The Sweet Thames Collection

A big thank you to everyone who took part in the project and for producing the splendid bindings of  SWEET THAMES  which made such a successful exhibition at the SoB seminar at Cirencester.

The Sweet Thames Collection is currently being exhibited at Dominic Winter Auctions saleroom at South Cerney near Cirencester..  The books are housed all together in a secure glass cabinet and will be seen by many people attending the auctions over the two weeks. 

This week there has been a two-day sale of Fine Art and Antiques on Wednesday and Thursday with a viewing day on Tuesday…….next week there is a book auction on Wednesday the 23rd which includes second-hand bookbinding equipment and some materials.  There are about 50 lots in that section of the sale with some of the equipment having been the property of the late Ivor Robinson. 

 The exhibition of the Sweet Thames Collection can be viewed at any time during this period during normal business hours…..but the saleroom is not open at weekends.  If anyone particularly wants to come for the auction, you can view the items on sale day, right up to the point where they come up for auction, which is likely to be after lunch on the afternoon of the 23rd.  The bookbinding stuff is in Saleroom 2 but the actual auction takes place in the other main saleroom.  The book auction starts at 10am.

 If you want directions or view the sale catalogue have a look at the DW website 


Doublures and Leather Joints

Doublures & Leather Joints

Traditionally doublures are associated with more elaborate bindings. They are usually leather or silk, but anything – paper, vellum etc. – can be used.

“The French word means ‘lining’ or ‘doubling of material’ . Also called ‘ornamental inside lining’” (from Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books, Matt T. Roberts and Don Etherington)

In the 19th. Century the doublure would normally be set into a rebate on the inside of the board created by the turn-ins from the covering leather and the inner leather joint. On more expensive bindings there would be a lot of gold tooling on the doublure and on the borders.

With more modern bindings the doublure usually covers the entire inside of the board. This, of course, means that the surface of the inside board must be filled in and completely smooth. Also, if leather is being used, it must be pared very thin so as not to prevent the book closing.

Because the doublure leather is edge to edge it is possible to carry the design over from the outside to the inside which can make for a very attractive lead into the book.

DSCF3988           DSCF3980

Alternatively a plain piece of beautiful suede can be used. Paper is also an option, although a traditional marbled paper does not sit comfortably with a contemporary design, I feel. If paper is used it is more commonly referred to as a ‘topper’.

They are actually quite easy to do, although I’m probably about to make it sound more complicated.

Bear in mind that you will need to have made a leather jointed endpaper with the extra thickness of paper inserted to create more space in the joint. (See previous entry).

Putting down leather joints. 

Remove the extra spacing paper in the endpaper make-up.

Open the board and rest it on pressing boards. Ideally one would have a piece of felt against the outside of the board.

Remove the waste sheet, and check that the inner joint area is clean.

Bring the leather joint over onto the inside of the board and, holding it in place, make a bevelled cut from the corner of the board and 45degrees from the edge. This bevelled cut should go through the leather joint and also through the area of leather turn- in that will be underneath it. Remove the two little triangles from these pieces – the leather joint should then fit neatly against the turn- in.

Do this at head and tail. If the joint leather is thinner than the turn- in leather a piece of paper can be cut to fit between each turn- in directly under where the joint will go.

To stick the joint down I usually use pva. Initially I will remove the pressing boards so that the book board can open up completely. After no more than a few seconds replace the pressing boards and carefully rub down the joint through paper.

The length of time needed before closing the board will vary, depending on atmospheric conditions. Using pva, I find I can close them after just a few minutes. Test it by closing the book to the board. If bubbles appear, open it again, rub them down and wait a little longer.

If you leave it too long the board will get sucked down and it will look, from the outside, as if the book has been overbacked as the outer joint will be too high. If this happens insert a couple of strips of paper between the inner joint and the endpaper, close the board, gently dampen the outer joint area and carefully rub it through paper.

Leave the book between clean white paper and pressing boards under a weight.

Putting down doublures

When the book is covered and the leather joint is put down, trim each edge and fill in the space with paper that will come up to the leather thickness. I find that acid free 300gsm blotting paper often does the trick.

