#30 Getting ready to make Deckles

The moulds have been made and now need deckles.

These pieces have already been put through some preliminary steps. For a review of these see the early post about seasoning and preparing wood. You may also wish to review the techniques used earlier to prepare the frame stock for the moulds, some of which will used below to prepare the deckle stock.

Using the jointer two adjacent sides of all the pieces are made perfectly straight and square to each other. These two finished surfaces are indicated here by red. In the finished deckles the narrower of these will form the vertical sides of the opening that defines the paper’s edges as sheets are formed.

Next the two sides opposite are machined straight and square. Using the dial indicator with the table saw fence allows these deckle pieces to be cut to precise overall dimensions (width and height). These two surfaces (indicated in green) are left rough, straight from the rip saw. They may look ‘rough’ but are functionally very precise; accurate enough to be used as reference surfaces when cutting the joints. These rough surfaces will disappear later, being machined away as the deckle is shaped to its final form.

Next the top of the channel and the inner edge of the rim are machined to produce the final surfaces there. These are outlined in red in in the two pieces shown below. The piece on the left is only partially machined to better show the process above.

Some surfaces (outlined here in yellow, blue and white) will be machined later, after the joints are finished.

The next step is to trim the deckle pieces to exact length in preparation for cutting the elaborate deckle joints.

After all the deckle pieces have been trimmed square at one end the measuring beam is used to mark them for length. You may recall that this same beam was used to mark the lengths of the mould frame pieces. Using the same measuring device for both mould and deckle insures a good fit between them.

The stop (at the white arrow) is set so that the hollow ground blade cuts right at the scribed mark. Three 12″ x 18″ moulds are part of this batch, needing identical deckles. The stop is used to make all six of the long pieces the exact same length (then reset to cut all six of the shorter pieces). If only one mould of a given size is being made, opposite deckle parts (either both sides or both ends) can be clamped together and cut without using the stop. The important thing is that the two opposing sides of any deckle are cut to the exact same dimension.

To calculate the lengths of the deckle pieces “A” + “B” is added (twice) to the intended opening of the deckle “N”. For my standard moulds the deckle overlap (A) is 3/4″ and (B) is 1/2″. This makes the total width of the deckle pieces 1-1/4″. Twice this equals 2-1/2″. Thus the short sides (or end pieces) for a deckle with a 12″ x 18″ opening should measure 14-1/2″ long and the long sides (the front and back pieces) should measure 20-1/2″. The clearance between mould and deckle shown at “C” has already been accounted for in the overall dimensions of the mould.

#28 Fit Wove Facing and Sew

A piece of phosphor bronze ‘wire cloth’ is cut to the size needed. I have always used phosphor bronze for this though it is more difficult to find than ‘plain’ bronze or brass. Either of these would likely work well but are less durable. Paper mould wove facings typically are made from wire cloth in the range of 40 to 50 wires per inch, though I have seen finer. The wire cloth I have used was purchased from a Dandy Roll manufacturer. This wire seems to use a slightly heavier wire for a given mesh size than some brass and bronze wire cloth I have found.

Care is taken to align the weave of the wire mesh with the grid wires since they must follow the ‘grooves’ in the wire facing. A few brass escutcheon pins hold the wove facing in place.

The tape protects the edges of the wire so it won’t get damaged while the mould is being sewn.

The sewing frame is adjusted to hold the mould a bit higher so that the row being stitched is near eye level. A piece of paper hangs from the cross bar and is backlit. The room can be dim. It is easiest to sew by seeing the wire in silhouette.

Another view. I wear a #4 optivisor while sewing the wove facing.

This is what the completed stitching looks like. The sewing wire crosses under* three laid wires (of the backing) between stitches taken over* two wires of the facing. The stitches are staggered, offset by one laid wire with each new row. This creates a diagonal pattern to the stitches. At the ends (not visible here) the stitches are identical for all rows (not staggered) and a ‘knot’ is formed, securing the sewing wire and tying the facing securely to the last ‘free’ laid wire of the backing. (This ‘free’ wire is actually the second wire, the first lies right next to the wooden frame.)

You can see that the two outer grid wires are sewn while the middle one ‘floats’, though it is held quite firmly in place between two layers of wires. I sew wove moulds with a .008″ diameter soft phosphor bronze wire. Each row is started from the middle of the mould, sewing from middle to right with one end of the wire and then middle to left using the other end. This makes it easier (less wire to handle) and keeps the wire fresher. Each sewing wire takes the form of a long spiral as it travels the length of one grid wire, passing under three laid wires, then coming up over the top and crossing two wires of the wire cloth, then passing once again under the next three laid wires, etc.

*Under” and “over” here refer to the mould in the upright position, not upside down as in this photo.

