Tristram Shandy



Part 1

I came across this edition of Tristram Shandy in a bookstore. It is absolutely beautiful, and I may have to get a copy. However, what it did was remind me that I really want to rebind an old copy of the novel. It's been one of my favourite books for a long time. The language can be off putting if you let it, but its influences are everywhere, from Midnight's Children to 24 Hour Party People. It's an eighteenth century post-modern novel, and part of its great charm is the way it plays around with the physical structure of the book - making it perfect for binding.

In order to do the book justice, there are three places I can think of that the page layout has to be correct. The black page (Alas Poor Yorick, Vol 1 Chp X11) must fall on an odd page and take up both sides of that page, as must the marbled page (Vol 3 Chpt XXXVII), and the ten missing pages (Vol 4 Chpt XXV) must fall between an even and an odd page.

So, I set out to find a pre 1955 copy that met these criteria. So far the editions I have looked at have been:

1940 Odyssey Press

1912 (1914?) Dent (1912 Dent Everymans) - The copies I looked at in the library were 1912 Everymans, but the ones on Abebooks are 1914, maybe a different edition.

1950 Random House

1941 Modern Library (with Sentimental Journey)

1903 Unit Library

1949 McDonald

1948 John Lehmann (Chiltern Library) - I bought this one on spec, but none of the pages are right. It does however have nice title page, maybe I can use it.

So far only the Odyssey Press edition meets all the criteria. However, it is footnote laden, and is fatter and squatter than I would like. Most of the copies I can find online are paperback, and I can't tell from the library copies I have looked at whether they were originally paperback or hardback. I'm hoping the structure is the same either way. I will order one and find out!

Part 2

I've bought two copies of the Odyssey Press edition online. The first was filled with notations and underlines, despite the fact it was described as 'good' condition. I asked about the second, and on flick through there were no markings.

It is, as I suspected, a section stitched paperback, with animal glue on the spine. When I took it apart I found that there was the occasional underline or note written in it. I tried taking off the ink without much effect, it looked like ballpoint. Mostly I could substitute individual leaves from the first copy but there were still a few that were marked in both. Despite being the same edition, the more marked copy is a few mm larger in both directions. As I intend to edge decorate it, the excess will be sanded away.

Both the marbled page and the black page fortuitously fall in the centre of a section. I've cut the black portion of the black page away and pasted a decorative black page in instead. Now to do the same with the marbled page.

Part 3

I finished grafting the special pages - the marbled page and the black page of mourning.

And here I have grafted spare pages from the badly marked copy on to existing pages of text to make a new section. Once the spine is glued up these, plus one that was grafted to the previous section, will be torn out to make the missing 'Chapter 24'. I'm not sure if I will do it before or after edge decoration.

These are the sections ready to be stitched.

In order to have as little swelling as possible, I used some of my teachers thinnest thread. The sections were stitched 'two up'. The photo shows two sections being stitched at once.

The thread comes out of the lower section before the the tape, comes across the tape diagonally and then into the upper section. The next tape is stitched diagonally from upper section to lower. This way each section has half as much stitching as 'all along' stitching. The last stitch is still a kettle stitch, but you have to reach down two sections to tie it off. I probably should have used four tapes to give more strength, as the stitching is not as strong.

The first three and last three sections are stitched 'french pick up'.

The text fully stitched. Note the diagonal thread across the tape. The middle tape is shorter at the bottom because I had to create new stitching holes to allow for the tape width, but accidentally used an old hole in one section, stitching the tape in place. It sits flat enough.

The endpaper sections are stitched with turquoise thread to blend into the marbled endpapers. That thread is joined to the normal thread by a very fiddly knot which always takes me a few goes to remember, then I can't imagine how I didn't get it right first time.

I knocked down the text every ten sections of so, using a metal ruler and a hammer. Once it was all stitched I put it in the press overnight to try and reduce the swelling even more.

Because I have used pages from two copies, some of the pages are long at the foredge and head. I have to sand these down to edge decorate anyway, which will solve that problem.

The 'missing chapter 24', after the pages have been torn out. I used a water pen to mark out the line of the tear, protecting the pages underneath with wax paper. I had to go over each line several times before gently tearing.

This is the foredge before I began sanding. The colour and the page sizes are uneven because I have used pages from two different copies.

Part way through the first sand. The whiter sections are where the discoloured edges have been sanded off. There's a lot of unevenness, so eventually I went to a lower sandpaper grit than I've used before, 120, to get the bulk of it off.

Once I had it approximately flat, I took the text block out and gave it a good shake, there were filaments of sanded pages embedded between the sheets. When I have given all sides a preliminary sand, I'll start the edge decoration process. Once that starts, each edge has to stay in the press until finished.

Part 4

I've finished the edge decoration. I used inks this time instead of acrylics. Because of this I primed the sanded edge with a little thin paste as a size. The talc I rubbed through the leaves before sanding stop them sticking together. Maybe too much talc. First I put a dilute wash of ink across the whole surface, then built up the lines one colour at a time with increasing concentrations of ink. Each colour had to dry completely before the next was added.

