Marvell Poems

by bookwyrmbound

First off, I have some exciting news; my Silmarillion was accepted to the Guild of Book Workers’ Traveling Exhibition, so it will be shown in a variety of locations throughout the country over the course of the next year! I’ll post the schedule when it becomes available.

In other news, I made a parchment over boards binding of the poems of Andrew Marvell.

Poems of Andrew Marvell with lines and titling in gold

Poems of Andrew Marvell with parallel and oblique lines

We were fortunate enough to have parchment over boards workshop with Peter Geraty of the Praxis Bindery earlier this year. The structure isn’t normally a part of the NBSS curriculum but variants are quite common as historical structures, and the version we were taught certainly make beautiful modern fine bindings.

Parchment is made from the skin of goats or calves, with the hair and flesh removed. The skin is stretched on a frame and left to dry; it wants to shrink as it dries, and because it can’t shrink inwards it becomes thinner, turning into an incredibly thin, strong, and beautiful material. Some of the NBSS bookbinders took a parchment-making workshop earlier in the year, so stay tuned for a post about the process!

Although parchment has a lot of things to recommend it as a binding material, it also has some serious disadvantages that require careful planning to deal with. Parchment is constantly trying to return to the shape of the animal it came from. It resists all efforts to keep it flat and will warp over time, especially with changes in temperature and humidity. This can cause boards to pull up, putting stress on the joint, and can also cause the parchment to pull away from the boards. Adding moisture to parchment will cause it to curl like mad, and too much moisture can damage the surface, so gluing it up is quite challenging.

Peter Geraty taught us an ingenious method of dealing with parchment’s tendency to pull away from its boards over time; our models used a “floating board” technique, where there is one layer of board that provides almost all the necessary thickness, and then a very thin layer tipped onto it that the parchment is actually glued to. This way, if the parchment warps, the top layer of board will move with it, but the lower layer will stay put and maintain its structural integrity. Peter said that he had left the models he showed us standing out on shelves for years, and they were still impressively flat. Our models had a little more torque because we made them from start to finish in two days and they didn’t have time to stabilize between stages. We also used PVA/methycellulose mix to glue up, covered in stages, and, when we needed the parchment to be pliable, wet it up with a mixture of water and alcohol, which evaporates more quickly than straight water and so caused fewer problems. This is my model from the workshop:

workshop model for parchment over boards

Parchment over boards model from Peter Geraty workshop

I really enjoyed making this structure, so I decided to try it out on a real book. I had a copy of the Poems of Andrew Marvell that I pulled and rebound. I used calfskin parchment that I scraped and sanded during the Pergamena workshop, selecting one of the sections with interesting vein patterns, and sewing it on red vellum slips, which are visible at the joint.

Red parchment slips laced through at joint

The slips are laced through the cover material at the joint

The top edge of the text block is gilt in the rough, a technique where the signatures and even individual pages are mixed up and gilt, then reassembled in the correct order before sewing.

gilt head edge and endband detail

Rough edge gilding and endbands sewn over parchment slips

The rough edge gilding gives more variety to the edge, leading to a different look than the flat, mirror-like surface of gilding in boards. The endbands are sewn with two colors of silk thread around parchment slips, which get laced through along with the sewing slips.

The design on the cover was inspired by a stanza in Marvell’s “The Definition of Love”:

As Lines so Loves oblique may well
Themselves in every Angle greet:
But ours so truly Paralel
Though infinite can never meet.

(capitalization etc. taken from the Peter Pauper Press edition of The Poems of Andrew Marvell)

But our so truly Paralel

Front board, with parallel lines!

The lines are tooled in gold, using a line pallet. Tooling on vellum was an interesting experience–it’s much slicker and harder than leather, which means that the gold stands out brilliantly once it’s one, but getting a good blind impression takes a lot of work! The titling on the spine was done with 14pt Centaur handle letters.

I really enjoy this structure. Prepping the parchment is time-consuming, but the binding itself comes together surprisingly quickly. It’s definitely something I’ll be exploring further.