Making a manuscript

I am doing some research into early books and manuscripts for my bookbinding course as well as doing an online MOOC:  Deciphering Manuscripts with Coursera. The course is very interesting and gives lots of useful information and links to manuscript resources not only here in the UK but around the world.

In my own research I am looking at the images in manuscripts including animals, plants, figures and also the text styles and bindings.

Flora and Fauna in medieval manuscripts: I find this aspect of ms very interesting, also the graffiti and marginalia that are added, sometimes later on.

Mise on Page:  or page format.  There are various sytems for the layout of pages from the Phythagorus triangle system to the one which starts with a square and then makes a diagonal line across, add this line to the side of the square and you get a rectangle in the golden section measurement:  x times 1.618.


working out the rectangle for the page measurement


Working out the layout/ mise en page for the double page spread, using The Secret Code

The Secret Code is not so secret any more, but it is a fairly complex system of layout even so. The text area is called ‘black’ and the margins are ‘white.  The width of the margins depended on the luxury or importance of the ms.

Some pages from my own manuscript/sketchbook:

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Binding my book:  I sewed the pages – not very well I might add! – then added end papers, the paper that Subs bought me recently.  I used a drier glue than usual, bought at Falkiners, special bookbinding glue which worked much better than pva.  I used soft green paper for the cover which I bought also at Falkiners, it’s a bit light and soft but it works nicely.

Dyeing Paper :   One of the projects on the MOOC is to  dye some paper to look like parchment using coffee and/or tea.


Adding the sheet of soft Zerkal paper to the sink with strong coffee in the bottom


Adding some coffee grains to create stains in the surface


Drying the sheets on paper towels so they dry flat, not in the oven so they don’t crinkle as I want to sew them later


You can see the stains made by the coffee grounds and some tears I made while the paper was wet

For the first part of my project I looked at the page/paper size:

1. Page Size : Firstly I decided to get the size of the pages correct and from what I can find out, the measurement of the Golden Section is used in some ms, so my measurements will be that.  I decided I would have to make my pages slightly larger than A4, otherwise it would be too small.

Sizing up the paper:  Measurement x 1.61 (golden section) – see notes above on mise en page

2.  Creating the quires: Usually they are 4 folios in an even number.  I am doing 3 folios per quire measuring 12.7cm x 20.4cm.  I will have four quires which will be sewn into a textblock using waxed thread, five holes and using a curved needle to join the folios together

3.  Research into manuscripts :  I have been looking at ms from various sources online including the Parker Library, at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge,  Early Manuscrips at Oxford University, England and the British Library in London – looking at:

  • page layout
  • colours
  • text/font
  • ink colours
  • illuminated aspects
  • how the pages are filled up with other designs of nature and animals etc.

As I am particularly interested in the botanical flora and fauna in early ms, the details and the colours, here is a dried flower I made which I will  be including in a page.


Text:  I am researching Old English and have discovered that many words still exist today, I will be writing some of these on the pages of my folios, namely:

field, mist, snow, son, daughter, (to be continued)

Next:  Adding detail to the pages, sewing the quires, creating end papers and cover paper using glue, paint and pva.