In the past couple of years, we’ve been exploring beyond the purpose of a book – its content, ideas, and the stories it tells – to the beauty, skill and creativity inherent in a book as an object. Features such as Easton Press, Mosaic in Morocco, Bound to be Beautiful and Unusual Bindings all take a look at the craftsmanship and care devoted to the creation of beautiful books.
This time around, we’ve discovered a treasure trove of books with embroidered covers. By hand or by machine, on cotton or silk, these stitched books are luxurious and rare. Needlework on book covers is scarce, which is no surprise, given the painstaking amount of thought and work that must go into each one. If you’re interested in the history and practice of embroidery in bookbinding, Cyril Davenport’s English Embroidered Bookbindings is an interesting reference – originally published in 1899, it has been reprinted.
The practice of embroidering book covers has fallen out of favor in all but the most extraordinary of circumstances. Illustrator and comic book artist Jillian Tamaki, who also loves to embroider, has been commissioned by Penguin USA to produce embroidered covers for three classic novels – Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Emma by Jane Austen. Tamaki completed the three covers by hand, over a two-month period. The books will be available in October 2011. Of course the copies for sale will be reproductions, not embroidered by hand, but rather three-dimensionally embossed to resemble Tamaki’s original work.
But when bookbinders and needlework artists were first experimenting with embroidery as a binding embellishment, the work was of course reproduced on every copy, meaning no two were exactly alike and each was a unique work of art, lovingly and patiently handcrafted. The originals are few and far between, and naturally coveted by collectors. These are some of the real gems available to be yours.
*Please note: prices are approximate to within a small margin, as currencies fluctuate. Copies on display may sell quickly.