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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.

  1. Jacqueline Mraz says:

    This is interesting; but I wouldn’t do it to my marbled Goethe. Would you?

    • I’m not quite sure what you’re asking here. This edition of Dune will be rebound as a design fine binding. Therefore I am creating an artistic interpretation of the content. This is not something I do to every book I bind. I need to consider the condition of the book and its history before I do anything. I hopes this answers your question.

  2. This is looking very cool and I’m excited to see it progress! Spice!

  3. I am curious … how do the pages split apart? It seems like the book page are sort of glued together. I am asking because with altered books, many people glue the edges of the book which essentially turns it into like one large block for crafting purposes!

    • *pages (not page, annoying typo!)

    • Edge decoration occurs on the very thin part of the edge of the page. The adhesive used during the process adheres the pigment or gold leaf to that edge, therefore the pages do not actually stick together. The sanding process can make the pages appear like a single block, this is something you’re actually trying to achieve before decorating the edge. So, since the pages have been somewhat forced together during the decoration process, a quick smack to the edges will cause them to split back apart.

      So it is very different from the altered books you are referring to. I hope this answers your question.

      • sappling says:

        Just to clarify, when you smack the edge, is it the face of the book near the foredge?

        • After completing the decoration on the fore edge, I will smack that edge along the table’s edge to break the pages apart (by holding the spine). In the case of the post, I was working on the tail edge. To break apart the pages, I smacked the book against the table’s edge about halfway down the tail side (also partly the corner where the tail and fore edge meet). The rest of the paper (near the spine) is split apart by me simply fanning the pages.

          I hope this clarifies the process for you a bit more.

          • Jacqueline Mraz says:

            Sure. “Book smacking[.]” How cool. No wonder Sting’s movie Dune flopped. No wonder they had so many troubles in the desert in Mexico filming it. After all, you can’t do a tune like “Every Step You Make” and then just become a movie star overnight. Can you? Check out the “People” magazine archives on the problems with that movie and its adaptation from the Dune series. Before you start smacking your lips about book smacking, you may want to know that Dune is more than one work. A bad movie. A bad screenplay. Bad desert weather. A new actor bent on stealing all of the action. And now a bad book to do what with? “Every step you take, I’ll be watching you.” Aren’t some of the lyrics of that song about “hot air.” Not just a balloon ride, Erin.

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  • My name is Erin Fletcher, owner and bookbinder of Herringbone Bindery in Boston. Flash of the Hand is a space where I share my process and inspirations.
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