Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books
A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology

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embroidered bindings

Books that are covered by material embellished with needlework, following a design made specifically for the purpose of decorating a particular book. Embroidered bindings were and still are produced throughout most of the West, but the art reached its highest achievement in England, where the quality of the bindings was unsurpassed. The earliest known English example is of a 13th century manuscript Psalter owned by Anne de Felbrigge; however, the art reached its pinnacle of development in the first half of the 17th century.

The designs employed for embroidered bindings may be conveniently divided into four classes: heraldic, figure, floral, and arabesque. The heraldic designs were always used to indicate ownership, and were most often found on royal books bound in velvet, rarely on silk or satin, and almost never on canvas. Figure designs may be subdivided into three classes: scriptural, such as Solomon, David, etc.; symbolical, such as figures of faith, hope, and the like; and portraits, such as dukes, duchesses, etc. The scriptural designs were generally done on canvas, while the symbolical and portraits were mainly on satin, and (rarely) velvet. The floral and arabesque designs were usually done on small books bound in satin, but were done occasionally on canvas and velvet.

Gold, silver, and silk threads were used for the best work, and were often protected from wear by bordering ornamentation in higher relief formed by threads of silk wound around closely or loosely with fine flat strips of silver-gilt metal. These and other materials were worked singly or twisted together in a variety of manners and worked in a great number of stitches. At times, particularly in the later periods, flat metal shapes were stitched on to save time. A more attractive APPLIQUÉ WORK technique was to make a spiral of metal which, when flattened, looked like a series of rings, and was sometimes used as a border.

Because canvas is generally considered to be a relatively uninteresting cloth, it was generally worked all over, while when velvet covers were used, large areas were not covered, not so much because of the beauty of the velvet, but because of the difficulties involved in sewing piled material. Applique decoration overcame this problem, but when the designs were actually worked directly on the velvet they were almost always in heavy gimp or gold cord.

The edges of large numbers of embroidered bindings were gilt and gauffered (sometimes with the use of color) in keeping with the ornate character of the binding. Other forwarding techniques appear to have been the same as for leather bindings, although the rounding of the spines was less pronounced. The sections were sewn on strips of vellum or thongs, and, while the latter were sometimes left raised, frequently they were filled in between so as to produce a smooth spine. Later examples were sometimes sewn on cords, which were raised, sawn-in, filled in, or flattened to avoid unevenness.

Embroidered bindings more or less went out of fashion after the 17th century. See PLATE III . (28 , 111 ,236 , 280 ,342 , 357 )

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