Sewing an Islamic Chevron Endband

Editor's note: The new academic year has started! Hillary has turned in her MA paper and left West Dean, but while the new students find their way around the college and the old ones dive into new & challenging projects, we thought we'd put up the last posts saved up from the summer and send off last year's students in style.

By Hillary Jones

This follows on from part I here, on the Islamic binding the postgraduate book conservation students made last term.

The Islamic chevron endband (not to be confused with a Renaissance chevron), is a beautiful design which looks deceptively difficult, but can actually be quite enjoyable to sew. Just make sure that you have good lighting to see the fine threads and enough time to get used to the pattern.

I created my core by cutting a leather strip approximately 4mm wide from the same leather which I used for covering the boards of my binding. This would form the core for both my primary and secondary endbands. I cut a strip slightly longer than the width of the textblock, and then pasted it to the head of the textblock, flush with the spine. I did the same for the tail.

The primary endband was sewn with the same silk thread I used for sewing the textblock. I started the sewing by going into the centre of the first signature and passing out about 1 cm down through the spine. I then came back up and over the leather core and passed into the centre of the same gathering again to form a loop. From here, I brought the thread up over the core and down into the centre of the second signature, and so on until I had reached the opposite side of the spine. The thread went down into each signature to about the depth of the first kettle stitch. The key was to keep the lacing as straight as possible, which helped when I sewed the secondary endband. It is important that the primary sewing is not too tight, as this would make it difficult to weave the secondary chevron pattern.

The secondary chevron endband was then woven through the primary endband threads using two contrasting colours of silk thread. For my model, the first colour for my chevron was the same as I used for my primary endband sewing. In the case that your secondary chevron is not packed densely enough, the primary endband sewing can show through. Using the same colour for the primary as for one of the secondary threads can help to mask any gaps. However, if you are sewing a chevron for the first time, it is easier to use two distinctly different colours from that of the primary. This makes it easier to distinguish between the threads when sewing.

To start the chevron I took my two coloured threads and tied them together at one end. I threaded the other ends of the threads onto needles. I chose slightly blunt needles to prevent piercing or fraying of the primary endband thread as I worked.

The secondary threads were then looped under the first tie-down of my primary endband on the spine. I pulled the knot into place until it rested against the spine. It could then be pasted to the spine to hold it in place.

I twisted the two coloured threads together a few times and tucked them under the end of the leather core. My first colour (white) was then woven in and out of the primary endband sewing until I got the other end of the leather core.

I could now use my second (blue) thread to form the first half of my chevron. A good rule of thumb Kristine Rose mentioned for remembering how to sew your secondary endband is to always go "under the over." This means that wherever my first coloured thread went over the primary endband sewing, my second coloured thread went under the primary endband sewing as well as my first colored thread. I repeated this pattern all the way along until I got to the other end of the leather core.

One line of the chevron was then complete! I used the head of a needle and my fingernail to gently push the first line of the chevron forward until it rested against the head-edge of the textblock.

Starting the second line meant I went back to using my first coloured thread (white). I twisted the white thread around the blue to lock the end of the first row, and then worked in exactly the same way as I did for the first row. That means that wherever the white went under the primary sewing originally, I went under the primary sewing again. The first coloured thread had this pattern in every line I sewed.

The blue coloured thread also repeated the "under the over" pattern; however, it was threaded under the primary and first coloured thread at a diagonal that was opposite to the first line I competed. Making sure the second coloured thread was laced through correctly on each line was crucial to creating the characteristic zig-zagging chevron shape. Once I completed the second line, I moved it forward to sit snugly against the first.

Every time I finished a line, it was pushed forward to fit tightly against the line before. If the coloured threads would not move forward, it meant I had pierced the primary sewing at some point while weaving through. Unfortunately, this meant undoing the sewing in order to remedy the problem.

I continued to sew my lines of chevron, moving back and forth along the leather core. I completed as many lines as needed to cover the entire leather core. When I finished my last line, I tied the ends of the coloured threads off and pasted them to the spine.

The chevron endband was complete!!