30 September 2013

Limp Bindings from the Vatican Library

Back in 2009 I heard about a new book published by a Swedish woman about limp case bindings. Being a fan of this style of historical binding, and always looking for new structures to learn and make, I ordered the book. This was the beginning of a wonderful relationship that has lasted from then until now (and hopefully will continue) with the author of that book, Monica Langwe

Limp Bindings from Tallin by Monica Langwe

Her first book was called Limp Bindings from Tallin and as soon as I ordered it I received a very kind e-mail from her that she had viewed my website and liked my work. In 2010 I received an invitation from Monica to be a part of her second book, Limp Bindings from the Vatican Library. I was thrilled and, of course, accepted. Three years later that book is complete and in my hands and it is gorgeous!

Limp Bindings from the Vatican Library by Monica Langwe

First, a little bit more about Monica's first book: Limp Bindings from Tallin. While studying bookbinding Monica became aware of a style of binding that she believed was under represented in research and bookbinding history. This was limp case bindings. These are bindings that were made relatively quickly, with soft (limp) covers, often utilizing recycled materials, with the content being records, accounts, and notes. They were utilitarian and meant to be handled and used and added on to. The limp case was usually one piece of vellum, leather or paper sewn to the text block leaving the stitching exposed on the spine. These books possess an elegant simplicity with ingenious, unassuming details. Monica's research led her to the City Archives in Tallin, Estonia, where she chose 22 bindings to analyze. Out of those 22 she focused on 8 for her first book in which she describes each book, its content, its binding, and includes detailed drawings about how the book is put together. She does not provide "how-to" instruction but rather illustrates construction and sewing. Her approach is similar to J. A. Szirmai's The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding.

 At the end of the book is the Gallery where Monica asked 8 book artists to glean inspiration from the 8 limp case bindings from Tallin and interpret them in their own bindings. Beautiful work!

Monica made special cases for those of use who contributed to the project

Monica's second book, Limp Bindings from the Vatican Library, is similar in layout to her first book, but more. More of everything. Eleven bindings from the Vatican Library's collection were chosen to focus on. And, there are more illustrations and photographs. This is a gorgeous book and if you are at all interested in this style of binding you will want this book in your own library.

Illustration from Limp Bindings from the Vatican Library

 Back in 2010, Monica asked me to be an artist contributor to the Gallery of her second book. This has been such a fun project to be a part of and I am honored to be in the presence of the other gallery book artists: Hedi Kyle, Peter Verheyen, Carmencho Arregui, Chela Metzger just to name a few!

My instruction booklet from Monica and a gift!

The Vatican Library book that I was asked to draw inspiration from was a book written by Sceopperus in latin that "tells about the highest Christian faculty - the Vatican - Institutionis Christianae Summa". It was written in 1568 and has a re-purposed cover that appears to be sheet music on vellum. Monica sent me a photo of the original, a model that she had made of the book, and a little drawing by her on how the stitching/binding was made. She always sends little gifts, too, this time an apron!

Instructions from Monica on how the original book was sewn

I practiced the binding a couple of times since the sewing tension was tricky. Then I began my book. 

My practice binding and template

Since the original book, as well as many other limp case bindings, utilize re-purposed materials, I wanted to do the same. And, even go further and make that the focus and celebration of my book. 

My book "Reuse" that is in the Gallery section of Limp Bindings from the Vatican Library

I didn't want to just make a blank book, but an artists' book. I collect old books, ledgers, library date slips and other paper ephemera so combined and stitched my found materials to create my content. 

Interior shot of "Reuse"

 For the cover, I used Cave Paper as my substrate (since many of my found papers would be too weak to hold up to a hinge)and covered it with pieces of a musical score and a ledger page from a general store in North Carolina. Like the original, I chose to create a wrap around cover.

"Reuse" my book in Limp Bindings from the Vatican Library

 In 2011, I shipped my little book off to Sweden and now two years later Monica has shipped her completed book back to me. And, of course, in Monica style, with some little extras.

My copy of the Vatican book arrived in this custom case with a thank you bookmark and blank journal made by Monica

 The book is beautiful and inspiring. I look forward to trying out some of the bindings.

As part of the project Monica has organized three exhibits that include the gallery artists' books. My little book gets to travel to the following venues:

Dalarnas Museum Falun
18 september - 13 oktober

Svenska Institutet i Rom
Instituto Svedese di Studi Classici a Roma
4 november - 8 november

S:ta Eugenia katolska församling, Stockholm
18 november - 15:e december

To purchase Monica's books please visit her website.  
"Thank you" bookmark from Monica

Thank you Monica!


  1. How frustrating! I just tried to leave a longish cogent and Blogger wouldn't work. Anyways, I think your book is awesome and thank you for the inspiration!

  2. How frustrating! I just tried to leave a longish cogent and Blogger wouldn't work. Anyways, I think your book is awesome and thank you for the inspiration!