Discovering a retchoso sewn book in the Asian Collection
Retchoso, a different kind of book binding style
16 November 2015
Asian thread binding was invented in China many hundreds of years ago, well before the codex was invented in Europe. It was quickly adopted throughout South East Asia as it is a relatively easy binding to produce and does not require years of learning. The technique of asian thread binding has not changed over a millenia.
There are two main thread binding styles; in Japan these are called fukuro-toji, yamato-toji, each with their own peculiarities, and a little known one called retchoso (sometimes spelt recchoso), found only in Japan.
Some people will compare it to coptic binding, but truth be told, the only similarity to coptic binding is that the sewing is seen on the spine and attaches the cover boards last. In coptic binding the sections are sewn along the spine; in retchoso binding one sews a column at a time.
A coptic binding made at home: on the inside of the section the thread is seen all along the middle of the fold
In my six years at the Library I had yet to see an example of retchoso sewing. So imagine my delight when I chanced upon a volume from the Asian Collection.
It is a very refined looking binding, but very time consuming to produce. This accounts for its rarity in publication. You use either one or two needles, however the sewing starts in the middle of the book.
Apart from a beginners course in Buenos Aires a few years ago, all my asian binding knowledge comes from two books:
Zukai seihon by Tokusaburo Ueda, was written at the turn of the twentieth century. This book is in a lovely traditional four hole binding with well made decorative corners.
Japanese Book Binding by Kosanjin Ikegami contains instructions for books and boxes, with the four basic patterns: basic four hole, kangxi (emperor binding), hemp and tortoise.
Both these manuals have a lot of information on asian book structures and are well worth a read.
The Library's collection contains a number of beautiful bindings of the various asian styles. If you would like to search for special asian material there is a users list available through the catalogue. Viewing the items may be done in the Asian Collections reading room on the third floor.
In another post I will explore the fascinating world of yamoto-toji or maozhuang binding.