Manuscript book

A simple manuscript book, with notes and calculations.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ll be teaching a manuscript book class this winter and spring — 8 weeks, mostly weekly but with some breaks. A few days ago, as an aid to outlining the curriculum,  I decided to go through the steps of making the simplest manuscript book. Simple is not so easy for me, but I did make this book entirely in an evening, from start to finish.

What was simple: First, the size of the book is mostly dictated by the grain and dimensions of a parent sheet of Strathmore charcoal paper. Second, I wrote with a pencil. This simplified matters when I wrote the wrong word on the penultimate page of the text block. Third, I chose a relatively short text. Besides making the lettering process shorter, it allowed the entire text block to be only 16 pages long. That meant that I could have 4 sheets folded together to make a single signature, the simplest codex structure. Fourth, I chose to make a soft binding and sew it along with the text block. Fifth, I chose the simplest end paper — a single sheet which covers the inside of the cover — and I didn’t choose to paste it down to the cover.

What I could not bear to make too simple: The pages are laid out based on the Von de Graaf canon of medieval page design. I guess would have simpler just to randomly choose where to put my lettering, but I would have hated the result.

Click on the image for a closer look. The open manuscript lies on top. Below that is an offcut of the end paper and the cover paper — a piece I painted and wadded up and painted and drew on in a Laurie Doctor workshop. Below that is the layout template based on the Von de Graaf canon. Below that are my notes which set out the division of the text amongst the pages, and some trial lettering which loosely served as copy fitting.

Even a simple manuscript book has a lot of steps. But it’s satisfying.

Eight-week class: making a manuscript book


I am offering a 8-week class on the manuscript book that will begin January 18 and run, with some breaks, through April 11.

In this class we will examine a variety of handmade books, learn about the parts of a book. Then we’ll design, make and bind a manuscript book.

We’ll choose content, materials, and layout. We’ll learn how to copy fit, good ways to practice the lettering, and much more before finally creating and binding our own books.

To read more or register for the class, go to