Financial Investment (scale of $ - $$$$): $$ for French flat back & modified cases; $$$ for rounded back English case
Time Commitment (scale of T - TTTT): TT for French flat back & modified cases; TTT for rounded back English case
Space Requirement (scale of O - OOOO): OO for French flat back & modified cases; OOO for rounded back English case
Skills Required: Sewing skills are helpful, but not necessary
I’m picking up from my last review post, which was the first installment of the Bookbinding I class I took at The Center for Book Arts (read my review of CBA here). Part I focused on simple accordion and pamphlet books (refresh your memory here). In Part II, I cover the French flat back case, modified case, and rounded back English case bookbinding methods that we learned. While the accordion and pamphlet books could easily be made during one 3-hour class each, each of these books took multiple classes to make. I provide a description of each here.
French Flat Back Cases
The French flat back case is what you typically see on traditional, bound journals, photo albums, and scrapbooks. In fact, we made a photo album during the class. To start, we made the text block, or bound pages, by folding and sewing together acid-free folio paper. The paper was folded to create a 1-inch tab. The tab provided the fold needed for the spine, as well as spacing between pages to allow room to add photos without adding thickness to the book. In other words, after the photos are added, the book will maintain its shape instead of having its covers splayed apart. We added decorative paper before the first page and after the last page to create end sheets (more on this later) for the text block.
Next, we created the cover using 3 pieces of binder board or book board (think chipboard but much stronger and denser): 2 pieces the size of the text block and 1 piece the size of the spine. Essentially, the 3 pieces were glued down to book cloth in the proper order (front cover, spine, back cover) with about ¼-inch space in between each. Then we wrapped book cloth around the binder board and glued it down to cover the edges of the board. We ran a bone folder along either side of the spine to create grooves. Finally, we placed the text block on top and glued the outermost end sheets to the binder board, thereby completing the book.
Our last class was an “open day” to use as needed. I decided to create a new, hardback cover for an old paperback version of George Orwell’s “1984.” Before gluing the book cloth to the binder board for the front cover, I cut out a few layers of the binder board material to fit the title from the paperback. After covering the book, I glued the old title text on top.
Below are pictures of the books I made with the French flat back case.
(L) New hardback cover for an old paperback; (R) Photo album.
Close-up of French flat back cases.
The other type of book we made had a modified case binding, which means that the spine and the covers are made as separate pieces. Initially, the text block was created the same way as in the French flat back case. However, we did not add end sheets, and after sewing the text block, we covered the spine with a layer of glue. After the glue dried, we added a decorative liner to the front and back of the text block by simply gluing about 1/3-inch of the folded edge of the liner to the text block. The next step was to create a rounded spine, which we did by hammering the spine. After rounding the spine, we glued a headband (decorative piece that also provides additional support when the book is being pulled off of a shelf) to the top and bottom and mull (gauze) over the entire spine. Oak tag (similar to cardstock) was cut to the size of the spine and covered in bookcloth such that about 1½-inch of book cloth extended beyond the oak tag on either side. We then made the cover by cutting binder board to the size of the text block, sanding down about ¼-inch of the inside down to about ½ of the thickness of the binder board on the edge that abuts the spine, covering it with book cloth, and gluing it to the bookcloth “tabs” on either side of the oak tag. Finally, we glued the outer sheets of liner from the text block to the binder board on the inside of the cover.
Rounded Back English Case
The last book we made in the Bookbinding I class had a rounded back English case. This time we sewed the text block, which included end sheets, together using a sewing frame. Using the sewing frame to make the text block was a complicated, multi-step process, which incorporated cloth tape to help strengthen the spine. We covered the spine in glue as in the modified case, but this time we rounded the spine with the text block in a clamp. The spine mushroomed over the edge of the clamp as the spine was being hammered. We took more time and effort to round the spine to ensure that an even and smooth spine was achieved. For this book, we also hand-sewed a headband. I have some sewing skills, but this was a painstaking process even for me. After the headband was complete, we reinforced the spine by gluing on Japanese tissue paper and then text-weight paper.
The English case has a “two-toned” covering: one for the spine that overlaps onto a portion of the cover and one for the remainder of the cover. First, we cut oak tag for the spine and binder board for the covers to the desired height (extending beyond the headbands) and width. Second, we cut the book cloth for the spine to overlap about ¼ the width of the cover. We then glued the binder boards to the book cloth and glued the oak tag in between the two boards. Lastly, we covered the remaining ¾ of the front and back covers with decorative paper.
Below are pictures of the books I made with the modified case and rounded back English case bookbinding methods.
(L) Modified case binding; (R) Rounded back English case.
(L) Close-up of modified case binding (with premade headband);
(R) Rounded back English case (with hand-sewn headband).
Comparing the Three Bookbinding Methods
The rounded back English case requires more time and equipment, which means more space and financial investment, than the French flat back and modified cases. We completed both the French flat back case and modified case bookbinding methods in two 3-hour classes, while the rounded back English case took three 3-hour classes to complete. Some of the time to make the English case could have been cut down by using a premade headband, but it is still more labor intensive and has room for many mistakes. Also, the English case required more equipment, such as the sewing frame and clamps. The clamps we used were very large so that they could hold the entire book (so as not to dent the covers) and withstand the hammering.
While all of the books required some special equipment, some workarounds may be made. For example, we put the finished books in large presses to ensure that the cover did not warp while the glue dried. However, I believe that the press could easily have been replaced with a large stack of heavy books. The other space/equipment challenge is obtaining access to a board shear. Binder board is very dense material that is usually sold in large sheets and has to be cut down to size. We used a board shear that was about 3 feet by 3 feet and had a very large, counter-weighted blade. A board shear is not the type of thing you want in your house even if you could afford it and had the room. To avoid the need for such equipment, one could look for places that either 1) sell binder board in smaller sizes, 2) are willing to cut it down to size for you, or 3) will allow you to use or rent time to use their board shear. The idea of trying to cut it yourself with a utility blade would be dangerous, not to mention that you most likely would not end up with a smooth, straight edge that you would want.
Last but not least, I should mention the instructor, Shanna Yarbrough. Shanna was a very easy-going instructor who knew her subject well and easily assisted those struggling with various parts of the class. She kept the class upbeat despite the various difficulties students encountered along the way. By the end of the 10-week course, I think everyone was ready to sign-up for Shanna’s Bookbinding II class. I know I did!