SUE ANSCHUTZ ON WIRE-EDGE BINDING
In October, I took a fascinating two-day class called “Wire-Edge Variations & Interchangeable Parts”, taught by Graham Watson at the Center for Book Arts in NYC. I’ve been dabbling in book binding for over 15 years, taking classes whenever possible (including countless with Susan Mills). I’m always intrigued to learn different structures and techniques, and to see how different book artists adapt these structures, creating their own unique interpretations.
Originally developed by Daniel Kelm, the wire-edge and gutter-wire constructions produce books that open completely flat. The creative possibilities are endless in terms of cover materials and the ability to mix traditional folded signatures with single pages or boards. The book can have an exposed or covered spine; it’s even possible to incorporate elements that can be removed and replaced without compromising the structure of the book.
For a book with folded signatures, holes are created along the edge of each signature using a Japanese punch drill, and trimmed as necessary to create a U-shaped slot. Wires (for this book, 0.02” diameter stainless steel) are cut to size, slightly shorter than the height of the signatures. The ends of each wire are bent at a 90 degree angle, then trimmed to form a small hook, just long enough to nestle into small guide holes made in the fold of each signature, helping the wires stay in place.
For the front and back of the book, two pieces of a lightweight board (pressboard, Bristol board or something similar) are cut to the same size as the signatures, and are wrapped with paper that will essentially become the endpapers for the finished book. While attaching the paper to the board, a copper rod, the same height as the board, is placed into the fold. Holes are made in the paper and the edge of
the boards (corresponding to those along the edges of the signatures), elongating the holes a bit to allow for the width of the copper rod. (For this book, the rods I used were 1/16” diameter, which will vary depending on the cover materials used.) If incorporating single-pages or boards into the book, the procedure for attaching wires to the edges of those pages or boards would be similar.
Once the signatures and front and back boards are prepared, it’s time to start sewing. Graham recommends using braided silk suture thread (size 2), which is a bit of a trick to find, but worth the effort, particularly if the spine of the book will be exposed! The threads are inserted into the holes of the back board, and each individual thread is tied securely with a square knot around the brass rod. (For this
book, three lengths of thread were inserted in each hole, but the number of threads can and will vary, depending on the materials used and the size of the holes.)
Each signature is added on top of the previous one, tying very snug square knots around the wire each time a signature is added (being careful not to mix up the order of the threads!) Finally, the front board is attached in the same way.
When the stitching is finished, the ends of the threads are cut, frayed, and secured to the front board. The covers (in this case, lightweight book board covered with decorative paper) are simply glued onto the front and back boards of the book.
Other variations include covering the spine… or attaching signatures with a piano-hinge type mechanism (which Graham himself developed), allowing them to be removed and replaced.
I noticed that Graham offered a similar class in Philadelphia last April. Hopefully these were the first of many more classes to come. If you notice one scheduled near you, I highly recommend you grab a spot! You won’t be disappointed.
Sue Anschutz is a NYC-based musician.
Graham Watson holds a MFA in book arts and printmaking from the University of the Arts.