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Saw for Buried Cords
Sew on Buried Cords

These steps were performed on the green book.

A book sewn on "buried cords" is one where all the signatures are sewn to strings or cords. These strings are buried in the book block (thus the name) and hold the entire strucure together. Sewing on buried cords was an experimental technique in this bind. The other two books were sewn on tapes.


Before the sewing process, grooves had to be sawn into the back of the signatures. Unsawn bindings, where the cords are on the outside are called "flexible" bindings. These are a completely different binding type, and I didn't include them in this experiment.

sawing for kettlestitchesMy book had the usual line of chain-stitching at the top and bottom (kettlestitches, in bookbinding parlance). This means I needed to saw a groove for each of them. It had the profile of a squared-off "U": | | so that a line of stitching could sink into it. To create this, the saw was held at a 90 degree angle while cutting.

sawing for buried cordsThe cuts for buried cords were different: they needed a trapezoidal profile, to hold a thicker cord without creating a vast gulf in the back of the book. The general shape is /  \. To make this shape, the saw was used at two different angles during the cut, one for each side of the trapezoid.

I use a very small tenon saw (a gift from my father) to do all the sawing on my books. The teeth tend to catch on the paper in the pushing stroke, so I only use it to cut on a pulling stroke.


kettlestitches and sewing on buried cordsOnce all the cuts were sawn, it was time to start sewing. This sort of sewing is virtually impossible without a sewing frame of some sort, even one using a dining room chair. The frame acts like a loom, holding the cords vertically and keeping them under tension. It was then very easy to slide each signature up against them, press the cords into the sawn grooves, and stitch away.

To sew the book, lay the first signature onto the frame. Thread the needle into the kettlestich, then out and over the outside of each of the cords (trapping them in their trapezoidal cuts) before going back in. Don't sew through the cords. When you get to the second kettlestich, bring the needle out and stack the next signature on. Then sew going back the way, again passing the thread on the outside of each cord. When you get back to the first kettlestich, draw the threads tight and tie the current sewing thread to the dangling end.

Sew through the third signature as before. When you get to the end, do a kettlestich to tie the work together before going on to the fourth. Continue to do so until all the signatures are sewn. Tie off the sewing thread by doing two or three kettlestiches down the signatures.

It is important that once the book block is sewn the cords are left long on both sides (at least 3 centimeters on each side). This alllows them to be frayed into wide enough tabs to go into split boards, or (in a process not explained in this experiment) laced into holes in the covers.

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