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  1. Bookbinder of the Month: Sol Rébora

    November 23, 2014 by Erin Fletcher


    This is my favorite binding to date from bookbinder Sol Rébora. A french text bound in full goatskin with onlays that create a striking, eye-catching design. The overlapping ellipses are creating by using a combination of goatskin and calf. Combining these two skins as onlays is a technique Sol has used in other bindings (like this one or this one). I quite love the look of the textured goat against the smooth calf.

    The binding was created for Les Rencontres de M. de Bréot, which is a novel written by French author Henri-François-Joseph de Regnier in 1904.

    Although it’s hard to choose a favorite, I think this binding might be the one. Did this design stem from a love of 20th century French design binding?
    It could be, I bound this book for an Argentinean bookseller. He participates every year in the Antiquarian book fair in Paris and I specially bound this book so that he could show my work at this fair in Paris. It is a French book and so there you have the result.

    LesRencontres2-SolRebora LesRencontres4-SolRebora

  2. Featured on Fine Books Magazine

    November 19, 2014 by Erin Fletcher


    This past weekend, Boston hosted the 36th Annual International Antiquarian Book Fair. The fair was filled with so many wonderful treasures. I was pleased to discover a few embroidered bindings, a collection of Gaylord Schanilec’s little books, a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicles (bound in alum-tawed skin over wooden boards) and a design binding by David Esslemont. I also got the chance to leaf through Diane Jacob’s Nourish, which has been featured on the blog.

    But I have to say that I was most excited to see my books displayed at the booth of Lux Mentis. Rebecca Rego Barry wrote up a short little overview of the fair for Fine Books Magazine, which includes some of her highlights. Thanks Rebecca, for being awed by my binding of The Crucible and writing about it. Check out the post here.

  3. Bookbinder of the Month: Sol Rébora

    November 16, 2014 by Erin Fletcher


    In this post on Sol Rébora, I am presenting two of her bindings of the text Fausto. Just as was the case with the two bindings she completed on Alice in Wonderland, Sol found inspiration in the individual editions, thus creating two independent and unique design bindings. Fausto was written by Argentinian poet Estanislao del Campo is 1866; the story describes a laborer that goes to see Charles Gounod’s opera Faust and believes the events to really be happening.

    The binding above is bound in full black goatskin. The circular design includes strips of goatskin and calf, offering a nice variety of textures. The title is tooled in gold along the spine.

    The binding below is bound in full calfskin with detail along the front cover fore edge in the signature style we’ve seen on some of Sol’s other bindings. On this binding, the goatskin and calf onlays sit on five tooled levels. The title is tooled in gold along the spine. FaustoB-SolRebora

    These two bindings of Faust0 are quite different. Can you talk about the concepts behind each binding and what made you design them differently?
    After the explanation of the process I use to make a design binding, probably there are not too much to say about.

    Those are totally different editions, different clients, different years, and different prices, which is another very important point that I didn’t mention before, and it is a big condition of course.

    Most of the tooling on your bindings seem reserved to the titles or is done blind. Is there a reason for excluding this technique from your bindings?
    Well, maybe I don’t use traditional tooling on my designs, besides the titles, but it just depend on the designs, if I feel it needs it, I used traditional tooling to make gold lines it as I did on Milongas, Borges.

    I think I just use what I need when I need.

    I mostly like to work with a metal or brass folder, a very thin tool which helps me to make the finishing work on the inlay and the onlay. I do not love the strong lines around the inlays and my feeling is that it makes the composition looks stronger.


    Click image to enlarge.


  4. Conservation Conversations // Another Look at Su-Su

    November 15, 2014 by Erin Fletcher

    Earlier this year, as part of the Conservation Conversations column, Lauren Schott wrote an article on su-su, which highlighted the steps to creating this alternative matter for toning materials as part of the conservation treatment. Also referred to as paper dirt or paper extract, I was first introduced to this alternative toning pigment at North Bennet Street School by my instructor Martha Kearsley. Later on, I used it while interning at the Boston Public Library, just as Lauren did the following year during her internship.

