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SG204A Program C

Introduction to the History and Craft of Book Bindings

3 Units
Instructor: Prof. Nikolas Sarris


Morning Lectures: Monday – Friday, 8:30 AM – 1:30 PM;
Workshop: Monday – Friday 3:00-7:00 PM;
Classroom: Book Binding studio

Course Description

No prerequisites required

Through a lecture and workshop format, this course introduces students to the history and evolution of Western bookmaking, from the handmade codex to modern industrialized book-making processes. Students craft 4 traditional books and in the process learn the materials, tools, sewing structures and assembly process of the various elements.

This course is designed primarily to provide knowledge and skills to people going into the field of book restoration and management of book resources, although it can also be useful to people going into the field of bookbinding and book design.  For those planning a career as book conservators, this is a good introduction to the field to be followed up by further education. For those planning to manage book collections or archives, it offers basic skills in analyzing the nature of bound material, understanding the state of conservation, best practices in handling, storage and conservation.

Students of the following subjects can find this program useful: Bookbinding, book conservation and restoration, library science, library management, archival sciences, management of rare book collections, book design, and history of technology.

Course Objectives

Student Learning Outcomes: Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

  • Describe and define book components and writing supports

  • Identify and explain differences of book binding structures

  • Design and create four historical types of book bindings

  • Fold and prepare 20 sections or gatherings, each made of 4 bifolia, to produce four different book blocks

  • Place and space sewing stations onto the book spine

Summary of Lecture Content

Book components and terminology, writing support/media

Overview of bound written material

  • Tablets

  • Scrolls

  • Bamboo books

  • Palm leaf books

  • Quipu

  • Codex

Paper: Overview

  • Manufacture techniques

  • Woven

  • Machine made

Parchment: Overview

  • Manufacture techniques

  • Recognition of the animals

Decorative papers

  • Glue paper

  • Xylographic paper

  • Printed paper

  • Marbled paper

Writing area

  • Margins

  • Pagination


  • Carbon ink

  • Iron gall inks

  • Mixed inks

  • Printing inks

Text decoration

The book structure: general notions about book structure and terminology

The section: fly leaves, paste down, types: integral, separate (diagrams)

Sewing: unsupported: “Eastern” (Coptic-Islamic- Byzantine)

Sewing thread: vegetable fibers (linen, hemp, cotton), animal (silk, wool), synthetic

Supports: cord (single, double), tape, leather (tanned, alum tawed–strip single double, tongue, split, twisted)

Sewing techniques

  • Without supports: sewing with curved needle, chain stitch, kettle stitch

  • With support: with straight needle, on cords, single, double, all along, with compensation, herringbone sewing

  • On tape, all along, alternate French tape

  • On alum tawed single, split, etc.

  • Knots, when, where and how to make them

Spine shapes: Rounded and backed, flat

Spine lining: Materials: vegetal materials (cotton, linen cloths), Animals (leather, parchment), reused fragments

Techniques: over-all, transfer, comb, panel, slotted


  • Vegetable glue (starch)

  • Animal glue (rabbit, bovine, ovine, mixed)

  • Synthetics

  • How to recognize them and what and how to use them in conservation

End bands: Western/Eastern with or without cores

  • Material for the cores: vegetable cord, synthetic, animal (leather strips)

  • Material for sewing: vegetable threads (linen, cotton), synthetics


  • Primary sewing: number of cores (single or double), front or back bead, number of tie downs (structural or decorative)

  • Secondary sewing (decorative): number of cores, materials, techniques for sewing (chevron, etc.), laced or not laced to the boards.

Book edges—trimming of the edges

  • Techniques: trimming of the edges (with or without the boards, blade marks), with or without squares

  • Decoration of the edges: painted (sprinkled, painted, marbled, etc.), goffrated, gilded


  • Materials: wood, paper board (laminated using reused material, pulp board)

  • Techniques

Covering material

  • Materials: paper, leather, cloth/fabrics (vegetable, synthetic), metal manufacture techniques

  • Deterioration processes of tanned leather, alum tawed leather

  • Identification of the animal species, leather tinting

  • Leather skiving

Covering with adhesives: vegetal (starches), Animal (cow hide, pig hide), synthetic (PVA, EVA, etc.)

Turn-ins: sequence of turning the leather on the boards, different techniques in trimming the corners

Decoration of covers: Techniques: blind, gilded, etc. Tools for decoration


  • Styles and materials

Afternoon Workshops

In the workshop each student will create from scratch four blank page books using four historical bindings systems and original materials and tools. Some historic materials, such as parchment, which is expensive will be in part substituted with modern imitations.

Preparation of the book blocks

• Folding and preparation of the sections (20 sections or gatherings), each made of 4 bifolia, to produce four different book blocks

• How to place and space the sewing stations onto the spine

Description of Assignments

Reading list supplied with acceptance to the program.

Create from scratch four blank page books using four historical bindings systems and original materials and tools.

Grade Breakdown:

Term paper #1: 8-page paper on a topic to be assigned 20%
Exam: mixed format – quiz and essay questions. 20%
Book #1        15%
Book #2        15%
Book #3        15%
Book #4        15%

Grading scale:

94-100 = A 90-93 = A-
87-89 = B+ 84-86 = B
80-83 = B- 77-79 = C+
74-76 = C. 70-73 = C-
67-69 = D+. 64-66 = D
60-63 = D- Below 60 = F

Later Event: May 27
SG209 Program A