Four rows of stitches have been completed. You can see them just to the right of center.

To the left of this row of stitches you can just see a rib below the mesh. To the right you can discern the middle (un-sewn) grid wire nesting in a groove created by the wires of the mesh facing.

To keep the stitches as inconspicuous as possible they are sewn in a certain way. As a sewing wire crosses two wires of the mesh on top of the mould it crosses the first wire at its low spot. Then it takes a slight diagonal to cross the second wire at its low spot. As the row is stitched the openings that the wire passes through are chosen so that the sewing wire’s diagonal path crosses over the top in the same direction as the general path of the wire. If the wire is forced ‘backwards’ by passing through the wrong two openings it will protrude a little more and make a bigger ‘bump’ on the top of the mould.

This process is not as difficult as it sounds. When the mesh is viewed at an angle the square openings change to look like rows of alternating trapezoids, some pointing down, some pointing up. Once you figure it out you can use this trick to easily put the stitches in the right spaces.

You can’t choose the openings when making the last three stitches to form the ‘knot’ so this process can’t be followed here. Visible in the photo are two stitches that were forced to cross ‘backwards’ by the low spots in the mesh, reversing their angle. These stitches (indicated by yellow arrows) ‘break the rules’ and as a result don’t lie quite as flat. It doesn’t matter in this case because this part will lie under the deckle and paper won’t be formed here.

A view of of the ‘knot’ from above. To form the knot the sewing wire passes down through the ‘hole’ at [A] and comes up at [B]. It then crosses over two wires on top and down through [C] before passing back under to come up again at [D], crossing under the laid wire in the process. The sewing wire goes down at [E] and ‘reverses course’ to pass up at [F]. This time the wire is left a little loose. After the wire is pulled down through the mesh at [G] the end is poked under the previous stitch (between [E] and [F], not visible here) before passing up through [D] once more. The end of the sewing wire is then pulled which tightens the stitch that was left loose. This has the effect of trapping the wire near its end. The excess wire (represented by the curved red arrow) is pulled and rotated until it breaks off just below the surface (at the tip of the yellow arrow). The wire always breaks in the same place just below the surface due to the rotating action. This weakens the wire in this spot before it is pulled hard enough to break. Note that the stitches of the knot are directly adjacent (on both sides) to the last ‘free’ laid wire which is indicated here with green dashes. The knot ‘lashes’ the mesh facing down to the laid wire as well as securing the end of the sewing wire.


A view from below showing the sequence used to form the knot. The last stitch before the knot [A-B] is always located in the third space (located between the third and fourth laid wires) from the wooden frame.

Starting at [1] the sewing wire enters the opening right next to where the laid wire and the grid wire intersect. It passes over two mesh wires in the usual way and comes back down* through [2]. It then passes under* the laid wire and skips over a mesh to pass through the opening at [3]. After crossing the same two mesh wires on top it comes down through space [4] and ‘reverses course’ to pass through space [5], right next to the laid wire. For now this new stitch is left loose. This is so that after the wire is fed down through space [6] it can be poked through the loose stitch before passing one more time up through space [3]. You can see that the very end of the sewing wire is now held in place by the previous stitch. The knot has been completed; now the sewing wire is pulled tight and the end is rotated and pulled until the wire breaks. The red arrow points at the broken end of the wire.

*Once again keep in mind that in this photo the mould is upside down and that “over”, “under”, “up” and “down” may seem reversed.

In this photo the green arrows show the location of ‘knots’, where ends of the sewing wire are secured, straddling the last free laid wire, which can be seen beneath the wire mesh if you look closely. The yellow arrows show the row of stitches that fall in the space between the same two laid wires of the backing. The black arrows show the locations of ‘regular’ stitches, the stitches that secure the rest of the wove facing to the laid backing/grid wires. These are placed in a diagonal pattern visible here.

I hope this gives a fairly complete description of this process. I may have left out some details which would have helped explain things more clearly. Let me know if this is the case in this or any other post; I may be able to ‘fill in the gaps’ with more photos or text.

#25 Wove Backing

A wove mould’s backing layer is similar to that of a laid mould. I’m not sure why but wove backing wires are usually more closely spaced than those used for laid moulds. At least this was the case with the moulds I was able to examine when getting started years ago.

The counting wheel of the loom is changed to make a 7.8 wire per inch wire spacing. The wheel has 3 pins. The twin lead screws (you may remember) have 13 threads per inch so dividing by 3 gives 39 increments per inch. I turn the crank to count 5 of these ( audible as 5 clicks) before adding each new wire. (39/5 = 7.8) The straight (laid) wires used are the same diameter as those used for laid backing; .0254″ diameter. The chain wire is smaller; .013″ diameter.

