BPG Sewing and Leaf Attachment

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The sewing or leaf attachment of a volume consists of one or more of the techniques used to connect the individual leaves or gatherings (groups of leaves folded together) of the text block to each other. These techniques include: adhesive attachment; guarded leaf attachment; mechanical attachment; sewing; and stitched attachments. For conservation treatment methods related to leaf attachment and sewing, see Leaf Attachment and Sewing Repair.

See also: Endbands

Wiki Contributors: Melina Avery, Erin Hammeke, Craig Jensen, Katherine Kelly, Chela Metzger, Olivia Primanis, Sue Donovan, please add your name here

Copyright 2024. The AIC Wiki is a publication of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC). It is published as a convenience for the members of AIC. Publication does not endorse nor recommend any treatments, methods, or techniques described herein. Information on researching with and citing the wiki can be found on the Reference and Bibliography Protocols page.

Cite this page:

American Institute for Conservation (AIC). "BPG Sewing and Leaf Attachment." AIC Wiki. April 21, 2024. https://www.conservation-wiki.com/wiki/BPG_Sewing_and_Leaf_Attachment.

Adhesive or “Perfect” Binding[edit | edit source]

Many adhesives with quite different qualities have been used for leaf attachment. These include natural adhesives such as those made from caoutchouc (India rubber) or gutta percha, animal-based glues, and pastes, as well as synthetic adhesives such as PVA, PVOH, and various other resins. Adhesive-bound books are almost always composed of individual leaves held together at the spine edge by adhesive alone. These structures were originally adopted for their ease and quickness of construction and consequent low cost; the adhesive method is now chosen by publishers and commercial binders both for low cost and for the flexibility of the modern adhesives.

Adhesive Bindings

Other names: Perfect , Double Fan , burst, notched
Variations: notched spine, flat or shaped spine, material like cord glued into notched area of the spine
Materials: synthetic adhesives, natural rubber
Technique: Perfect binding systems deposit a layer of glue on the the back of a clamped spine, often after treasing out a layer of fibers in some way. . Doublefan binding systems fan out the text in each direction while applying glue, depositing glue on each side of each single page. Notched sytems remove channels in the spine and depost adhesive into those areas while covering the entire spine with adhesive. Burst systems are used to consolidate whole sectios, not single leaves. The machine pushes the adhesive through slot perforations in the back of each section, with the idea of the glue adhering each folio of each section in the perforated area, as well as the layer of glue on the spine consolidating the sections to each other.
History: Officially began in 19th century with caoutchouc bindings, unofficially seen earlier.(Middelton) In the 1838 Meeting of the Master Binders Association, Archibald Leighton was purportedly working on a solution of treacle (molasses) and glue to compete with William Hancock's 1836 patent for caoutchouc bindings. Gutta percha, the trans isomer of natural rubber, was briefly employed in binding books, but while it was even less suited to the task than caoutchouc, the name gutta percha bindings can be found mistakenly attributed to caoutchouc bindings.

Working characteristics:

Opening: Textblocks consolidated with adhesives are not routinely rounded and backed. They will not open easily past the deepest part of any notched area, or past the glue line.
Spine action: The spine action is dependent on flexibility of glue, its degree of attachment to the paper, the drape and grain of text paper, and the depth of any notching or perforation in the pages or sections. In general, there is a gentle to acute curve, which can then be modified with linings.
Appearance of spine: Smooth exterior appearance.
Use: An adhesive binding is often used to consolidate a textblock created without sections. A Burst binding technique may be used to adhesively consolidate a textblock in sections.
Comments: A double fan adhesive method done on loose pages is typically considered the more stable form of adhesive binding, though its merit rests on the relative flexability and chemical stability of the adhesive used. Perfect bindings are considered the least stable, as the layer of glue is not deposited on each side of the paper, but only of the outermost tip of each page. Notched or burst adhesive bindings done on a book with sections may result in the loss of inner folios of each section when they fail.

Guarded Leaf Binding[edit | edit source]

This type of structure is commonly found in books such as photograph albums and scrapbooks. The guards are intended to compensate for the thickness of the materials to be affixed to the pages, and may be made from cloth, leather, paper, or combinations thereof. For more, see Scrapbooks and Atlases, Foldouts, and Guarded Structures.

Mechanical Attachment[edit | edit source]

This generally refers to the attachment together of single leaves through which holes have been punched or drilled at the spine edge. Examples of mechanical binding include staple, post, ring, wire, and comb bindings, as well as more casual fasteners such as brads.

