Bookbinding, Take One- The Roycroft Suede Binding

To improve the quality of books at Booksby Press, I’ve begun to attend workshops on bookbinding technique, and hopefully in the future, letterpress printing. The first workshop on January 17th, taught a group of eight students how to make a book structure similar to that used by Elbert Hubbard and the Roycrofters.

A Brief History

Roycroft was a community of craftspeople in Western New York around the turn of the 20th century. Founded by Elbert Hubbard in 1895 when he couldn’t find a publisher for his book, “Little Journeys”, it became a major proponent of the Arts & Crafts movement in the United States. Borrowed from a quote by John Ruskin, the Roycroft creed states: “A belief in working with the head, hand and heart and mixing enough play with the work so that every task is pleasurable and makes for health and happiness.” It was this philosophy that gathered nearly 500 crafters in multiple disciplines to the community at its height in the first decade of the century. The community began its slow decline after Hubbard was lost on the Lusitania in 1915. The Roycroft Press produced one known miniature book in 1922, an edition of “A Message to Garcia” that measures 2 1/8″ x 1 5/8″. It was printed in an edition of 12.

The Workshop

Along with the history of the Roycrofters we were shown examples of original Roycroft and non-Roycroft bindings of varying qualities from the very good hand sewn bindings of Roycroft to other cheaper bindings that were simply stapled through the entire textblock and the cover slapped on with glue.
As this was a beginner level workshop, every step was discussed in detail, from preparing the textblock to embellishing the finished book. We learned how to fold pages into signatures using a bone folder and how to punch holes in the individual signatures to sew them together. We learned that a kettle stitch is used to lock the signatures together at the head and tail of the textblock and a French link stitch was used to join signatures in the center. When all the sewing was done, the textblock was pressed and the spine was gluedtogether, right over the sewing.
While this gluing was drying, we prepared the inner boards. , which consists of a piece of heavy cardstock and some decorative paper glued together. While the boards were drying, we attached the suede cover to the textblock with more glue. Lastly, we glued the inner boards to the covers, and we now had a finished book.
The workshop lasted six hours which gave us enough time to make a second book. For this one we discussed traditional Roycroft techniques such as embossing and paper labels as well as non-traditional though appropriate techniques like leather punching and embroidery, that are in the Roycroft spirit of handcraft. I chose an embossed design for my second book.
In addition, I was shown a simple pamphlet stitch, which will give even my booklets like “Book People” a more handcrafted look and will remove the stapler from my tool list.
All this was done, unfortunately, with one hand as I damaged my left hand at work in mid-December and it was completely immobilized beyond the wrist and nearly useless. I hope to be in much better shape fir the next workshop.


My two finished project books, the red one with embossed cover.


Here are the inner boards, the first with decorative printed papers and the second with book cloth similar to that used by the Roycroft Press.


The spine from the top. You can see the seven signatures sewn together.


I’m so excited by my newly acquired skills that I’ve already started on my next book. It will be a short collection of sayings entitled “Wise Man, Wise Guy”. It will measure 2 3/4″ x 2″ and be in a maroon suede with marbled inner boards. Look for it in the not too distant future in the store here.

The next bookbinding workshop will be Laced-in Paper Case Binding on February 21,2015 so stay tuned for what’s next!

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