    Conservation is a science and therefore it evolves as our understanding of it grows through research, experiments, discussions and time. John O’Regan recently brought the following article to my attention, which he found through CoOL (Conservation OnLine). In 2008, Erin Gordon of Queen’s University wrote Comparing Paper Extract to Traditional Toning Materials. Erin’s introduction to paper extract came during a workshop conducted by Renate Mesmer, Head of Conservation at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. The information Renate presented was largely based on an article by Piers Townshend, Head of Paper Conservation at the Tate Conservation Department. Interestingly, this is the same article Lauren cites in her post as further reading on the subject.

    Erin’s paper, as the title suggests, is based on her research conducted for the purpose of her studies in the Master of Art Conservation program at Queen’s University. If you are interested in knowing the science behind paper extract and other toning materials, I suggest you read through Erin’s paper. But those of you who are interested in reading the exciting conclusions Erin found right now, well here it is:

    Paper extract has some positive characteristics. Paper extract is transparent and matches the tone of aged paper exactly. It absorbs into the paper substrate and maintains the paper’s matte appearance. Paper extract is more lightfast than tea and it is the most reversible of all the materials tested. Another advantage to paper extract may be that a colour shift as the repair ages may not be as visible. As shown in the aging trials, watercolour and acrylic both faded. After a few years when the surrounding paper has aged, but the repair has faded, these repaired areas will become quite apparent and will likely need to be re-done. The use of paper extract may prevent this dramatic colour shift.
    These characteristics make paper extract a very attractive material to use for toning. Before choosing paper extract an important result of this investigation must not be overlooked. Paper extract degrades the paper substrate upon accelerated aging. The paper samples became more brittle and were significantly discoloured after artificial aging. According to the analysis done to the paper extract materials and then paper sources of the extract, the main culprit behind the deterioration upon aging seems to be lignin. Half the papers used as the raw material for the extract tested positive for lignin. The GC-MS results found a high abundance of lignin and its degradation products. Although the results show the content of lignin in the paper extract is contributing to the degradation of the samples during aging, there is a notable improvement in folding endurance and discolouration when the alkalized extract results are compared to the non- alkalized extract results. Further research should be conducted to test whether an adequate alkaline buffer can be added to the extract to make it archival or to test whether the extract can be applied to material that has been de-acidified with an alkaline buffer. Extract made from paper that is lignin free should also be tested to compare artificial aging results with the lignin containing sample results. After analyzing the results of this research, the conclusion can be made that paper extract is not the best choice for a toning material, as paper extract has been shown to degrade the paper substrate with accelerated aging. Although having better aging characteristics than tea, a commonly used toning material, the best choice remains to be either watercolour or acrylic paint.
    Gordon, ANAGPIC 2008, 19-20

    So the point of this post, is not to claim that Lauren or anyone using su-su is wrong in their methods (because it might be the most appropriate). But that as professions in the field of conservation, there is a responsibility to understand the positive and negative consequences of the treatments and materials employed (and how those factors may change over time). The pros and cons must be weighed for each object individually, while keeping in consideration its history, its function and its future. Understanding our materials and why we choose to bind, rebind or repair a book in a certain way must continually be reaccessed.

    I’ve targeted the conservator throughout this post, but I don’t believe that professional bookbinders are free of this task either. As is the case with most professions, we grow as an industry and individual through consistent research, experimentation and discussion.

  5. Conservation Conversations // Adhesives in Library and Archives: A Colloquium Review (Part 1)

    November 14, 2014 by Henry Hebert

    Last Friday, the first Biennial Conservation Colloquium was held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Four conservators traveled to Urbana from the UK and across the country to speak about their research or practical experiences with various adhesives in library and archives conservation. Thanks to generous funding from the UIUC Library and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the day-long event was free to 50 attendees.  In this two-part series, I will attempt to summarize the major points of each talk and hopefully encourage others working in the field to visit us for the next event.