Post Bindings[edit | edit source]

1896 Korean Cheoljang

An early Korean post binding style was observed by Minah Song on 18th c. bound manuscripts and is pictured in her article "The history and characteristics of traditional Korean books and bookbinding"[1]. Song states, "This binding method is called cheoljang (cheol: metal, and Jang: binding or mounting or decorating). The cheoljang was not only used for Uigwe [books of states rites] but also for binding books of family registries and land registries in the Joseon period (1399-1910). Uigwes that were specifically presented to Kings were supposed to be bound with more decorative metal bindings while some copies of uigwes were not bound with metal. Most extant examples were from the 17th - 19th century even though there is some historical evidence that it was used before the 17th century."[2] Other examples of cheoljang are pictured here, here, here, and here. The cheoljang appear to have been made with brass or iron components, and some of the examples exhibit engraved floral decoration on the metal cover plates. Several examples have a central metal ring, the purpose of which is unknown.

Some modern ledger post bindings may have tensioning mechanisms built into their covers, as can be seen in Fastenings and Furniture: Metal Binding Mechanisms.

In post bindings done for conservation, the holes are not punched in the leaves themselves. Instead, the individual sheets are typically encapsulated, with an extra width of polyester film purposely left at the spine edge; it is through this that the posts pass.

Sewn and Stitched Bindings[edit | edit source]

This term is most often used to describe books having sewing which passes through the folds of the gatherings, securing the leaves of each section to each other, and each section to the ones adjacent to it. It may also be applied, however, to sewing through the thickness of gatherings or entire thin texts along the spine edge, as well as to methods which are not strictly sewing at all, such as wire sewing and wire stitching. Materials used for sewing include: threads of various weights and fiber contents, most typically linen and cotton, but also including thin bast fiber cords, as well as synthetics; wire or staples; mechanical fasteners such as posts, rings, and plastic combs; sewing supports may be bast-fiber cords, linen or cotton tapes, tanned or tawed thongs, or parchment straps.

Supported Sewing[edit | edit source]

This method of sewing may be done by hand or by machine. Machine-sewn books often are sewn with very thin, doubled thread, onto tapes of cotton or linen, while most hand-sewn books are sewn with a single, thicker thread, onto supports which may be cords, tapes, thongs, or straps. The supports may be laced into the boards of the book to provide initial attachment, pasted onto the inside of the boards, or trimmed off at the shoulder. They may lie on top of the spine folds, or be recessed in a sawn-in slot or "kerf" to produce a smooth exterior appearance on the spine of the bound book. Supports restrict the opening of the book somewhat.

Sewn on Flat Sewing Support[edit | edit source]


Other names: Sewn on tapes
Materials: used for the support can be parchment; leather thongs; cloth tape, cotton or linen; frayed out or flattened cord
Technique: The sewing thread can be linked or have a catch stitch to reduce the looseness of the sewing thread.
History: Cotton and linen tapes came into use in the mid 19th century for case binding replacing sewing on cords.. Flat strips of parchment or leather were in use by the French in the 16th c. BM
Working characteristics:
Opening: Text blocks sewn on flat supports open in a manner similar to those with an unsupported sewing structure, but can open less depending on the material that is used for the support. Use of stiff parchment tapes would inhibit the opening of the text block in comparison with a cloth tape. This sewing structure flexes easily, and allows the text block to open all the way back to the spine folds unless the book is rounded and backed.
Spine action: The spine of the book typically throws up at an extreme angle; which can put stress on the spine folds at the sewing station.
Appearance of spine: Sewing on tapes can produce a smooth exterior appearance on the book spine with minimal lining.
Use: Sewing on tapes is a satisfactory structure for light- to heavy-weight text paper and small to large format text blocks.
Comments: Sewing on tapes offers a method of securing the text block to the boards either by lacing in the slips or sandwiching the slips between split boards as in account book binding.
Tapes that only are adhered to the cover board under the endpapers offer minimal reinforcement to the text to cover attachment, although the tape is stronger than a paper attachment and often connect the covers and text block when the endpaper hinge fails.
If a text block that is sewn on tapes with a linked or catch stitch is rounded and backed the sewing will loosen.
Stiffness induced by lining the back of a text block and the spine of the cover influences how the leaves of the book will open.

