Kosmos Binding


The double-page design of these books is suited to a softcover binding with stitching through the fold so that each of the double-page images can lie perfectly flat. There are several binding variations which all follow the same pattern: Rückendrahtheftung (saddle stitching/stapling, which we did not consider), Fadenknotenheftung, and Steppheftung.

The first idea was to produce the bindings by machine. Jan wanted something that looked basic and machine-produced, nothing precious. I agreed. But we took a rather funny path to arrive at this aesthetic end.

I hand stitched the first series of maquettes of our final design to look like a machine-made Steppheftung. It is not really a stitch that is made by hand. It is, rather, a typical straight stitch made by a sewing machine with one thread below and one thread above. I simulated this using instead a chain-stitch through the fold, and it was so convincing that one of the best binderies in Germany asked me where I had found such a machine. To their knowledge, it was no longer possible to do Steppheftung in Germany. When I told them I had stitched the books by hand to imitate a machine, they had to look again, and again. Meanwhile Jan had set his heart on this unobtainable, hand-made machine simulation, but with the hope that we could one day find a machine to do it. It was not practical to stitch an entire edition in this manner by hand. At one point I found someone with a Steppheftmaschine, but the stitch length was inadequate for this project. I needed a stitch of 15mm and the maximum length offered was 5mm.

A second possibility was Fadenknotenheftung, which is essentially a figure-eight stitch through the fold, knotted on the inside or the outside. It can be produced by hand or machine. Jan liked only the machine version for Kosmos. But there are very few of these machines, and the one remaining Fadenknotenheftmaschine at our favorite bindery had broken and was beyond repair.

We were bumping up against practical limitations, but there were also some aesthetic limitations that were not sitting well with me. I love the structural stability of Fadenknotenheftung and Steppheftung, however both have a common feature that is less than ideal for a double-page image: each makes a solid line of stitches along the centerfold of the book, as opposed to the stitch-space-stitch-space-stitch-space pattern that one sees at the center of the signatures of a stitched book block (Fadenheftung or Smyth stitching). A solid line of stitches without spaces would be more visually disruptive down the center of an image.

So I invented a solution: a hand stitch based on the double-running stitch. A running stitch creates a row of alternating stitches and spaces. A double running stitch then backtracks and, using all the same insertion points, creates a second reverse row of stitches that closes up all the spaces. One then has a solid line of stitches on both the front and the reverse. Structurally this has a lot in common with an extended Fadenknotenheftung.

I wanted the stability of the double-running stitch, but I wanted spaces between the stitches and also to be able to vary the placement and length of the stitches along the center fold so that they would not interrupt the images. My version of the double-running stitch is made by taking the first row of stitches through the cover and all the pages of the book., beginning at the foot and stitching toward the head of the book. This row is visible along the center fold. The second reverse row of stitches, which runs from the head to the foot, I pull between the last page of the book and the back cover, so that these stitches can only be seen at the back of the book. On the outside fold, one sees a solid line of stitches; along the inside center fold, one sees a line of stitches and spaces that are synchronized in placement and length to the image; and along the fold at the inside back cover, one sees a second row of alternating stitches and spaces. We were satisfied with this invented stitch, and the stability is optimal. I took it through a test run with our materials and it was simple to execute without a lot of error.

I calculated how long it would take to stitch an edition of 1500 copies, each consisting of six books: eight weeks, maybe a bit more. Considering how long it took to develop the project, eight weeks seemed like nothing. Jan took about eight weeks to stop feeling guilty about what I had signed myself up for. But I reminded him: That’s what I do. I make books. Why would I complain to spend eight weeks doing what I do? And it won’t cost anything if I do it. Jan became truly comfortable with the idea only when I told him that I would be sure to listen to one of my favorite records while I stitch: Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians”. “It will be the most pleasant 8 weeks imaginable. I might never even change out of my pajamas until the edition is finished,” I wrote to him. And he wrote back, “Ha ha ha hahaaaa! That is such a funny picture…the one I have in front of my inner eye of you stitching without stopping for 8 weeks! WOW! Loud and great music, you in pajamas and a big happy smile on your face…That is quite a happy image! YESSSS! Makes me happy too!”

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