Sand this area smooth and cut a piece of paper approximately 1mm smaller than the board on each edge. I use an acid free kraft paper about 125gsm. Edge pare all edges of this piece and glue it onto the inside of the board. When dry, this too can be lightly sanded. You now have the prepared surface for the doublure.

Cut your leather slightly larger than required and pare it all over as thin as you can manage.  Either use a spokeshave or paring machine. Smaller books are easier!

Now cut a piece of thin card, again about 1mm smaller on each edge. Place the leather on a cutting mat and place the card on top of that. With a steel rule and sharp knife cut the excess leather down each edge. You can swivel the whole thing to make each cut easier. Just be careful not to move the card on the leather.

Minimally edge pare the leather all round.

It can now be dampened and pasted and applied to the board. With paste there is time to adjust the edges so that they are straight, and aligned with the very edge of the board.

Because there are several layers being placed onto the inside of the board I find it is not usually necessary to pull them first.  I’ll normally use pva for the first infill and the lining, then paste for the leather doublure.

I let it almost dry open. After about an hour I’ll close the board onto clean white paper and silicone which can be changed regularly.

Edge to edge doublures have the added advantage of covering the corners of the turn ins – just in case they haven’t gone exactly as you might have wished.













From The Wessex Guild of Bookbinders

Just a quick note to say how pleased we are to be involved with this project, it has given us a focus and hopefully we will be submitting a number of bindings.


The Wessex Guild was formed in 1968 when Eric Burdett finished teaching at Bournemouth College.  They have met at a number of different venues since then but now have a fantastically well equipped bindery near Wimborne in Dorset.

They are happy to welcome new members so if you want to contact them or arrange a visit to check out the facilities contact Phil Wilton  email or see their website   ….. …John

Leather joints and doublures

After the leather covering I left the book for a few days so that the leather was completely dry.  The boards had settled and I was able to decide what action was necessary to counteract the outward  pull of the leather.

An element of ‘judgement’ ….or guesswork is called for here to determine how much needs to be done.  When the binding is finished I would prefer the boards to be totally flat…. or failing that,  to have a very, very slight inward curve.  To correct most of the outward pull I pasted on a sheet of bank paper to the inside of each board in the knowledge that further additions after trimming out and putting down the doublures would 101_5370 - Copyhopefully result in the correct profile. 

Following his earlier post about endpaper construction, Lester Capon is going to write a piece about putting down the leather joint and adding leather doublures.  My doublures are of decorated paper but the process is very similar so I won’t go through the various processes…I’ll leave it to Lester.


News update

We really need to establish how many books are likely to be entered for the exhibition at the SOB Training Seminar at Cirencester at the end of the month. We have to ensure we have sufficient glass cases to display all the books.

At this stage we just need to know if you plan on entering a binding.  Please would you email Ann Asquith at to book a place as soon as possible. You don’t even to have finished it yet….there’s still time….don’t panic !

Finished books will need to be sent in or delivered during the period  9th – 20th June so that they can be made ready, photographed and listed in a simple catalogue. 

The books should be sent to John Jameson Cotswold Bookbinders Oak Tree House Ewen Cirencester  Glos GL7 6BT. Could we please ask for your help with a donation towards expenses by including a cheque for £5.

Following the Seminar the exhibition will go on to be shown at Dominic Winter Book Auctions for a two week period in July.  This is planned to coincide with a sale of Fine Art & Antiques followed by a 2-day book auction in which will include bookbinding equipment and materials some of which belonged to the late Ivor Robinson. Hope everyone is happy with that. The exhibition will be shown under glass….and there is no fear that any book will be auctioned off to the highest bidder !


leather covering

Wet the skin/hair side of the leather.  Spread the leather out skin side up on clean waste and using a pad of cotton wool, wet it out evenly all over.  There’s a bit of judgement needed here……….it needs to be wet …but not soaked. 

