Hope Bindery & Box Company Q & A about Book Binding

We asked Caleb Getto (Hope Bindery & Box Co's Studio Manager) some questions about the process of hand binding Judy Chicago's manuscript    'Revelations'. 
  1. What kind of books/manuscripts did you use as inspiration when working with the artist’s design brief for the manuscript?

When I was initially presented the idea for this project, I was very excited because it sounded like a wonderful opportunity to explore traditional techniques and binding styles with contemporary sensibilities. What I remember being most on my mind were two leather bindings that we had recently finished at the time. One was a restoration of a 17th century Roman Missal, the other was a modern leather-bound photo album of Sculptor Howard Ben Tre. The Missal set the groundwork with the traditional techniques, and the photo album was a step in the direction the Revelations manuscript, finding common threads between contemporary and traditional bindings.

  1. How did you choose the materials for the book cover and embossing?

Everyone working on the project agreed that some sort of leather was the way to go for the binding. We all wanted to make sure that holding and interacting with this book was a special experience. Judy Chicago was adamant we not use real leather for humane/animal rights reasons. I searched around and started looking into bio-leathers. We made the final choice to use a bio-leather made of grape leftovers from the winemaking process.

For the embossing, we wanted this special edition to be separate from, but related to the trade edition of the book. That is why we chose to go with the holographic foil stamping on the cover and the holographic endpapers. It especially pops on the black bio-leather and is a beautiful, bright way to enter the book.

  1. What were the traditional processes used in the making of this book, and have these processes changed much since the initial inception of book binding?

Many traditional bookbinding techniques are still practiced, we use them here in the studio very often when doing repair and restoration work. While tools have advanced in some cases, the hand skill and techniques for traditional bindings remain fairly unchanged. Being that this manuscript is made from unique, modern materials it necessitated some adapting of these old techniques to work with the new materials. The raised cords on the spine are not sewn onto the book block as they would traditionally have been. However, we do use a traditional method to form the bio-leather around the cords use a string or twine to apply tension as the adhesive dries.

The book blocks themselves are sewn through the fold on linen tapes. This is a traditional, widely used method of sewing that certainly stands the test of time. If you open up the back of some old books you’re bound to find this technique on some of them. We see it very frequently in 19th century logbooks. 

  1. What is the difference, would you say, between normally bound books and a hand bound manuscript?

Few contemporary books are made to last. They are made with speed and profit in mind, so corners are often cut. People bring us books all the time from the last 10 to 15 years that have beautiful printing but are bound very poorly. Adhesives are failing, materials are weak and fragile.

With a hand bound book you can be sure that everything is well thought out and considered both in terms of design and durability/longevity. Someone’s hands are involved in every part of the making, from the sewing to the final pasting of the endpapers. Much more time and personal energy goes into making a hand bound book, so we want this to last as much as you do.

  1. What is the paper stock used in the manuscript, what thickness and feel does this give to the book?

The manuscript is printed on 110lb Mohawk Superfine Eggshell Ult White Text. This is a beautiful high quality paper that has a great soft feel. It is heavy without feeling stiff or rigid.

  1. What inspired you to become a book binder, and do you think it is an important artform to preserve even now we have newer ways of binding on mass scale? 

There’s not one singular point of inspiration, my becoming a bookbinder came about very naturally. In college I studied printmaking, but was always very drawn to books, artist books, and box making. After graduating I worked at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum in the Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Department. There I was working closely with lots of portfolios and books, constructing archival housing for storage and framing for exhibitions. Around that time I also started working at Hope Bindery & Box Co. I fell right into it. I found that I much preferred being in a space where I was making, working on bringing these objects into the world and doing more involved repair and restoration rather than working to preserve and present them, though both are equally important!  

Hand bookbinding and book-arts are very special artforms because they encompass so many various things, they’re verbal, pictorial, and sculptural. Mass scale bookbinding has its’ place, but so does hand bookbinding. As with anything there are certain things, unique projects that require special knowledge and hand skill, that can’t be done in mass.

  1. How can I best present a hand bound book whilst protecting it from too much damage?

As with all paper and books the most important things are temperature, humidity, and light. As for presenting the book without damaging it, just keep in mind that there are some sensitive surfaces, the print on the box cover and the holographic papers can both collect fingerprints if handled too much and are susceptible to scratching. You can clean off fingerprints with a slightly damp microfiber cloth. Other than that the binding is very durable and can be presented however you please.

Hand bound books are, more often than not, more durable than machine made books. We make our books with the expectation and desire that they will be read, presented, and interacted with fully. After all, that’s the best way for a book to live it’s life. We make all our material, technical, and design decisions with this in mind. Being that we do everything by hand we are also checking the quality at every step of the way. Making adjustments as needed along the way so we can produce the best possible book that will stand the test of time.