A 13th-14thC Style Bookbinding

Crispin Sexi (Jaysen Ollerenshaw), January 2006.

Black book

Fig 1: The finished book.

Despite my thinking that bookbinding looked too difficult, I've been giving it a go. This blank notebook is my second attempt at bookbinding. I've attempted to make the book in a 14th Century style, including:

Some things I think are correct for the 14thC style:

Boards and text block

Fig 2: The boards and folded text block.

Fig 2 shows the boards sitting on the folded text block. The cuts for sewing the quires to the cords are visible. The boards are cut to the same height as the pages, but 2-3mm narrower and about 6-7mm thick.

To make the holes for sewing, I stacked the quires, put them in a bench vice and used a hacksaw to cut down to where I thought the inner-most pages would be. This lines up the holes nicely and is very quick.

Sewing frame

Fig 3: The sewing frame.

Fig 3 shows my home-made sewing frame and the folded quires ready for sewing. The cords vanish through holes drilled in the plywood base and attach to hooks underneath.

The quires are made of two A4-sheets, each folded in half twice (ie A6) and one inserted inside the other. This makes 16 pages per quire. I made 7 quires because that was how much paper I had.


Fig 4: Text block after sewing.

Fig 4 shows the text block after sewing, with the cords threaded into the covers.

Inside the front board

Fig 5: Inside the front board.

Fig 5 shows inside the front cover, after securing the covers using dowel plugs.


Fig 6: The plugs securing the cords.

Fig 6 shows an outside view of the plugs securing the cords. The dowel plugs are cut 4mm long for the first set of holes and 6-7mm long for the second set of holes. I hammered the dowel plugs into place, then cut off as much of the cord as possible before sanding it back.

English chanels

Fig 7: The channels inside the cover.

Fig 7 shows the channels inside the cover. I applied some glue here after finding that the dowel plugs were not quite thick enough to hold the cord tightly. (5mm plugs, 6mm holes).

Before covering

Fig 8: Before covering the book with leather.

Fig 8 shows the assembled book, before covering it with leather. Yes, I know the edges of the covers are not straight - I fixed this with my power sander before covering it.

The beginning and end of the silk thread I used to sew the quires can be seen sticking out of the spine.

I then glued a strip of linen over the spine and left it to dry.

The black leather cover was cut to overlap the edges of the book by about 2cm the whole way around. I cut tabs above and below where the spine would go and folded them down before coating on glue and pressing the spine down onto it. I then glued on the front and back covers, making sure to keep the book closed. I then opened the front and back covers in turn and glued in the overlapping leather edges.


Fig 9: The endpapers.

Fig 9 shows the endpapers, covering the cords, the edges of the leather and occasional bits of nail. The endpapers have fables printed on them. I carefully made sure to chop the bottoms off the text to make them look like a shoddily re-used page from another book.

Top of the spine.

Fig 10: The top of the spine.

Fig 10 shows the top of the spine. The spine is slightly rounded when closed, the quires having been carefully positioned by hand. As the book is opened, the spine bends inwards.

Fig 11 shows the finished book, including a view of the spine, mounts and straps.

Finished book

Fig 11: The finished book.

Some things that could be improved to make this book more realistic:

Further Reading


Ferrel, Robert J., Medieval Bookbinding, Binding on Raised Cords, 2002.
Accessed: 29 Jan 2006

Jones, Douglas W., Bookbinding, A Tutorial, 1995.
Accessed: 29 Jan 2006

Tillotson, Dr Dianne, Bookbindings, 2005.
Accessed: 29 Jan 2006

Edlyn's Scriptorium, Spencer MS. 39 - A 15th Century German Girdle Book
http://home.earthlink.net/~ckbonder/id1.html Accessed 7/1/2005


Clement, Richard W., Medieval and Renaissance Book Production, ORB, 1997.
Accessed: 29 Jan 2006

Evolution of the Medieval Book, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 2002.
Accessed: 29 Jan 2006


Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books, A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology -- Clasps, Etherington & Roberts, 2005.
Accessed: 29 Jan 2006

Merchant, Joycelyn, The Book Clasp Site, 2005.
Accessed: 29 Jan 2006


The British Library - Manuscripts Catalogue
Accessed: 29 Jan 2006

Hand Bookbindings: Plain and Simple to Grand and Glorious
Accessed: 29 Jan 2006

Posner Memorial Collection in Electronic Format
Accessed: 29 Jan 2006

Monastic-Manuscript Binding, University of Iowa Libraries
Accessed: 29 Jan 2006

Copyright Jaysen Ollerenshaw 2006. Free use for non-profit.

Joan & Crispin's Homepage: http://aelflaed.homemail.com.au/