Contributors: Lawrence Houston
Oversewing is a process for turning loose leaves into a bound volume.
Whip Stitched, Overcasting, Oversewing, Chivers Binding (named after the manufacturer of one of the more common oversewing machines).
Synonyms in English
Considered to be more robust than the adhesive-based, double-fan binding (or ‘perfect’ binding) commonly employed with many contemporary, commercial bindings for loose sheets, oversewing imparts durability at the loss of flexibility and gutter margins. Oversewing is accomplished by taking a group of loose leaves (typically around 12-20) and whip stitching them together. The next group is sewn similarly but in a way that locks the sewing threads with those of the lower gathering of pages. The sewing is accomplished by placing the sewing holes perpendicular to the surface of the flat paper or on a slight diagonal towards the spine. Because the sewing is not going through the fold of a gathering of pages and rather is placed through the gutter margin, the action of opening a page places the stress outwards from the spine. This method of sewing appears in use in the 18th century and became quite common in the early 20th century when machine rendered oversewing became available. Because of the durability of the binding, it was employed frequently by institutional and civic libraries, particularly to bind books with frequent circulation. In addition to the stiffness of opening, about 5/16” to 3/8” of the inner or gutter margin of the leaf is lost from the sewing technique employed.Oversewn books may appear with flat or rounded and backed spines. When the spine exterior is viewed, the sewing often shows up as a pattern of crossing diagonal stitches that overlap to make x-marks at various locations along the length and breadth of the spine.
While considered a staple of library binding practice, there are significant drawbacks from these bindings from a repair standpoint. The stiffness of the opening places significant stress on brittle pages and the lost margin can sometimes hide or obscure text if done improperly. Because of the multiple perforations to the paper and the number of threads used to secure the text block, disbinding or rebinding an oversewn book is very laborious and difficult to accomplish without removing or damaging material. The inner margins are left with heavy perforations and will often bear deep impressions of the sewing threads. Bound books were sometimes prepared for oversewing by disbinding folded signatures or trimming off their original spines before oversewing, so books that are oversewn may have even less margin to work with than their normally sewn-through-the-fold counterparts.
Etherington, Don., and Roberts, Matt T., 1982. Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books. Washington: Library of Congress.
Griesinger, John, 1912. “Book-sewing machine,” United States patent filing #1093694 A. United States Patent Office
Merrill-Oldham, Jan, 1993. Managing a Library Binding Program. Association of Research Libraries.