Ouroboros Binding

This binding is a combination of late Coptic structure with a limp binding leather-covered sewing support cut through outer cover. The boards are sewn as the first and last signatures, then pasted together to make cartonnage boards. When the leather sewing support thongs are then laced through the boards, the book has bound itself to itself, making an ouroboros structure.


Ouroboros binding

Ouroboros binding


Drawing done in July, 2014


Sewing frame with double cords


Cover leather with thongs


Cover Leather glued together


First stitching


Inside of cover with first stitching


Cover with both stitched attachments


Textblock on sewing frame with leather cover set before frame


Text block on sewing frame with leather cover


Sewing stations cut into spine


Sewing as it progresses on the frame


First and last signatures shown before making cartonnage for cover boards


Textblock sitting on cover leather

Determining placement of text block on cover leather.


Cover with sewing support slots cut


Lined textblock in press, awaiting black leather liner


Cover laid over spine of textblock to insure alignment with sewing supports


Spine leather laid on spine of textblock in press


Black leather liner in place, cover laid over for alignment


Template to insure alignment of black leather liner


Black leather liner/support caps in place and laced through


Sewing endbands


Textblock with sewing supports covered, leather cover ready to attach


Cover leather set in place over spine


Pasted up cover leather


Cover leather drawn over cartonnage boards


The Ouroboros process continues. Thongs pulled through to outside cover, ready for lacing.


Pasting up watercolor paper first and last signatures to make the first layer of the Ouroboros structure.


Thongs now laced through cover leather


Wrapping cover leather over cartonnage boards


Cutting endcaps for spine turn-in


Turning in at covers, leaving endcaps exposed


Trimmed cover leather for endcaps


Endcaps turned in, leather ready to turn in around boards


Thongs passing through cover prior to turn-ins


Spine support cover leather showing inside outter leather cover


Turning in leather over cartonnage boards


Cover leather turned-in


Cover over boards, ready for lacing through boards


Holes punched through boards ready for lacing


Thongs laced through cartonnage boards making the Ouroboros binding active


Cartonnage showing laced thongs prior to pasting up endpapers


Manipulating leather turn-ins and corner cuts


Paste-downs in place


Endpapers with textblock open


Back endpapers


New book splayed open to show covers and spine


Tom Conroy, Tricky Binder

Last week, I went back to the Robbins Collection again to gather more information – and take a few pix. If they give me permission to use them, I’ll write about what I found. 
I had a couple of articles borrowed from Tom Conroy, so I had to return them and had the opportunity for another visit. We started talking about a class that I plan to teach on how to look at books for book artists/craftspeople. We’ll visit a handful of rare book collections in the Bay Area, focusing on a different subject at each institution. Wooden boards & early manuscripts at the Robbins; Incunables somewhere else; and maybe a calligraphic history section at a private collection. 


While we talked, Tom moved around and laid things out – he’s still working on that miniature bible and had covered it in leather. He tied it up in the miniature press and was taking pictures as we spoke.

Drawing my attention away from his main object, Tom asked a few questions about my class: How was it structured? How many institutions? Who would be attending?

As this barrage of questions pelted me, Tom kept on moving and waited as he set the trap. 

And I fell right in: “Hey Tom, do you want to team teach this with me?”

He smiled that private smile of his and that is when I knew I’d walked right into it.

So now this class will be a lot more fun and informative because I was duped into adding him to the line-up.

As you can see, I’m really upset by this development. 😉

We were also talking about how the eye becomes trained to see little things and sense their significance. I had seen an incunable with an alum-tawed spine. No portion of the boards was showing, just the spine which had a part of the skin peeled away from the joint at the top. I could see some dark-colored corner exposed by the detached skin, but that was all. 

I pulled it out and it was a wooden-board binding. I didn’t know what I would find.

Because I took the chance of pulling this book off the shelf, I was rewarded with finding an example I would have missed otherwise. 

Tom pointed to the plane in the center of the picture you see above. He was offered a box stuffed with musty bits in exchange for helping a friend clear up a storage area. He saw about 1/2″ of the top of the handle and knew that it was a pre-war Stanley plane – and that it was worth having. 

Developing an eye for things is something that comes with experience. And that’s what we want to teach in our codicology for book artists class.

Having learned by looking at a large quantity of books, tools and objects, it’s easier to pick up things quickly. I used to be amazed at how my teachers could do this pattern recognition with just a quick glance – and I thought I’d never get it.

Now, it’s second-nature.

In my previous visit, Tom was putting linseed oil on a handle that he had turned. He kept rubbing the oil into the wood – it had soaked for some time – maybe a week? He then prepped the hole at the end of the handle and took a stout sewing needle and pushed it down the hole. Wood glue and a lot of manipulation later, the needle was firmly seated in the handle. And he handed it to me to look at.

Or so I thought. He gave it to me for my own use.

I’ll get a picture of it for the next post about Tom.


The last little trick was to show me a pair of scissors as we discussed the subject of seeing things at a glance. Tom’s gifted at finding good pairs of scissors and shears at flea markets. His skill is such that he has amassed a quantity far greater than he can ever use. I suggested he sell them, and he said that was a good idea.

I asked the cost of the pair in my hand – the one on the right above – he told me that I could have them for $10.

So I bought them. And he thanked me for saving him the hassle of cleaning and sharpening them.

See? He’s a tricky binder!