101_5077                101_5078

There are a number of good reasons  for doing this. Not only does it make the leather more relaxed and compliant, but it makes it less likely that paste will migrate through the leather to the surface resulting in marking or staining. This can be especially noticeable with light coloured leathers. In addition it will keep the paste workable so that it doesn’t grab too quickly. I was reminded of these possibilities when covering my book as the weather has suddenly turned very warm.  I get the feeling that leather can become thirsty and more readily absorb the paste. 

Working on a fresh sheet of clean waste,   I give the flesh side of the leather a generous 101_5092               101_5083

pasting with a large brush. Making sure there is an even coating over the entire piece and checking that no bristles have come loose from the brush, I let it rest for a few minutes and fold it in half down the middle where the spine will be. 

101_5099            101_5094               

This is to allow the paste to work in to the fibres but without drying too much.  Opening it 101_5102out, I will probably add a little extra paste with the addition of a little water just to freshen everything up….again a bit of judgement needed.  The leather is then moved to a wetted out paring/litho stone where the whole covering process is carried out.

To aid adhesion in those critical areas I often stipple a little EVA/PVA on the hollow and spine edge of the boards before placing the closed book onto the leather with the front board

101_5095              101_5105

downwards. The re-drawn chinagraph pencil lines on the leather will ensure its correctly positioned.   I slide 101_5107the book carefully to one side of the stone so that I can get my hand under the loose leather, smooth it round the spine, trying not to stretch it, and lay the it down on the uppermost board. 

I  then stand the book  up on the foredge with the turn-ins splayed out……and with my hands open, pull the leather tight onto the spine and just onto the back edges of the

101_5112               101_5119 

boards with the ‘heel’ of my hands…difficult to describe…see picture.   As soon as this is achieved I lay the book flat down on one side and lift up the leather on the upper side back to the joint. This is then re-laid onto the board to ensure that it’s lying properly and has not been creased or disrupted in that last operation.  I rub down gently through a sheet of clean, thickish paper…then turn the book over and repeat on the other side.

101_5125       101_5127

Opening out the boards on the stone with the wrapped textblock held vertically, I mitre 002the corners with an English paring knife. I have a spare one with the pointed end retained which I use for this purpose.  The blade is angled away from the tip of the corner of the board so that the cut is made at a distance from the corner….equal to the thickness of the board…plus a bit extra.  With the pointed end of the knife I thin a small area at the apex of the corner.  

I will probably need to refresh the paste on the turn-ins and work a little onto the cut edges at the mitred corners.  Again with the boards open on the stone with one end of the book towards me and the textblock held vertically, I turn the leather inside the hollow then all along the board edges. Going back to the hollow I begin to ease out some of the turn-in to get the forming of the head-cap started.  Carefully turning the book around, the same processes are repeated at the other end.  

101_5131           101_5133

 As mentioned earlier, if you struggle with turning into the hollow, having the textblock wrapped in two halves,  allows you the freedom to open it, thereby automatically opening the hollow ready to accept the leather.

101_5138        101_5139

The turn-ins on the foredge are now moulded over.  At the corners the mitred cuts should meet fairly well, the bevelled edge of foredge turn-in just sitting on the other. one.  The little bit of leather which was thinned can just be brushed over and down. 

101_5143            101_5152


In theory this will result in a completely level corner with no unevenness, however, if it’s not a perfect fit, slight alterations can be made. By keeping the leather dampened in that area the leather can be manipulated.



The next step I believe is really important and sometimes overlooked.    I make sure I set the joint really well. With all that’s gone on, the boards may now be mis-aligned and 101_5156not sitting properly against the shoulder of the book. I place an old backing board up to the shoulder and make sure the back edge of the board is pushed up to meet the sloping top edge of the backing board.  Because of its angled edge you can be certain that even with shrinkage during drying, the boards will hinge at the right place.  When the book is finished and ready for the endpapers or leather joint to be put down the  back edge of the board should line up exactly with the top of the joint….. see DIAGRAM

004     101_5163

I tie up the book with the cord pulling into the back-cornering of the boards, this assists in forming the head-caps. Making sure there is sufficient leather pulled out from the hollow and while supporting the leather with finger and thumb on either side of the head of the book, I can stretch out the leather both sides of the endband with a pointed bone folder. It is then possible to mould and tap over the projecting fold of leather and shape the head-cap. Obviously this is carried out at both head and tail.  

