Friday, February 12, 2010

More on Japanese Stab Bindings

I'm a little later with this post than I had hoped because I had a sleep study this week and have been catching up on my sleep! Nothing much to report on the results yet - I see the specialist this week, so I'll let you know if there's any good news!

I had hoped to be able to show you an artists proof of the stab binding of my new book by now, but I decided I need mauve thread, and I have to wait for that to arrive from interstate. In the meantime I've been doing a little online research about Japanese bindings, and I thought I'd share some of these links with you.

The most informative site that I have found is one set up by Graeme Dawes, who researched the topic while studying bookbinding at the University of Brighton. He provides some introductory history on the development of the book and then goes into accordian and sewn bindings in some detail, exploring variations and applications. This site is a fantastic resource and if this is an area of interest to you, I recommend you pop over there.

If you'd like to look at some beautiful historic examples (which are actually available for purchase) you can visit Shukado Japanese Fine This is the website of a gallery in Tokyo which specializes in antique Japanese fine arts and modern paintings. There are a number of books available dating from the Edo period, which you can see here. They seem to be somewhat like early graphic novels, and for the most part are printed in black ink only, but they do have a small number of colour spreads, like the one below:

This image is from "The Story of Shiranui" and you can see more pictures and read more about it here. (Apologies to Shukado for using their imagery - but I really wanted you to see how beautiful it is).

"This sort of illustrated book is known as a "sazoshi" and apparently we use the same term in English, but I haven't come across it before. One aspect I found particularly interesting was that the work is handed from author to author in order for the story to be written, and the illustrations are completed in the same way.I also loved the precis of the story:

"a woman called herself the dominator of mountain (in fact, a spider monster incarnate) and a girl named Suzushiro (later the princess Wakana). The woman teaches the girl a diabolism. "

I don't know whether anyone reading is a fan of Father Ted, but it made me think of the "spider-baby" (if you haven't watched Father Ted, you'll just think I'm mad!)

Another site with images of a number of Japanese bindings (also for sale) is Richard Ukiyo-e. These books are also all stab bindings from the Edo period and I've included images of two to further demonstrate my point about the book opening fully.

With the book below, you can see the way the artist actually uses a painted frame as a device which emphasizes the continuity of the image across the open spread. This contrasts with the image above, which flows uninterrupted across the seam.

They demonstrate that the binding, when executed with the appropriate materials, need not impinge on the ability to open the book fully. I think this is really interesting to see in relation to Tara O' Brien's comment and the point we've been discussing about the stab binding. One thing that puzzles me though, is that as Angela says in her comment, "Its well known that its a binding that can't be opened flat" and yet, these books clearly can be opened flat. Is this because they are old, and the paper has aged? Or is it actually something we think we know, because as Westerners we've only seen examples made from paper that is really too thick and stiff for the binding? If there is anyone out there who knows for sure, it would be great to hear from you.

Finally, if you're interested in picture books in general, I found a wonderful site, the Digital Gallery of World Picture Books. It has a range of picture books including Early American, Modernist, Jugenstil, English and Japanese Edo Picture Books documented in full online. If you like this sort of thing, I recommend you make yourself a cup of tea and set aside an hour or more to take your time savouring books by the likes of Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, Alexander Pushkin, El Lissitsky, Kurt Schwitters. ( You have to download Shockwave to view the books if you don't have it already, , but it's easy don't let that put you off). Hope you enjoy!


  1. Anonymous4:15 PM

    Lots of good points here, Amanda. Thanks for all your "digging."

    I've been going back through some of my own notes and yes, the damaged books I've seen have all been made Western-style and probably with totally inadequate papers.

    Also, I said that stab bindings often become broken with constant use and, again, this may be a Western fault.Maybe we are a bit rough with the books. And maybe we are not sufficiently practised in the art?

    (Will you cross-post this to the group blog? It might be good to have it over there too.)

    Thanks again

  2. ooo delicious links and pics and points and thoughts...

  3. Thanks for all the information. Great links. Cheers!

  4. Thanks so much, Amanda, for your research, particularly for posting a link to Graeme Dawes' site, which I'm just starting to work my way through.

    Can't wait to see what transpires...


  5. Wonderful links and illustrations, Amanda, thanks for all your research. I'm pretty sure it's all in the paper and the flow or fall of it. I've had a small roll of Japanese paper for about 20 years that I've planned to use for a stab binding but of course I'm still thinking about it. Maybe now I'll give it a try. I think wrong choice of paper and stitching too far in from the spine are perhaps our Western mistakes. Interesting to see how the Japanese illustrations can flow right across the margins without loss of image. We have a lot to learn.

  6. Not being a book artist I have never really thought much about book bindings so this is a whole new world to me, very interesting though.

    Hope that your specialist visit goes well.