A Weekend with Christopher Clarkson

The New England Chapter was treated to a full weekend with a lecture and workshop by Christopher Clarkson in July 2002.

On Friday evening a crowd gathered at the Harvard Law Library for a fascinating lecture on Mr. Clarkson’s experience working on The Kennicott Bible. The staff of the library generously hosted a small exhibit as a warm up to the lecture. There was something for everyone included in the talk and extensive slide presentation. Mr. Clarkson discussed aspects of the parchment, text and illuminations as well as the construction of the box binding and some of the conservation problems he encountered.  The following is Clarkson’s brief description of the bible:

The Kennicott Bible was made at Corunna in north-west Spain for Isaac de Braga- It was written by a famous scribe named Moses ibn Zabara, who completed the work in 1476. The illuminations were executed by Joseph ibn Hayyim, almost certainly a kinsman of Abraham ibn Hayyim, who had composed a treatise on illumination around the 1460’s. The manuscript has an extremely rare, highly decorated and contemporary Hispano-Moresque box-binding.

Mr. Clarkson spent the rest of the weekend with a lucky group of participants in his workshop on “end bands,  end of spine bands, and head bands.” The group thoroughly explored this topic through slide presentations, display models, photographs, diagrams, and the creation of some of their own models.

Several of the workshop participants compiled the following list of “the top 12 things” they learned:

General Principles:

1. End bands are very important structural elements of a binding, and care should be taken to design them to greatest effect.

2. Paste and adhesives are only temporary; make sure that the structural elements of a binding are physically connected so when the adhesives fail, there is something holding the system together (ie, thread, trenails, lacing)

3. Pack the sewing structure in a separate step after the whole book is sewn, not during sewing. This enables you to assess the opening and page flow correctly.

Specific Tips:

1. For end banding, use thread one size smaller than sewing thread.

2. In order to fill in gaps at the tail when sections are uneven heights, use partial cores cut to the shape of the gap, then wind a figure 8 around the partial core during the foundational end band sewing. May include it as part of an end-of-spine-band.

3. Every time you change the direction of the winding thread (reverse stitch) or do something that cinches the thread, you have an opportunity to regulate the tension of the end band sewing; you don’t have to be knotting it in order to adjust the tension.

4. Twist the winding thread every time you wrap so it looks even across the width of the end band; as the thread is used more and more, it gets untwisted and looks ragged if you don’t do this.

5. Linking the tie downs to the sewing structure at the kettle station on the inside of the gathering…tightens up and consolidates the entire structure, but requires access to the inside of the gathering during the foundational end band sewing.

6. A properly tensioned end band should ride along the inside of the spine fold, not aligned with the back of the text block spine. Back tie downs (ie, tie down coming from the back of the core, not the front) ensure the proper tension and position. The result encourages a graceful curve in the cap (or, it leaves room for a thicker cap if you want to retain the strength of the leather in that vulnerable area).

7. At end of foundational sewing, the tail can be knotted around the tie downs at the kettle stitch to make the kettle more pronounced and to even out uneven tie down exit points.

8. The secondary end band sewing also has a structural function–it acts like packing to control the opening and flow of the pages.

9. Lacing of end band cores: the angle should be planned to keep the spine round. Make a dummy to test the correct angle.

Barry Spence observes Chris Clarkson