101_5168            101_5175

101_5178          101_5186

I lightly rub down the leather all over through a clean sheet of paper, paying special attention to the joint areas.  Once I’ve checked everything is ok and that the book stands vertically, I wipe over with a pad of wetted cotton wool and stand it on the 101_5180foredge.  When its had a chance to dry a little I put it between weighted pressing boards with clean, thickish paper either side.  I will check it from time to time, changing the paper sheets but leave it for at least two days before proceeding.  The string or cord can remain where it is until later.


a few random thoughts on covering

Adhesives….I shall be using a starch paste to put the leather on then book. There are a number of ready-mixed and prepared varieties available from suppliers but I prefer to make up my own flour paste for any decent binding.

I tend to make it up fairly stiff on the basis that it can be thinned down…but not thickened once made.  Its made from just two basic ingredients…plain flour and water and I don’t use any additives to preserve it.  The proportions are fixed in my memory …but they’ve been there a long time….. so are stored as imperial measurements ! ! !……4oz plain flour to 1 pint of water ….oooh, what’s that in metric?…..say 110g  to  1/2 litre…..however half those measurements will provide ample paste to bind the book. 

It’s best cooked in a double boiler….unless you’re a good chef and can make it in a 101_5060saucepan without lumps and without over-heating it.  For  larger jobs in the bindery we have a second-hand porridge pot  to cook it up in, sometimes for smaller quantities  I make it up in a small pudding basin inside a saucepan.    I mix the flour with a little extra water, working it with a wooden spoon into a smooth paste, then add a bit more water, and allow it to stand a while, before mixing again to remove any remaining lumps before  starting.  Adding 3/4 of the measured amount of water, I heat it up stirring occasionally until it begins to thicken. As soon as that happens, I stir continuously while the mixture turns from a white, watery stage to a gelatinous, opaque paste….adding more of the remaining water until I’m happy with the consistency.  I continue stirring for a while ensuring all the flour has converted into paste.  101_5069I then like to cool it quickly, so immerse the pot into cold water….it will thicken a little as it cools…..when ready its scooped into a glass jar which has a lid.  I may be wrong but I seem to think it keeps better in glass.101_5072   I make it up for immediate use but if it needs to be kept it will go in a fridge.   Unless you can be sure there are no lumps its maybe best to sieve it before potting up.

Why a starch paste ?  It works…and has traditionally been used for centuries…as long as books have been made, I guess.  One of its main assets is that it’s not just a surface adhesive …it bonds or knits together both surfaces by permeating into the fibres. Its longer working time allows this to happen and gives you the time to stay calm and carry out the work without too much haste. Wetting the surface and pasting the underside gives you that working time and also makes the leather more compliant …..on the other side of the coin……you have to be aware that when wet, the leather can pick up marks, scratches and impressions all too easily….and having the leather too wet can lead to excessive expansion or stretching resulting in the boards bowing outwards too much on  drying.

Capping up the book….before covering the book block needs to be wrapped to protect it from moisture or glue. The waste sheets are still be in place but I give the book another layer.   101_5061This isn’t going to sound very professional but I like to use wrapping sheets made from the bag inside a corn flakes packet…it just does it for me…its waterproof, thin and handles well…..good as a release paper too.  Wrapped tightly round the book, I tape it onto the waste sheets with masking tape. 

101_5068For anyone who struggles with turning  the leather inside the hollow, try wrapping the book fully in two halves so that the book will open in the middle…..the hollow will then  open automatically,  hopefully enabling you to turn the leather in a bit more easily.  

Turn-ins….I try to make life easier for myself by not 101_5015having excessive turn-ins. I know I’ll be trimming out the turn-ins later but I like to keep them to a reasonable width…in this picture the widest margin of leather allowed for turn-ins was about  20mm…and I reduced even that for the head-caps. Leather can stretch while paring with a spokeshave so be aware that those initial markings on the leather may no longer be accurate. Again, while covering, the turn-ins can stretch still further, some parts of the skin more than others.  I like to bring the leather over the board edges fairly tightly to create a neat, crisp squared-off edge.

