the batches I kept submerged with a wire baking rack, though near the end of the process I stopped doing this to keep from staining the racks permanantly with tannic acid (sorry, Dataline). After removing the pages from the bath of tea I pressed them between sheets of paper towel to remove the excess tea and baked them between 200 and 250 degrees Farenheit in a regular kitchen oven for five to six hours to dry. Periodically I would remove the dryest pages from the top and bottom of the stack and flip the remaining pages over to dry them evenly. Five to six hours isn't long, that's one evening, starting from afterdinner and taking the last pages out of the oven before going to bed for work the next day.

You can look at how the pages turned out after the chemical distressing and binding process in these images. As you can see, there's a lot of natural variation in how the pages are dyed, which approximates closely the discolouration you'd find in books that are extremely old (between fifty and one hundred years of age). Also visible in places are the stitches used to bind the signatures in position. I used plain cotton twine and a tapestry needle to form the binding; I tried nylon twine but it's too slippery and too prone to unravelling. Nylon twine is also very difficult, I found, to tie lasting knots in. Also visible in the images are spots of extreme discolouration (very dark brown to black with a pale white center spot) which resulted from pressure applied to the pages by the legs of the cooling racks I was using to keep the papers submerged in the tea. After noticing this phenomenon, I almost junked the pages I was dying but decided to keep them when I realised that the marks looked very much like burn marks, which you'd see in a book if cigarette embers or blots of beeswax had falled on the pages. They give it character, I thought, and added to the effect of looking very old.

Now we come to the good stuff, the finished cover. These images were taken during the third week of January 2004, and represent the final stages of the project. The covers were made in six stages:

  • Cutting the front and back covers

  • Cutting the spine-board

  • Cutting and sewing the leather panels

  • Gluing the spine-board to the leather spine

  • Gluing the bookmark to the spine-board

  • Gluing the leather to the front and back covers

  • Gluing the endpapers to the front and back covers

Fern had given me a number of decently-sized scraps of leather to make the covers of her book of shadows, but unfortunately none of them were large enough to make a one-piece cover. What I wound up doing was cutting three pieces of matching leather (the front and back covers and the spine) and stitching them together. You can see in the images the seam next to the spine of the book. After measuring and testing the sizes of the panels against the cardboard parts of the cover I cut the panels apart and sewed them together, facing sides together, so that the seams would be inside nestling alongside the binding itself.

At this point I'd already glued the spine-board to the leather spine panel and glued a length of white silk ribbon (visible in most of the images) to the spine-board. After positioning the ribbon through the pages and gluing the front and back leather panels I cut off the ribbon, folded it a few times, and stitched the tag end neatly. There's a better view of the bookmark and seams on the left, along with the marks from the clamps I used to hold the edges flat against the cover boards when I was gluing them down. I glued everything in stages: first the spine-board to the spine, then the front and back covers but not the parts that fold inside the book, then the parts of the leather that fold inside and make up the inner edges of the covers. I'm hoping that the marks will fade soon as the glue finishes curing - I wound up improvising with clamp-type paperclips of several sizes. Also just visible in the third image are tiny tabs of leather that were cut and glued to cover imperfections in the edges closest to the binding - I'd miscalculated slightly when sewing the panels together and had to fill in the gaps. I plan on injecting glue closer to the spine shortly to finish the covers.

Here you can see the inside of the book just after the edges of the leather cover were glued in place. The cardboard cover can be clearly seen on the left, as can the reverse side of the endpaper on the right. The stitching between the first signature and the front cover will be covered soon when the endpaper is glued to the front cover, which will also partially cover the folded edges of the leather cover.

The bottom of the book clearly shows the variations in colouration of the dyed pages, how well the signatures lined up, and how well they fit together after being re-dampened and pressed beneath a few (not running) servers for a number of days. The silk bookmark can be clearly seen in the left side of the image, as well as the folded edges of the leather cover.

The original inspiration for this project came from this page at the website Propping Up the Mythos, which is a website for propmakers for the game C'thul'hu Live, which is a Call of C'thul'hu LARP. I could not have even finished this project, however, without the help of the book Making and Keeping Creative Journals by Suzanne Tourtillott, which is an excellent reference for journal and scrapbook making and book binding.