Replacing a headband

First; headbands are not difficult. But the ‘right’ headband for the book in question is important and needs forethought. In this example the book is a relatively rare cookery book dated 1760. The band at the tail is present but worn and the client wants it kept. The band at the head is missing. The surviving band is on a single core, in red and white thread. That is normal for eighteenth century books bound in England. The end product will look like this:

Core of eight-ply hemp cord, glued to stiffen it, thread is embroidery cotton, dark red and cream – NOT white, which is far too bright.

I always start on the left of the head. The two threads are tied at one end and a needle is tied to each of the other ends. Fix the core in place with a pin into the cover board. First step is to put either needle down into the second section – NEVER the first – and pull the knotted ends right down inside. Make a single hitch:

Position the core over the curve of the back, under the white thread and put the white thread needle back through its first position. Bring it back over the core and tuck it in between the pages at the foredge. This keeps it sufficiently taut.

Now bring the red thread over the white one and under the front of the core, bringing it back over the core flush against the white thread, back under and over so you have two turns of red thread, just as you had two turns of white thread – that’s the regular pattern of a two colour endband.

This sequence continues to the first tie-down at about a quarter of the distance across the curve:

In principle the tie-down thread should go into the middle of a section. I have often found in old books that it doesn’t. So long as the thread comes out below the kettle stitch it does no harm.

Two more tie-downs plus the final one is sufficient – on many old books there were only three – one at each end and one in the middle.

The two loose ends are secured with a smear of glue and the back of the band and the previous tie-downs also and well smoothed over with a bone folder
The ends of the core have been sliced off at an angle

The spine will be lined with paper and sanded smooth to remove any unevenness from the tie-down threads.

This work was always done by the ‘women’s department’ of a bindery. Apparently a woman worker would be expected to do a normal band in about four minutes, and keep up that pace all day.

Endbands have been worked in two colours for centuries. The earliest in the age of printing were blue-and-white or green-and-white.

Typical headband of the 16th and 17th centuries – blue-and-white, three turns alternating

I am not a fan of fancy headbands – multi-coloured to fit in with edge-decoration, for example. The band is essentially functional, to strengthen the top of the book so it isn’t damaged by fingers pulling it off a shelf, and with the tail treated the same way simply so they match. It is best, in my view, for it to sit discreetly under the head-cap., thus:

A binding in alum-tawed pigskin that I did about 30 years ago

A double headband is also an affectation: it adds nothing in strength.

My binding of Tidcombe’s book on the Doves Bindery – Doves used plain green thread for their headbands, and my decision to do a double one was a mistake, I think

A permissible elaboration is an extra contrasting thread to ‘lift’ the plain alternating two colours:

Can you work out how the black tread is worked? It doesn’t appear in the beads….

Please disagree about any, or all, of the foregoing.

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