Preparation….get everything you will need ready and to hand before pasting out the leather.  Thread for tying up, dish of water and cotton wool, teflon bone folder, clean sheets of paper for rubbing down, paring knives, scalpels……anything that you can think of that will save a mad panic later.

Knowing when to stop….I’ve noticed some less experienced binders spend far too long over the covering process, stroking and rubbing down until the leather looks overworked and sometimes bruised. It would be good if a binding could be hatched from an egg wirhout being touched by human hand.  My aim is to accomplish the covering as well as possible…..but with as little handling as possible. Once the pasted leather is drawn on and good contact made all over……it will stick !   Where possible rub down through a sheet of thickish, clean paper rather than rubbing direct with the hand or bone folder.  As mentioned elsewhere, I’m always aware that a natural rubbing down action could stretch the leather towards the board edges resulting in too much outward ‘pull’ as the leather dries…so if I’m rubbing down directly on the leather, I might try to rub down carefully from the edges towards the centre of the boards.  By the way Teflon bone folders are preferable when working with leather….with traditional ‘bone’ folders the leather must be kept wet to avoid marking.

Slitting the hollow….before pasting up the leather check you’ve slit the hollow. Both sides and both ends of the hollow should be slit about 20mm down the edge.  This allows for the leather at the head-caps to be turned inside.

Paring the leather

Having cut out the leather from the skin and marking it up, I’m now going to pare it. I 101_5022edge pare all round with an English paring knife.  You’ll see the pointed end of the one in the middle of the picture has been taken off to allow me freedom in using a forward motion….the end is less likely to snag into the leather should it ruckle up slightly. Its useful to be able to use the knife with the cutting edge at that angle with either a pushing or a slicing action. Paring actions are a very personal thing…different binders do things in different ways…so whatever works for you …….

The piece of leather I have chosen is in fact generally very even and I wouldn’t expect to have to pare the whole skin anyway. To indicate where I 101_5015shall be paring I have ‘hatched’ the areas that I shall be giving my attention.  I go round all four sides edge paring with the English paring knife. I then start thinning the leather on a gradual bevel, first with the knife but mostly with a spokeshave….working back from the edges where its very thin after edge paring….gradually thickening until that part of the leather which will be turned over the edge of the boards will be sufficiently reduced in thickness to give neat  squared  off finish.  It must all finish up having a really smooth finish with no unevenness whatsoever.  I run fingertips over the pared areas and examine it closely in different lights to ensure a good finish.

The area round the head and tail receive extra attention as here will be a double thickness of leather in the  joints and the ends of the hollow where the leather is turned inside.  The edge of the leather to be turned inside the hollow needs to be very, very thin……zero, in fact… otherwise a ridge may show on the outside of the spine when finished. Where the head-cap will be formed it needs to be thin but still have a little bit of ‘body’ if the head-cap is to be handsome…if over-thinned it will turn out too flat, weedy and insubstantial.  An element of judgement is needed here !  

As mentioned I find it useful to edge-pare in both directions….sometimes moving the knife away from me along the edge but also working back the other way with a slicing  action, for want of a better word.

101_5034              101_5030

   edge paring .. forward action                                  edge paring…’slicing’ action

I use the spokeshave a great deal….its adapted, of course. The blade is used upside down with the corners taken off, the angle of the blade is altered and the aperture widened to avoid parings clogging it up.  I find it an efficient tool for paring but I’m aware that some binders prefer to use the rounded French paring knife.

The leather is best clamped to the stone with a G-clamp with a rigid pad so that it doesn’t move by spreading the grip over a wider area without marking the leather. I’ve shown it being held by a thin backing board in the picture

101_5052             101_5046

        thinning with spokeshave                                           spokeshave

 Vivien Frank mentioned to me that when cutting out her leather she prefers to play safe, marking out the cutting line with a bone folder and using scissors or shears to do the job.  A sensible precaution.  Vivien feels that way there is less chance that the leather might stretch and distort the rectangle of leather.  

