A Modern Take on the Medieval Girdle Book

History and Construction

Some History

Girdle books were in the possession of monks and aristocrats in Medieval Europe. This type of binding provides portability, protection against unruly weather and some defense against theft. In addition to these purely utilitarian functions, in the past it was a symbol of status in society, as it implied wealth and literacy.

There is no particular standard in which these bindings were made. They do, however share these common characteristics:

  • The specific leather extensions from the cover of the binding. A long one at the bottom, which has a knot on its top and a top one (it’s on the bottom when the book is on the belt), with slightly shorter extensions. The purpose of the shorter one is to keep water away from the book body.
15th Century Manuscript of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy (Yale, Beineke Library Ms 84)
  • The type of knot in these bindings can vary quite a bit, however it is there for one particular reason, mainly to hold firmly on the belt of a person.
    • Some have lace on them.
    • The simpler ones are just the tied up extension, with the excess cut off.
    • Some have a hoop on their end.
    • More intricate ones, usually have some sort of complex leather braid or knot on top.

Information about these bindings is not very abundant. The most valuable resources I used for this projects are the following: 

  1. Smith, Margit; Bloxam, Jim. The Medieval Girdle Book Project. The International Journal of the Book, 3, no. 4 (2005/2006) <http://www.artesdellibro.com/pdf/medievalgirdlebook.pdf> (16.11.2018)
  2. Mesmer, Renate. The Medieval Girdle Book. Skin Deep, 40 (Autumn 2015) <http://www.hewit.com/skin_deep/?volume=40&article=1> (16.11.2018)
  3. Szirmai L.A.: The Archaelogy of Medieval Bookbinding, Ashgate 1999, ISBN-0 85967 904 7

My Project

For this little book, I wanted to achieve the particular Medieval character but play with the construction a bit.

The book body is sewn on 3 cords and the endband cores go into the cover as well as the support cords.

The straps are made by braiding 4 strings of leather around a hemp cord core.

They are sewn into square spaces, cut out into the double millboard cover. A piece of thick paper is glued afterwards to level the cover surface once again.

In most cases, the inside cover is visible on the side of the leather extension, because there is no fold there. I wanted to hide the cover, so an additional piece of leather is glued on the sides.

After the outer parts of the leather treated with sandpaper for better adhesion, the large leather piece had to be prepared.

The biggest difference from a more conventional example is that I wanted both endbands to show. This meant that the longer extension had to be split in half. I didn’t include the shorter extension at all.

During the folding in, two holes had to be made for the straps to go through. 

The endbands were embroidered with leather lace in the Gothic style and are from darker leather.

The hard part was folding and sewing up the two separate parts and forming the knot. The thread used for the sewing was wrapped around the leather. After this, a second wrapping from twine was also made. Lastly, everything was wrapped with glued leather strips, stabilizing the whole thing.

This particular formation was perforated and made ready for the same type of braid as the endbands but this time with thicker leather lace.

The binding was partly finished and all that was left was decorating the leather and attaching the silver corners. I wanted to achieve an old spirit, so for this reason, the decoration is tooled only in blind and spontaneous, without any sketching beforehand.

After this, me and the journal left my workshop to visit my father’s silversmithy, in order to prepare the silver corners.

He thinned out some pieces of silver, made measurements and cut the base of the corners. 

The corners were equipped with little cups, on which the book will rest when laid on a flat surface. They were also engraved, polished and patinated. The attachment was achieved with silver pins. 

Finally the book was ready. I’m still surprised how much work goes for such a binding. If this little book was bound in a more conventional manner it would probably take a third of the time that this took. The end result is really like delivered from another era.

7 Comments

  1. Mandisa - 8 months ago

    This is PHENOMENAL!! I’m really inspired by your work! Wow words cannot describe! Do you have any book suggestions for those of us out there that would like to get better at book binding? How did you learn to work so beautifully? 🙂

    • STOPAN - 8 months ago

      Hello, Mandrisa and thank you for the kind words!

      I’m quite humbled I’m able to serve as some kind of inspiration.

      I do have a recommendation of a few books. I would recommend checking out the great collection The Gutenberg project has on bookbinding, including great books from J. Zaehnsdorf and Douglas Cockerell who are one of my biggest inspirations from the last century. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=bookbinding

      Regarding your last question, in short, the process is constant trial and error, reading up literature and examining examples of bindings you find appealing, trying to deconstruct the methods of its making. Try visiting your local libraries, which hold special collection departments or visit the digital libraries of the bigger ones. The best advice I can give is to seek out masters in your area and beginning an apprenticeship.

      Best of luck!

  2. Camila - 7 months ago

    Congratulations for your job! It’s just inspiring and full of soul and history! You are a real artist!

    • STOPAN - 7 months ago

      Thank you, Camilla for taking the time to write such kind words!

  3. martha P West - 4 months ago

    What a work of art ! This little book is exquisite and you preformed the crafting spectacularly ! Your father is proud I am sure as he has taught you well❣️ Thanks for sharing. Did you sale this? I would think it would be a family heir loom❣️ What would something like this bring? Cost $?

  4. Richard - 3 months ago

    I love your dedication to your work and the fact that you are keeping lost skills in the forefront, showing the beauty of what would have been a lost art. Looking through your website you do not give out any idea on your price list. Could you please send me one, in particular, the Girdle Book. keep up the good work and thank you.

    • STOPAN - 3 months ago

      Hello, Richard and thank you for the appreciation! Everything in the SHOP category is for sale and with prices except the Pillars collection which is being prepared for an exhibition. The prices on all of the available works will be update in the end of May, after the conclusion of the exhibition.
      The girdle book in particular was never for sale, as I made it for myself. That’s why you couldn’t find any purchasing information about it.

      I hope I’ve been of some help and please feel free to write again if I can help out with anything else!

      Best regards,

      Stopan

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