Stitching

Once the pages were finished and the boards had been drilled it became apparent that the disparity in thickness between them would result in a particularly strange looking volume. The fir boards we purchased were approximately 18mm thick (compared to 3mm for the 9.1 x 13.4cm St. Cuthbert Gospel and 6mm for the Victor codex, another codex from the late 7th or early 8th century measuring 13.7 x 28.6cm (Leahy 2010, p. 92-93)), because these were the only boards we found that were wide enough for our 15.5 x 24.2 cm volume. In hindsight it would have been preferable to use veneer designed for finishing woodwork, as this would likely have been closer to the thickness of the boards used for medieval manuscript production. However, on benefit of the thicker boards was an increased amount of leeway in terms of accuracy for the hole drilling. In the end additional paper was purchased to “bulk up” the book. We chose to use simple cartridge paper, as this portion of the book would not be used for inking or illumination, and was instead present to test the stitching technique. This choice saved a significant sum for a project already approaching the $200 mark for materials and supplies, with a pack of 40 pages costing only $6 as opposed to the $2 we paid for one sheet of parchment paper.

Board holes highlighted with some fancy pins

The next task was the binding of the book using the pattern described in a previous post. We practiced several quires of cut lined note paper before attempting the actual manuscript.

Practice book bound to the boards of the case

Here the stitching work can be seen on the practice book

The cartridge paper was cut to size (using a modern paper cutter) and v-shaped slits as described by Szirmai (1999, p. 97) were added. During the cutting of the slits, the pages were held using yet another makeshift tool: a vice composed of a plastic cutting board, a ruler, and the ever popular vice grips, then cut with a razor blade. The advantage of the v-shaped slits is that they guide the needle into the hole and reduce the likelihood of tearing the paper. This also addresses out second research question:

2. How does needle size affect the ease of stitching parchment, and what is the optimal needle thickness for the parchment we have obtained?

As it turns out, the answer is: not much at all. Because the pages were pre-cut the needle thickness has minimal impact. Needle length becomes more of an issue than thickness, because to accomplish the loop which holds each quire to the previous on the needle must be threaded between the pages and pulled out on the other side of the stitching, which is more difficult with a shorter needle. This process of looping behind the stitching would be made significantly easier still if curved needles were utilized.

The stitching is accomplished by setting up paired sewing stations (depicted with cross section of the second station here here https://anth392scribes.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/a-note-on-binding/) and seen above in the practice book. We decided to carry out the sewing with two people at once, each in charge of one needle at any given time, and switching when the stitch passed through the middle of each quire.

The first few quires sew onto the board at the first pair of sewing stations

After some of the stitching had been completed it was discovered that each sewer produced slightly different stitches, despite the fact that the steps involved in stitching were the same. This is most likely due to different thread tensions; with one participant more fearful of a ‘loosely bound’ volume than the other, the source disparity was easily identified, and by the final stages of the binding process the stitches were more uniform between the two sewers.

Slightly different stitching patterns are created by each sewer

Eventually, the stitching was completed and the top board was attached. The first attempt at stitching the pages in had to be pulled out and repeated because the sewers collectively miss-stitched the pages by neglecting to loop the thread underneath the previous quire. This experience was not without its benefit however, as it provided an opportunity to examine our third research question:

3. Based on the level of interconnectivity between the case and codex, to what extent would the replacement of case affect the codex?

This question cannot be fully answered at this point as the leather has not been attached, but providing the pages were reasonably intact and the leather was not glued to the pages themselves (which we did, and as was on occasion the case with medieval codices  established by Artemis and Bish (2006, p. 51)) the binding threads can be sliced between the quires and the quires are easily separated from each other and the binding boards.

View on the open book from 'below'

The stitched but not yet covered book

Stitched book sitting on leather covering

The next step of the binding process was to attach the leather to the book boards…

References

Artemis, L & Bish, T 2006, ‘Preservation ethics and practical digitization’, in P  Springborg  (ed.), Care and conservation of manuscripts 9: proceedings from the ninthe international seminar held at the University of Copenhagen 14th-15th April 2005, Museum Tusculanum Press, Copenhagen.

Leahy, K 2010, Anglo-saxon Crafts, The History Press, Gloucestershire.

Szirmai, JA 1999, The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbonding, Ashgate, Aldershot/Brookfield.

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