There’s always more than one way of doing things. My preference, as mentioned earlier, is to use a craft knife with a sharp blade, clamping the leather securely with the metal straightedge at the point of cutting at all times. You do need to be aware of the fact that if the leather stretches the shape of your piece of leather may have changed.



My binding is going to be a straightforward full leather binding with the design carried out mainly with onlays.  The leather I have chosen is a  Harmatan skin, grade II , colour 27  from the Fine Leather range. I think I’ll describe it as Thames Green.

My first move is to select an area of the skin that I want to use. I cut out a ‘frame’ from a 101_4996 - Copy101_4984

piece of card the size of the book and move it around the surface of the skin to find the part that best suits my purpose. If there are any scratch marks or blemishes these can be avoided. Before cutting this out though,  I turn over the skin and run the tips of my fingers over the selected area just to make sure there are no nasty surprises.  Your fingertips are pretty sensitive really and you can feel if there are any divots in the tannery finish that you might otherwise have missed. 

101_5004Placing the book on the leather with the boards open I can mark round the edges with a chinagraph pencil and allowing for turn-ins, cut out the leather. I use a sturdy craft knife and a metal straightedege. I mark out the spine area too as I shall probably be thinning that down as well as the edges when paring the leather. I’ve ended up choosing a piece which when put on the book will have the spine of the animal running down the spine of the book.

attaching the boards

I scrape the frayed out tapes, lets call them ‘slips’, with a knife to remove any loose fibres and taper them so that they will be thinner at the ends.  The slips are then 101_4946         101_4960

impregnated with paste and I also rub a little into the notches.  Standing the board vertically against the joint I feed the ends of the pasted slips through the holes and pull tight.  The board is then closed carefully onto the textblock and those ‘spacers’ glued on the back edge of the boards will ensure the right tension.

101_4973         101_4966

Making sure the boards and slips remain attached at the same position , holding the book in the left hand, I open the board onto a knocking-down iron clamped in the end on a laying press.  With a backing hammer I hammer the holes closed.  More paste is rubbed onto the tapes on the inside of the board and the fibres of the slips are splayed out to reduce any bulk.

101_4971     101_4972

A little more paste is applied to the slips on the inside and outside of the boards and by opening out the boards, a little more can be rubbed into the notches or grooves. Closing the boards, making sure both are correctly positioned… and parallel…by checking with a set square, the book can be pressed overnight. The book must stand up straight when finished !  

Whilst in the press I have a melinex sheet inserted inside the boards to protect the textblock and a stainless steel pressing ‘tin’ up to the joint on the outside,  in this way I can achieve a very flat surface to the boards.    The Melinex I’ve had for years, its a thin, clear sheet about 0.6mm or 0.7mm thick and while fairly flexible, is rigid enough to protect the text.  and to a degree is non-stick…..I think Shepherds sell it.   Stainless steel pressing ‘tins’….? ? …not available commercially and I have to thank Noel Carruthers for those…she had a batch made up some years ago.  Any thin ‘tin’ slipped inside the board will do but you might want to also slip in some release paper.

Should you have made a slight miscalculation and there is still a bit of unevenness on the surface of the board where the slips are laced in, you may consider sticking on a sheet of good quality paper, say about 120gsm. This can then be sanded down to minimise the problem. I would stick it on oversize with one edge lined up with the spine edge of the board and sand off the overlapping edges to remove the excess.   No doubt though, you will have spotted the flaw in this plan….sticking on an extra layer of paper will ‘pull’ the boards outwards slightly.  So when sticking it on, try gluing the board…..not the paper…with PVA or EVA not paste….and rather than rubbing down in the natural way which actually stretches the paper outwards…rub down from the edges of the board towards the centre….it might help.  The boards will have become a little thicker with the addition of the paper  so if this is a problem, the sanding of the uneven part could be extended over the entire board.

101_4911By the way, this is a very useful aid to sanding….its a comfortable hand-sanding sanding block I bought from Louise Brockman at the Conference in Leeds last year.