Tape sewing.jpg

Sec3-ch2 sew tapetn.jpg
Historical Example

Sewn on Raised Cords[edit | edit source]

Other names: flexible sewing
Variations: single raised cords, double raised cords, pretzel pattern unpacked, pretzel pattern, packed, herringbone pattern
Materials: leather thongs, tawed animal skin, cord
Technique: herringbone, packed sewing, unpacked
History: Working characteristics:
Opening: Text blocks sewn on raised sewing supports depend on the thickness and rigidity of the materials used for the sewing support. Animal skin and leather thongs will are generally more flexible than cord. In general, text blocks sewn on raised supports will not open 180 degrees.
Spine action: The spine of the book throws up into a gentle concave shape, which reduces stress on the spine folds at the sewing station.
Appearance of spine: Sewing on raised supports produces bumps or raised bands on the spine. Books with raised bands are generally bound in leather, which can be molded around the raised bands. Bands are often accentuated by decorative tooling added to the cover material.
Use: Sewing on raised cords is a satisfactory structure for light- to medium weight text paper in small or medium format text blocks. Heavy weight papers open well in larger format volumes.
Comments: Sewing around double cords creates tighter sewing. When tightening the sewing around the cords, the cord offers resistance. When cinching the thread around a single cord, the text paper must supply the resistance and can rip. (cinching action, the tension)
Sewing on raised supports offers a method of securing the text block to the boards by lacing in the slips.
Stiffness induced by lining the back of a text block and the spine of the cover also effects how the leaves of the book will open.
Single Raised Cords, Unpacked[edit | edit source]


Single-cord sewing two-on.jpg

Sec3-ch2 raisedsingleg.jpg
Historical Example

Single Raised Cords, Packed[edit | edit source]


Sec3-ch2 sew cordstn.jpg

Double Raised Cords, Pretzel Pattern, Unpacked[edit | edit source]
Double Raised Cords, Pretzel Pattern, Packed[edit | edit source]
Double Raised Cords, Herringbone Pattern[edit | edit source]


Flexible sewing double raised cords.jpg

Sec3-ch2 sew cordr2 tn.jpg



Single Sunken Cords[edit | edit source]

Other names: sawn-in, recessed
Materials: cord, leather thongs
Technique: The size of the space in which the cord is sunk can penetrate further than the centerfold of the inner gathering or can be quite shallow, allowing cord to sit above the spine fold.
History: sunken leather thongs and cords were in use in the 16th c.
Working characteristics:
Opening: Text blocks sewn on sunken cords are generally rounded and backed and do not open all the way back to the spine folds. When deteriorated, they will open to the spine fold..
Spine action: Depending on the compactness of the spine and the rounding and backing, the spine of the book typically throws up at an extreme angle; which can put stress on the spine folds at the sewing station. Thick paper vs lightweight paper.
Appearance of spine: Sewing on sunken cords can produce a smooth exterior appearance on the book spine with minimal lining.
Use: Sewing on sunken is a satisfactory structure for
If the spine is underlined and the text block opens to the spine fold, there will be a leverage point at the kerf that can tear the paper. more
Sewing on sunken cords offers a method of securing the text block to the boards either by lacing in the slips or sandwiching the slips between split boards as in account book binding.
Cords that only are adhered to the cover board under the endpapers offer minimal reinforcement to the text to cover attachment, although the cord is stronger than a paper attachment and often connects the covers and text block when the endpaper hinge fails.
Stiffness induced by lining the back of a text block and the spine of the cover influences how the leaves of the book will open.

Recessed-cord sewing.jpg

Sec3-ch2 sew sunktn.jpg
Historical Example
Sec3-ch2 recessedg.jpg
Selected Bibliography

Long Stitch Through Flat Spine[edit | edit source]

Sec3-ch2 sew suptn.jpg

Unsupported Sewing[edit | edit source]

Unsupported sewing through the fold.

Also called "French," "a la Grecque" "grecquage," or link stitch. This structure flexes easily, and allows a very free opening all the way back to the spine folds (unless the book is rounded and backed). The spine of the book typically throws up at an extreme angle; this can put stress on the spine folds at the sewing station (sawing action). Unsupported sewing also produces a smooth exterior appearance on the book spine, but the covering material must be very flexible, or else the opening of the book may be restrained by the application of multiple spine linings. This structure is particularly well suited to thick, stiff leaves in thick quires or sections, e.g. manuscripts on papyrus, parchment, or heavy paper; it is also suitable for lightweight printed books destined to be rebound in a freely opening structure such as a case binding. Unsupported sewing is also worth considering for books that have very narrow gutter margins.

Tell about getting the direction right.

