Deciphering a Sewing Pattern

Today’s entry is for all you book conservators out there.  And for the rest of you, here’s a scintillating look into the world of book structure!

In some of our early 20th century US government bindings, I’ve noticed a sewing structure that’s been a little difficult to decipher.  It’s definitely machine sewing.  It looks rather like smythe sewing.  But the stations don’t appear entirely regular.  And they seem to be positioned off-center from the sewing supports.

A particularly damaged 1910 US census finally offered up a clearer picture.  Here, in a region with approximately 50 leaves removed, we can see a sewing support and remaining thread.

Exposed sewing threads and sewing support.

Exposed sewing support and sewing threads.

Well, this is novel!  Typically, one might see sewing threads passing around a support.  But here, the threads travel directly through the supports.  If you look closely, you can also see a back-and-forth pattern that creates offset sewing stations as the thread travels between sections.  After examining intact sewing earlier in the volume, I created the following diagram of the sewing pattern repeating three times across six sections.  Note how the pattern reverses between supports 2 and 3. 

Sewing diagram

Sewing diagram

If pressed, I’d call this supported, two-on smythe sewing.  Can anyone confirm or deny whether such a thing could or does exist?

1 thought on “Deciphering a Sewing Pattern

  1. Machine sewing sometimes went through supports… If there were 2 theads on the inside of each section at each station and no kettles then it’s probably smyth, and maybe there was a way to set up the needles so they could sew 2 at once? Some smyth machines could be set up with cloth tapes… Going through them was considered stronger I think. Maybe Etherington/Roberts dictionary gives names? Nice photos!

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