• Pothi Seva

The Need to Remain Flexible

Updated: May 24

Flexibility is an important concept in book conservation (ਪੋਥੀ ਸੰਭਾਲ ਵਿੱਦਯਾ). The conservator must be prepared to adjust methods and materials to suit each project. This blog post will detail an example of how one volunteer used a sewing method associated more with medieval european bindings due to the particular set of circumstances.

The Sundar Gutka, shown being sewn below, was missing its cover, was structurally fragmented and had numerous thin sections. A sewing method was required which could support the thick spine adequately whilst remaining flexible enough to be held easily in the palm of the reader. Sewing on double-cords was selected to serve this function. This is a European medieval method of sewing which was used during the Gothic period to produce incredibly strong and flexible supported structures. "Supported sewing" refers to the use of a material in addition to the sewing thread for added strength.


Supported sewing structures using cords are not un-known in historic Sikh bindings but this specific method is associated more with medieval European bindings. The specific type of double-cord sewing used here is technically known as "straight packed". This sewing method involves the thread making extra loops around the cords (in this case lengths of braided linen were twisted to form a cord) which results in a flexible spring-like structure.

The process of sewing.

In order to read more about this sewing structure, please see the links below:

The textblock of the Gutka was rounded lightly and a slotted lining of cotton fabric was adhered. Since the original cover was no longer present, a new cover was made using a "limp", minimum adhesive method, suitable for hand-held books and Pothi Sahibs. The link below provides examples of some very beautifully made limp bindings.

Limp bindings with soft, flexible covers have been used extensively in the Middle-East and South Asia although they have not been fully discussed by bookbinding historians. Research by Karin Scheper (see Scheper's book The Technique of Islamic Bookbinding) has only started to un-cover the extent of this phenomenon. A thick handmade paper made by Khadi papers was used to create a simple limp cover. The cover was attached by lacing and adhering the sewing supports. Looped tackets were then used to provide a closer connection between the cover and the textblock spine. This structure produced a strong and flexible structure allowing the Gutka Sahib to be read easily and safely.

The limp paper cover.

Looped tackets viewed from the outside.

Flexible opening characteristics.

The Gutka Sahib naturally fans open when laid flat.