Hedi Kyle Castellated Sewing[edit | edit source]

Chain Stitch, Single Needle[edit | edit source]

  Historical Example
Sec3-ch2 unsupportedg.jpg
Selected Bibliography

Saddle Sewing[edit | edit source]

A term used to describe sewing a single-section work through the fold, either by hand or, more commonly, by machine.

Saddle Stitching[edit | edit source]

Also called "wire stabbing," this is the process of stapling a single section work (often an issue of a periodical) through the fold in two or more places.

Wire Sewing[edit | edit source]

A late 19th century method of "sewing" with wire staples through the folds of a book and onto a lining of muslin, webbing, or tapes. While the initial attachment was strong, the staples tended to rust, especially as the adhesives used on the spine were aqueous.

Deborah Evetts has a good illustration of wire sewing on her website "Deborah Evetts Book Conservation, LLC.

Side Sewing[edit | edit source]

Also called "stab sewing," a method in which the leaves or sections of a book are sewn together with thread through the entire thickness of the textblock (usually a thin one), near the binding edge. Side sewing provides an extremely strong attachment, but very little openability; it works best with very flexible paper and large gutter margins.

Overcasting[edit | edit source]

Overcasting (Roberts and Etherington 1982)

A method of hand sewing in which groups of leaves are attached to each other using a single thread which passes through the pages and over the back edges of the leaves. This may be done with single leaves, or with very thin folded sections; if the latter, it is likely that numerous single sheet illustrations are also present. Overcasting was typically used to form "gatherings" which were then sewn together either unsupported or onto supports (usually cord) through the center, in the manner of a folded section. This forms a strong attachment, but does not allow good openability, and leaves thread exposed between the "sections." Overcasting has also been used to attach new endpapers (this is also called stab sewing in this instance), and to reinforce the first and last sections of books being recased without resewing.

See also Ligatus "overcasting" and Etherington and Roberts "overcasting".

Deborah Evetts has a good explanation and illustrations of overcasting (which she calls oversewing) on her website "Deborah Evetts Book Conservation, LLC.

Oversewing[edit | edit source]

A sewing method which can be done either by hand or by machine (as at most commercial library binderies), in which separate leaves of paper are sewn together in groups through their spine edges. As opposed to overcasting, in which the leaves are first sewn into sections before the sections are attached to each other, in oversewing, each group of loose sheets is sewn onto the previous group, the needle passing through the paper either perpendicularly or obliquely. The oblique angle is typical of machine sewing. This is also a very strong method of attachment, but has poor openability, with the added disadvantage that when oversewn pages become brittle, they tend to break off along the line of holes punched through the spine edge.

See also Robert and Etherington "oversewing".

Side Stitching[edit | edit source]

Also called "stab stitching," a method of securing a text block with wire staples from the outside, near the binding edge, and through its entire thickness. Side stitching is extremely strong, but allows almost no openability unless the text block paper is very flexible. Wide gutter margins are very desirable with this method. A further disadvantage is that the staples may rust.

Other Variations[edit | edit source]

Historical Techniques and Materials[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Song 2009. The history and characteristics of traditional Korean books and bookbinding. Fig. 10
  2. Email correspondence between Minah Song and Erin Hammeke, 10 February 2021.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Betsy Palmer Eldridge. 2008. "Sixty Sewing Structures." Presentation at the Guild of Book Workers Standards of Excellence. Video and Handout available on the GBW website.

Honey, Andrew. 2017. "Bodleian Library, MS. Don. e. 250. The Binding." Oxford German Studies 46(2): 154-161. Accessed February 18, 2020.

This article describes a late 15th C. chainstitch binding structure over a limp cover on a manuscript at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Previously published examples of this type of binding are compared. This structure is related to longstich bindings.

Ligatus: The Language of Bindings Thesaurus. Accessed February 18, 2020.

Has definitions for some of these terms, including overcasting, but not including oversewing.

Roberts, Matt T, and Don. Etherington. 1982. Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: a Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology. Washington D.C. : Library of Congress. (Accessible in text or as a searchable online dictionary.) Accessed February 11, 2020.

Szirmai, John. A. 1999. The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding. Aldershot: Ashgate.

The essential text on medieval bookbinding.

History of This Page[edit | edit source]

Prior to the creation of the AIC Conservation Wiki, this page was created as "Section 3 - Chapter 2 - Sewing/Leaf Attachment" of the Book Conservation Catalog by Craig Jensen, Chela Metzger, and Olivia Primanis. For more see: History of the BPG Wiki.

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