    UIUC Library

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  6. My Hand // Hand Sewn Headbands on Dune

    November 11, 2014 by Erin Fletcher


    After reacquainting myself (with the help of Jane Greenfield and Jenny Hille’s Headbands: How to Work Them) on the techniques for sewing a French double core headband, I embarked on creating the headbands for Dune. The headbands are made up of four different colored threads wrapped around two leather cords of different sizes. A third row of thread is created around a core of thread referred to as the bead. You can see this in the image above, the colored thread is wrapped around the white thread that is dangling in front of the headband. The beading step also locks the tension, keeping everything nice and orderly as you move further along the cord.

    Three of the colored threads will be used as embroidered elements on the design of the binding. The dark brown thread was incorporated to extend the dark brown pigment from the edge decoration onto the headband itself. (Click on the image to enlarge).


    With the headbands completed, I will be moving forward with the spine linings and board shaping. I foresee a bit of sanding in my future.


  7. Bookbinder of the Month: Sol Rébora

    November 9, 2014 by Erin Fletcher


    Sol Rébora bound this special one of a kind text by calligrapher Nancy Leavitt after a serendipitous meeting. The book is bound in the French-style of fine binding in full violet goatskin. The decoration is divided into six levels with onlays in purple and white goatskin.

    The text within this binding is a special edition by Nancy Leavitt. Do have a connection with Nancy, who is a calligrapher and book artist based in Northern Maine?
    I met Nancy in New York in 2006, at the 100th Anniversary Guild of Book Workers Conference. I love her work and I like her very much; she is really a beautiful person and a great artist. I proposed to her that we make a book together and she accepted; so we started to work on it. We looked for a topic which we both like to work with and [settled on the subject of] Tango. After some research we chose [the popular song] Balada para un loco [by poet Hector Ferrer].

    Sometime later she had finished the book, she sent it to me by mail, and I worked on the binding. Both of us worked totally free on our feelings.


    Nancy found a way to make a translation, which is very difficult for Tango. With the text and the song, she found a base to create the book.

    Later I bound the book, working with the same process I use for every design binding, but with the plus that I had been part of the creating process of the text in some way. I sent the design to Nancy before I began, (even if she didn’t ask it) and she liked it very much, so I started to work on it.

    It was a wonderful experience.

    Did you find inspiration in the text or do you draw from another source?
    To explain my way to work on a design or to find inspiration I have quite a clear process of work.

    As a starting point in the design process, I engaged in the act of reading the text of the book to be bound or I inquire about the context and history of the edition. To continue as a general basis of the process, I found very necessary to observe carefully all the aspects of the book:

    – Typography: The design of the typeface, its predominant form, size and color.
    – Print Layout: Book cover, typographic case and blank surfaces around the text.
    – Paper: Color, texture and paper weight.
    – Illustrations: Techniques used for illustrations, predominant color, size and quantity thereof.
    – Size and shape of the book: I observe the size of the book, number of booklets [signatures], leaflets or free sheets, and finally the weight of the book.

    From the evaluation of these conditions, I can begin to work on the design of the binding:
    – Structure and construction process: What may be the most appropriate structure and format and sewing by weight.
    – Materials to use: wire, paper, paperboard, leather, fabric, or alternative materials such as acrylic, wood, metal, etc.
    – Textures: Choosing textures in every material used for union or for opposition to the qualities that brings the book.
    – Colors: Colors of the materials I decide to use.
    – Design: Drawings, designs, models, colors and material testing.

    I think the openness and the preservation are the most important points on the construction process of a contemporary design binding, together with “good techniques and aesthetic criteria”.

    These are technical conditions that a binding should have to preserve the criteria that the book brings from the edition, which is accompanied by an aesthetic thought of form and color text, based on the text, work which is responsible editors, designers and illustrators.

    The design and the aesthetics or the artistic expression of the binding should be integrated to create one piece with intellectual and sensory reading from the outside. Finally, I would say the construction techniques of the structure, along with the design of the cover and applied materials, play together to achieve this unit.

  8. My Hand // A Desert Inspired Edge for Dune

    November 6, 2014 by Erin Fletcher

    I am currently working on a first edition copy of Dune by Frank Herbert for two reasons: 1) I plan to submit it to a bookbinding competition with the hopes that it will travel around the country and 2) there is a towering stack of books from the Dune series on my husband’s bookcase and he deserves a finely bound copy of his favorite (he exhaustively quotes from) book.

