Historical Bindings Project: Alla Rustica

This is the fourth installment of my historical bindings project! Recently I finished the legatura alla rustica binding (or simply alla rustic). The other posts are: Nag Hammadi, Late Coptic binding, and Limp Vellum Binding.

While waiting for the woodshop to open so we can cut the wood we need for other bindings (and a wax tablet!), we decided to look at Italian paper case bindings, also called alla rustica. Nicholas Pickwoad recently (2019), had an article in the Journal of Paper Conversation, where he looks at this binding in depth. Pickwoad says that the binding “achieved its definitive form in the seventeenth century,” but can be “traced back to the early sixteenth century.” They show up across Europe, but Pickwoad attributes them to Italian binders.

The alla rustic uses strong, thick, papers as a case-type cover, these are called cartonnage. Pickwoad suggests that whole sheets, or half sheets were used for bindings, evidenced by the deckled edges on the turn in. This binding is fairly simplistic, it’s sewn on raised supports (often alum tawed, but cords were also used — we used cords to differentiate further from our limp vellum).

So let’s take a look at this binding!

As mentioned, we sewed on raised cords, unlike the limp-vellum binding we didn’t do a packed sewing. Pictured here are two miniatures.

Sewing on raised cords

You may have noticed these have something for endpapers! We used printer waste. This was done back in the day for economical reasons though Pickwoad mentions many only had text on one side so it could be hidden, and these examples are rarer we again wanted to make this book different from our limp vellum as they are similar in structure. Our waste paper is just pages from a book on the history of the kings of England, from 1650s (I think). Don’t worry, the book was already very used with many pages missing or cut into. It is now used simply for teaching purposes.

Waste-paper for endsheets

The cover was created just like the limp-vellum. We measured the square and folded the edges of the paper, and then punched holes to lace the text block into the cover.

After that the end papers were tipped down and we were done! It’s a lovely simplistic binding. We were fortunate enough to use handmade paper from my teacher. It’s 100% Belgian flax. The textblock is also made from his handmade paper and it is a is linen and cotton rag.

Here are a few pictures of the finishing binding!

And with that we finished the fourth structure in our historical models project! Next I’ll post about the limp-leather Bibles we made. We’re also done our scrolls/scroll cases, and half-done the horn books. I’m falling behind on getting blog posts up but if you follow in me on Instagram (@ariellesbindery) you’ll see my projects as I finish them.

L to R: Nag Hammadi, Late Coptic, Limp Vellum, Alla Rustica

If you’d like more information on this structure I recommend Pickwoad’s article:

Nicholas Pickwoad (2019) Italian Laced-Case Paper Bindings, Journal of Paper Conservation, 20:1-4, 122-151, DOI: 10.1080/18680860.2019.1748416

Until next time,

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