You might remember me posing a question in the last blog post that I wrote: “What is that fragment of textile at the head edge of the spine?” (or something like that). Well the awesome readers of this blog have spoken, in the delightful person of Chela Metzger. Chela is the head conservator at the UCLA Library, and also my former book conservation professor.
Chela saw my post on Facebook and commented: “Is that by chance a German binding? 18th century? This might be a woven endband!”. Well, YES! This is indeed a German binding from 1726. Chela posted some photos of woven endbands on Facebook, which intrigued other conservator colleagues too.
One thing led to another and, to make a long story short, we decided to have a get-together/workshop in Zoom so that Chela could show us how to weave an 18th century German endband. Chela had co-authored an article earlier, in Volume 6 of Suave Mechanics: Essays on the History of Bookbinding. A part of the article dealt with woven endbands in Swiss Anabaptist devotional bindings. Before our Zoom meeting we were able to do a little research by reading up on woven endbands in Books Will Speak Plain by Julia Miller.
In the end of the process, the woven tape is cut to the desired length, depending on how thick the spine of the book is. The fragment is then cut lengthwise down the middle to produce 2 endbands. So, this is your original, historic stick-on endband! With a generous application of adhesive, these stay attached to the spine remarkably well. Below you can see what a woven endband looks like on a historic book model. Only the top part of the core peaks out over the edge of the textblock.
First order of business: the hand loom. A historic hand loom made in contemporary times for weaving tape looks like this:
The version of the loom that Chela showed us a picture of was made of wide popsicle sticks, 6 vertical and 4 horizontal. Holes were drilled in the vertical sticks using an electric drill.
I did not have wide popsicle sticks on hand and neither did I have a working drill at home, so I made do with narrow planks of balsa wood and a tiny hand drill. I used good old Elmer’s glue from my kids’ crafts drawer to hold the sticks in place. I don’t think wood glue is necessary for this, any PVA glue would work fine. Of course, I could not leave it at that and painted my loom rainbow with watercolors, pilfered from the same crafts drawer.
The 6 vertical sticks are sandwiched with glue between 4 horizontal sticks. When the glue dries, the loom is stable and can withstand being handled during weaving. There are 6 drilled holes and 5 gaps between the sticks. The loom is threaded both through the holes and through the gaps. For woven endbands, the thread has to be pretty substantial, like 25/3 linen sewing thread.
I measured out 21 lengths of thread, each strand about 50-60 inches long. I had quite a bit of thread left over at the end, but at least I didn’t run out. 21 strands: 6 strands for one core, 6 strands for the other core and 9 strands in the middle. More on that when I talk about threading the loom.
Traditionally, woven endbands can be all white, white with a blue core or white with a red core. I diluted my blue color with lots of water and dipped the thread in twice, letting it get saturated with the dye mixture. I worked the color through the thread with a soft brush.
This end of the thread bundle gets tied onto something stationary at your waist level, like a drawer handle, a clamp or a book press.
The loom is threaded like this from left to right: 6 blue threads in the left-most hole, 1 white thread in each gap and hole until you get to the right-most hole, where you insert the other 6 blue threads.
After the loom is threaded, the other end of the thread bundle can be tied onto a dowel that is strapped to your waist. You keep the threads taut by staying an appropriate distance away from the spot that your thread bundle is tied to. I used a discarded cardboard tissue roll and a yoga strap to secure the weaving project to my self.
The last thing to get ready is the weaving shuttle with a white thread wrapped around it (the weft). You will pass the weft back and forth in between your tensioned threads (the warp).
Kathy Lechuga, Stephanie Gowler, Giselle Simon and I got together to learn the process from Chela via Zoom. I must admit that I completely bungled up my first attempt at weaving the tape. I joined the workshop from the basement of my home while being snowed in. I guess that can be my excuse for ending up with a bunch of tangled threads. This brought back many memories of graduate school.
But I did learn a sufficient amount in order to weave some tape the next day at work. It was tough! It took a while to get the tension correct and the pattern even. I fussed with this woven tape for hours…. Kathy and Stephanie have graciously agreed to share the pictures of their woven tapes with me. Please keep in mind that we were aiming for learning and community, not perfection!
Another thing I learned is that weaving in a hunched-over position can give you a very sore back the next day. But truly, it was wonderful to learn a fun new technique while getting together with colleagues and friends. This little workshop sprouting up is proof that social media can indeed connect us in a meaningful and productive way.