By Rachel Day
In book conservation it is important to understand the construction of the books we are working on and the methods and processes that went into making them. To do this we make models of the type of sewing structures and endband styles that we may be required to work with at a later date. The basic sewing structure is formed by sewing all along each gathering and out and round a cord at each hole (sewing station), evenly placed along their length. The threads keep the sheets in the gathering together, and the cords link the gatherings across the spine. Two of the following models are variations on this structure, the other three are variations on unsupported sewing structures, where only thread keeps the gatherings together.
This sewing structure is called 3-up (or 3-on) sewing and was used to save time and materials and to prevent excess swelling of the spine caused by the thread. Instead of the thread going through the entire length of each gathering, here three gatherings are sewn at a time, the thread moving from one to the next as it progresses along the spine. This is a relatively unstable sewing structure as each gathering is only partially attached, allowing a lot of movement within the text block. There is also a variation called 2-up, for two gatherings sewn at once, and so on.
This is called sewing on recessed or sawn-in cords and it was also used as a time-saving device. To make this structure a groove is sawn into the back (spine folds) of the text block where the sewing stations will be. The cords are then placed in the grooves and sewn over all along. Instead of the needle going out each hole, around the cord, and back in, the needle passes directly behind the cord. The cord is visible on the inside of the gathering and the needle does not need to go outside the holes at all, thus making it faster to sew.
This model, sewn without sewing supports, called an unsupported link stitch. To start this type of sewing off the first section is sewn to the cover. This is so that when the second section is sewn on the thread can be looped under this previous attachment to create the linked design. This particular link stitch is a basic single thread, single loop structure. The type of Coptic binding that would have the boards (often made of wood) sewn on would usually have a more complicated structure, often sewn with two or more threads.
This is another style of link stitch called French sewing. This style of sewing can be sewn over tapes (flat sewing supports) or without (as pictured here). As the thread is linked through the sewing of the section before, the stability of the structure depends on how many sewing stations there are and how far apart the sewing holes are. This version is unstable and would need more stations with the holes closer together to improve the stability.
This is a typical Western unsupported link stitch. To start off this type of sewing the first two gatherings are sewn to each other first, creating a link between the two at each station. Each following gathering is then secured to the previous one by passing the thread through the loop of the previous attachment it to create the alternating chain design.
Each model is the same size, with the same number of sections and is made with the same paper and sewing thread. Also, with the exception of the French sewing model, they each have the same number of sewing stations. This means we can make comparisons between how well each structure works.