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Tucson, Arizona, United States
I work as Panther Peak Bindery and am a bookbinder, conservator and instructor working outside Tucson, Arizona for individual and institutional clients across the country. I am a two term President of the Guild of Book Workers, was a Fulbright Scholar, taught at North Bennet Street School for over nine years and was the fastest in my middle school class at running up and down a flight of stairs (really!).



Monday, December 5, 2016

The evils of oversewing

I was asked to take a book apart so that it could be scanned.  Simple enough.

Except the book was oversewn.  If you read the post some weeks back you will see a discussion of "throwing up."  Book spines need to throw up to allow for all the elements of the binding to work peaceably and harmoniously together. Sort of like Woodstock, you know.

Oversewing is used mainly to attach loose sheets together, but I have also seen it used in rebinding broken bindings of serials.  They do not throw up at all so they have the effect of putting all the stress of the opening on the pages.  When combined with the fairly lousy paper found in 1950 era serials you end up with a disaster that is pretty much impossible to correct.

This is how the spine on this book reacted when opened.  Notice the spine is not flexing at all, so the paper is doing all the work.

The method is to sew gatherings of pages together and then sew those sets into one book block.  If you look at this picture you can see thread going up and down, following the spine. That thread is holding together a set of pages.

The key to taking a book like this apart is to find that sewing, cut and remove it and then you can pull that set of pages off the rest of the book.

You can see how the sewing goes around the gathering in this picture -- the thread heading down and at the angle.

As you pull those sections off the text block you see the threads which hold all the gatherings together.

The spine pretty much shows how it all went together.

In the end you have damaged pages, which show how awful this style of binding is, and how much damage it causes.

And the end result.

So why did they do it?  It was a fast and incredibly strong way to bind pages together.  Of course it put all the stress on the paper and even the best paper in a binding like this would fail eventually.  Really it was a horrible idea.

Do I oversew?  I do at times, when I have a large set of pages that need to be bound and I don't think a glued binding will be enough.  But what I'm doing can be fairly easily taken apart and not any where near the number of holes, or the level of paper damage, you see in these pictures.  Modern, hand oversewing, isn't an intrusive as what was done commercially a few decades ago.

So I can do it and still sleep at night. These folks? Not so much.

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