Once that was done, I hand stitched the endbands. They're not really clear in this photo, and appear less even than they actually are. I'm giving it a Dos Rapporte structure, so I have attached a 1mm cardboard cover hard up against the spine and lined the spine with decorative paper. I wrapped the paper a couple of mm onto the covers so no cardboard will be visible when finished.

Next I built the spine unit. I'm doing two Dos Rapporte books and once, and for both I suspect I have made the fold back flaps just a little too long and may have to remake them before final assembly.

Part 5

The cover! I decided to complete the cover before it was attached so that if I mess it up I can start again. I suspect that's not how Dos Rapporte is normally done, but since the cover is made up of two separate pieces of board, the opportunity exist.

I am piecing bookcloth together to create a mosaic effect, like did in my first simplified binding and 'The Devil's Cub'. Working a row at a time, I cut pieces slightly larger than the finished piece will be and overlap them. The rows alternate between arbelave and linen cloths. the arbelave cloth is glued down with pva, making sure to leave the overlaps unglued. The same for the linen, except with paste because the linen is paper backed and tends to stain. I have a tracing paper template that I use to make the pieces. The lines you can see on the card are transferred from that and are a guide for placing purposes only.

Once I have a row, I leave it to dry completely, then come back and trim the bottom straight - as has been done with both the rows you can see in this photo. I use a set square along the exposed edge to make sure the lines are perfectly parallel (or as close as I can get them). Then I start cutting the pieces for the next row, butting them up against the cloth above. The pva only needs top dry for an hour or so, but the paste needs to be left overnight.

I was going to leave the circle until last, but I was worried that my circle cutter might not be up to the task of cutting through the multiple layers, so I did it as soon as possible so as to waste as little work as possible. It cut through the layers well, and I realise that because once set the cutter can be used multiple times, I cut the insert separately. In fact I cut inserts out of several cloths so I can make up my mind which one to use when I have trimmed the excess to reveal the pattern.

Once all the rows are in place, I tape over the overlaps (using low tack tape to protect the cloth) - it keeps everything still and gives a neater cut. The cut has to be done in one fluid movement and cut through all the layers in one go. Once the curves are cut and excess cloth removed, the loose edges are pasted/glued down and the whole thing is pressed hard onto a flat surface.

This proved more tricky than I anticipated. On my first attempt the colours weren't right, as you can see in the photo to the left. The two greens are not similar enough and distract from the pattern.My second attempt used a different non-arbelave green. And here is where I learnt something. It was not yarn dyed (in other words, the surface of the cloth was dyed green, but the interior of the thread and the underside of the cloth were still white.) This meant that when I cut through the layers, any loose threads, which were an ongoing problem with the non-arbelave, stood out as white against the coloured background. In the end I redesigned the colours around the yarn dyed paper backed cloths that I had which were a good match for the arbelave colours.

In future I will only use cloth that does not stain with pva and/or paste. Paste shouldn't stain but it did. Since the little overlaps are pasted/glued at the very end, it is inevitable that some gets on the surface. The double sided tape solution works ok, but first allows for more movement and therefore less precise cuts, and secondly means more handling of the cut cloth - placing ordinary tape (low tack gave a better result but was not strong enough to overcome the double sided tape adhering it to the board) over the section, pulling the double sided tape up, removing it from the back, pasting down, removing the covering tape - which lead to some fraying of the edges, and a less clean result.

Part 6


This was straight forward. I used a cardboard guide to get the curve. I cut out one of my carbon paper test runs, laid it on the cover for placement and used that to position my guide. As I had a few discarded cover attempts, I did a first run on one of them and since I was getting the hang of it by the end of the title, I decided to keep going.

The spine was still separate from the text and needed to be packed with cardboard before lettering to keep it rigid. The squiggly line is taken from the text (I think it shows the arc of his storytelling, or maybe it's entrenchments) I use a tracing paper guide and hand drew the line with an ascona tool, then taped a metal ruler in place to get the lettering straight.

Part 7

Cover on, endpapers, spine on.

This was all very straight forward.The covers went on fine, no problem with having discontinuous cloth, which I worried about. One diagonal cut didn't go down as flat as I had hope., but I was worried about fraying the edge if I worked it too much. that wouldn't be a problem with a different cloth. You can't really see in this photo, but the back as a simplified relief of the cover design.

I tried laying the endpapers on open, but they wrinkled badly, especially as it was part to get good pressure on the recessed area that the spine would go into. Luckily I had built it with two layers of endpaper, so I could pull up the blue cartridge and try again, this time closed. Used a stiff plastic sheet to make sure the endpapers went right into the hinge.

Spine went on easily. This was my first dos rapporte spine, and I think it had a slight twist that required me holding each part in place for several minutes before I could press. I did the same with the next dos rapporte, but I only had to hold that one in two places.

All in all I'm very happy. Think I might find another copy on the net. The next one should be much quicker.