    At the beginning of the design phase, I consulted with my husband for inspiration and to make sure I was capturing the spirit of this iconic science fiction novel with precision (I may have subconsciously derived some inspiration from both Lynch’s visual masterpiece and Jodorowsky’s sadly unfinished film). After finalizing my design, I began working on the binding. First step was to remove it from its trade binding and mend the signatures. After the book was re-sewn, then rounded and backed, I ploughed the edges in preparation for the edge decoration.


    At this point in the process, I’ve already completed the decoration on the fore edge and will go through the steps to decorate the tail edge in this post. As always, I decorate the edges in the following order: fore edge, tail edge, head edge. The book is placed between two wooden finishing boards that are angled at the top in order to apply more pressure to the book’s edge.

    Before I can apply any decoration, I need to scrap and sand the edge until it has a smooth feeling and an almost sheen-like finish. I scrap the edge first with a curved scraper, then I sand the edge beginning with a course grit sandpaper and work the edge with a finer and finer grit to get that nice luster finish.


    The sanding phase can be an arduous task in the decoration process, but quite necessary to a successful edge. I usually sand the edge smooth, then apply my base layer of pigment, allow it to dry, then sand the edge smooth again. After the second phase of sanding, I’m ready to apply the final base layer of pigment. For the edge on Dune, I wanted to achieve the look of a cracked, dry desert ground by combining gouache and gold leaf.

    The mixture of gouache also included water and paste. I paint the mixture onto the edge, then use a sponge to thin down the color. I allow the first layer to dry a bit before applying more pigment with a sponge which offers a mottled and textured effect to the edge.

    As this layer is drying, I draw out the imagery to represent the cracks of the dry ground on some Frisket film. The cracks are going to be gilt onto the edge, the Frisket film is used to mask out the areas I don’t want to be gilt. Frisket is a great material to work with because it has a low tack and will not disturb the gouache layer underneath.


    In the image above you can see the mottled gouache layer through the clear Frisket film (which is also hanging over the edge of the spine). The exposed areas will be covered by gold leaf.

    in the next step, I apply a PVA wash as the size (adhesive) for the gold leaf. At first the PVA wash absorbs quickly into the edge, but eventually the PVA wash will sit on top the edge. At this point, the gold leaf can be laid down. The PVA wash acts almost like a vacuum as it sucks the gold leaf to the edge.

    Before the PVA wash is completely dry underneath, the leaf needs to be set; this can be done by carefully applying downward pressure with a piece of flannel wrapped around the squishy part of my thumb. A second layer of gold leaf is laid down using the same steps, this creates a more vibrant and fuller look to the gilding.


    Once the PVA wash is completely dry, I burnish the edge and remove the Frisket film. This initial burnishing of the edge is done through a protective layer of silicone release paper. After some time, when I know the edge is dry and the decoration is secure, I burnish the edge once more (this time the agate burnisher is in direct contact with the edge).

    For the final step of the decoration process, I add some accents of dark brown gouache (this mixture also included water and paste). The darker pigment is added simply with a brush in the desired areas. When I am satisfied with the decoration and the last bit of gouache is dry, I burnish the edge on last time.

    After removing the book from the press, I whack the edge against the edge of the table. This cracks open the text block, separating the pages. This step can be a bit nerve-racking, at this point any poorly attached layer can crack or flack off. Luckily my edges came out beautifully!


    Now on to the headbands, but not before I cap up (wrap up with a thin paper) the text block. After spending three days creating such a complex decorative edge, I want to make sure it stays safe from any scrapes or scuffs.

  9. Bookbinder of the Month: Sol Rébora

    November 2, 2014 by Erin Fletcher


    The design on these two bindings are very stylistic of Sol Rebora’s fine binding work. I wanted to ask her about the technique behind this signature look.

