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A multigathering codex consists of folded sheets of papyrus, parchment, or paper, gathered together and sewn in a specific sequence. The sewing method is an adaptation of a fabric-making technique known by various names, including cross-knit looping (the term used in this exhibition), nålebinding, mesh stitch, ösenstitch, single needle knitting, encircled looping, knit-stem stitch, Coptic knitting, and looped needle netting. It is a simple but effective technique that combines strength and flexibility.
The technique for sewing the gatherings has remained nearly unchanged among most of the various bookbinding traditions that evolved in the Eastern Mediterranean from late antiquity through the twentieth century.
This textile fragment, found in Syria, is evidence that cross-knit looping was used for garments in regions beyond Egypt.
Endbands are the sewn bands at the head (top) and tail (bottom) edges of the spine of a book, functioning much like edge finishes on textiles. Up until the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, endbands in Eastern Mediterranean bindings were always sewn through the gatherings of the book block, usually around a cord core. Their purpose was to compress and “seal” the edges of the book block and the spaces between the gatherings, to reinforce the attachment of the boards, and finally to decorate the book. Often endbands and textile edge finishes are made with the same techniques.
This is one of the earliest preserved examples of a wound endband. The technique is comparable to a common, simple method known as packed overcasting, used for reinforcing and decorating the edges of many woven items, from mats and baskets to textiles.
Although this fragment is very small, the endband appears to be sewn with the loop stitch.
The cover of a codex envelops the book’s spine and boards. A cover has to be flexible, strong, and suitable for different types of decoration. The material that best combines all these characteristics is tanned leather. Most bindings were decorated with a combination of techniques—tooling, inking and painting, cutout openwork and stitching, incising and scraping of the surface, gilding, and lacing—that were used extensively in shoemaking and other leatherwork well before the appearance of the multigathering codex.
The decoration of this codex cover is produced by pressing or hammering the leather with metal stamps, each of which bears a simple motif. The stamps are called “tools” in bookbinding terminology and the stamping process, “tooling.”
The decoration on the cover of this codex is produced using a variety of techniques: gilding, stitching, cutout openwork, and parchment strips laced though closely spaced slits cut through the red leather.
A multigathering codex usually has a pair of boards, front and back, to protect the book block (the sewn gatherings, ready for binding) and keep it compact. The boards are commonly made from wood or from layers of papyrus to provide stiffness and strength.
The book block and boards can be sewn together as one single sequence, or the book block can be sewn first, with the boards then sewn onto it separately, as shown in the animation. Inner face of the boards, showing the characteristic patterns created by the thread lacing the boards to the book blocks
Techniques similar to those used for attaching the boards on early codices were used to secure and seal papyrus documents.
Fastening straps are an essential element of the early codex. They are used to protect the book by keeping it closed when it is not in use. Interlaced straps, the most common type found in late antiquity, are made with an ancient technique widely used for sandals and belts. The straps can be found on Byzantine and post-Byzantine bindings well into the seventeenth century.