    These bindings are bound in a similar fashion with the boards built up with 7 different layers. Are these layers covered in leather off the book and then attached?
    The way I used to build the different layers of relief is:
    I cover the lower layers first, then I use some cardboard, with different thicknesses, and finally I cover the cardboards with very thin leather, working within traditional onlay techniques.


    The binding on the left is Cartas de Anastasio el Pollo. The binding is covered in calfskin at the spine with the remaining portion covered in various goatskin relief onlays. The edge to edge doublures are matching the leather near the fore edge of the covers. Sol shared an image of one of the illustrations, which demonstrates her inspiration for the binding design.

    CartasDeAnastasioElPollo-SolRebora CartasDeAnastasioElPollo2-SolRebora

    The binding on the right is Acuarelas. Published by Livraria Kozmos Editora in 1991, this artful text includes watercolors by Lieutenant Robert Pearce. The binding is full leather constructed in four sections. The spine and front edges are covered in a beige goatskin, the central panel is natural box calf and the relief onlays are a series of blue goatskin. The latter has been worked to get different tones of the same color.

    The title has been tooled in gold along the spine.


    The doublures are also beige goatskin, with a single vertical line tooled in gold. The flyleaves are also goatskin from Argentina.

    From Sol on the design concept:
    The design is based on the watercolours in the book, which show outlines of the Brazilian coast taken from the sea. To simulate the movement of the water, I took photos of the water in a swimming pool, printed the pictures and working with a transparent paper, copied the strongest lines. I then developed them to get the feeling of movement. The pieces of blue leather were sanded and burnished to get different tones of the same color.


  10. November // Bookbinder of the Month: Sol Rébora

    November 1, 2014 by Erin Fletcher

    AliceInWonderlandBlack-SolReboraSol Rébora has bound two copies of Alice in Wonderland. Both designs are stark opposites, one bound in full black goatskin and one bound in full white goatskin. The binding above was bound in 2006, with the design executed in a series of blue onlays and title tooled in gold.

    The design on Alice in Wonderland (black) is stunning, the blue onlays run so fluidly across the covers. Did you hand-dye the blue onlays for this binding? Can you discuss the concept behind the design?
    I had read the book and the image of Alice falling along the stairs, plus the kind of dream that she led, gave me part of the idea for the design.

    Also the special perspective of the illustrations helps me to spread this design across the covers.

    I had used different colors of blue, but I didn’t dye them. The tone of a single skin of leather can change, depending on the section. I choose the piece I wanted depending on the tone and “direction” of the grain. Where the grain changes, the tone of the color changes; I can get different tones from the same skin of leather.


    The elegant ribbon-like set of onlays continues onto both the front and back doublures. The flyleaves are inlayed with a series of dots that extend the flow of the onlays.

    AliceInWonderlandBlack4-SolReboraAliceInWonderlandBlack3-SolRebora- – – – – – – – – – – –


    Sol’s response continues:
    Now, you may see I had bound the same book with a total different design; this one is full white leather with big flowers, all across the cover. Those flowers are done with inlay techniques, full color using blue, green, orange and yellow.

    I had done this design for the same book, same edition, with the same illustrations, but three years later and for a different client. (I didn’t have that wonderful white French leather in my hands when I bound the first Alice, and I didn’t have the beautiful Harmatan black leather when I bound the second Alice.)

    I should say that, being in Buenos Aires, I also have to play with the leathers I have at the moment to make decisions on my designs.

    – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Bound in the French-style of fine binding in full white goatskin, this Alice in Wonderland (white) was completed in 2010. The mosaic-like flowers are created through layers of goatskin. The lines and title are smoke tooled.


    I was introduced to the work of Sol Rébora through Pamela Train Leutz’s book The Thread That Binds. Her interview with Pamela was inspiring and led me to investigate her work further. Sol lives and works in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Up until now I’ve interview bookbinders from Canada, United States and England. I’m excited to present the point of a view from a bookbinder living in South America.

    In order to become the talented bookbinder she is now, Sol had to look into study opportunities outside of Argentina in order to grow within her field. Read the interview after the jump to explore more about bookbinding in Argentina and how Sol became a bookbinder. Come back each Sunday in the month of November to see more work from Sol.

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