The first few inches have been ‘woven’ (twisted or twined might be be a better term) and a row of (white) wire spacers is being removed to free up more chain wire. The process of using the loom is covered fully in other posts and in a video.

The backing for this A4 wove mould is completed. The weights will be removed prior to cutting it off of the loom.

The bottom is cut off first.

The wove backing is ready to be fitted to the mould.

The ends of the laid wires are recessed in ledges at the ends and the chain wire rests in a groove there.

The backing is fitted. After adding tape at the ends and along the top to protect the wires the backing will be ready for sewing to the ribs.

A wove mould is sewn in two steps. First the backing layer is sewn to the ribs as shown here. In a later step the wove facing will be sewn to the backing.

The sewing process is very similar to that described earlier for laid moulds. A stitch is placed in every third space (pre-determined by the hole spacing) and the sewing wire is heavier; the same stock as used for the chain wires.

The backing has been sewn to the ribs and the mould is ready for the next step.

#26 Making the Grid for Wove Backing

The next step in making a wove mould is to add a wire that passes back and forth across the top to form a grid. This will support the fine wire screen that will be used as a facing.

In the photo above the grid is nearly complete; below are the steps needed to create it.

The spaces between the ribs are divided exactly in half and marked with pencil. Then these spaces are also halved.

Very small brass nails are hammered part way in for the grid wire to wind around. Notice that the pins are placed to one or the other side of the marks, depending on the course of the wire. This is so the wire will be located right on the marks. These nails are #19 escutcheon pins.

The .015″ diameter wire will be pulled off the spool as it is wound back and forth across the face of the mould.

Winding the wire. The wire was anchored at the far corner by wrapping it around an extra pin which was then driven down flush with the wood.

The other end the wire is anchored the same way.

As the nails are driven home the wire tightens and straightens.

A closer view. This is the first mould in which I have used three equally spaced grid wires between ribs. The two outer ones will be stitched in place as the wove facing is sewn down. The center wire is not sewn in place but is held in place by pressure between the laid wires of the backing and the underside of the wove mesh facing. The pressure pushes it into one of the many grooves formed by the warp and weft of the woven wire facing. The outer two grid wires are also pushed into grooves but are sewn firmly in place. I have seen this pattern on most wove moulds. Previous to this I have made wove moulds with only two grid wires between ribs, both sewn. (Perhaps I didn’t trust the ‘loose’ wire to stay in place.)

Skipping ahead a few steps to show how the grid wires will nest in ‘grooves’ created by the zig-zag warp and weft of the wire mesh facing. A single un-sewn grid wire in the center is held in place simply by being squeezed between the laid wires and the wove facing. It is flanked by two grid wires which have been locked in place as part of the process of sewing the wove facing to the backing/grid structure.

The grid is complete and the mould is ready for its facing.

#27 Mould Brass Sheathing

Many moulds made for use in commercial mills are fitted with metal sheathing. Since most of the moulds I make aren’t used this way I rarely use sheathing.

The mould used as an example here is a small wove mould made entirely of western larch, both ribs and frame. This choice of wood is an experiment. The purpose of making it a wove mould was to add that structure and the necessary processes to this series of posts. Sheathing was added to this mould so that that topic could also be included.

The sheathing is .017″ cartridge brass. I have a roll that is soft (annealed). Brass shim stock is easier to find but often too stiff for this purpose. It can be annealed with a propane torch, though.

Typically the sheathing covers the entire front of the mould, wrapping around the corners. The other two corners have separate shorter pieces. Sometimes the sheathing is not symmetrical which puzzles me. Was this done for a particular purpose?

After the brass is nailed in place with 1/4″ brass escutcheon pins the metal is burnished down and the nail heads filed flat.

I ‘polish’ them with a sanding sponge to round off any sharp edges and make it look better.

The front has been finished.

The bottom side of the partially sheathed mould.

The remaining two corners each have a separate piece of sheathing.

The purpose of the sheathing was probably partly to protect the wood from wear and partly to help hold the mould frame together in times before waterproof glue was available. It may have been partly to protect the vat person’s hands; I had a conversation with the man who used the moulds shown below in which he described the substantial calluses that he developed. The wood suffered too, being worn to a fuzz in the areas gripped during sheet forming.

Perhaps this mould would have benefitted from metal sheathing.

The wood is worn away from use.

The mould in these last photos is one of the few I’ve made that have been used in heavy production. These were used in pairs more or less continuously to produce about 500 to 750 sheets per day.

#24 The Functions of Backing Wires

The function of backing wires in laid moulds

Following is my best effort at understanding why paper made on single faced laid and double faced laid moulds turns out so different. I think I’m on the right track but questions remain.

Single faced laid moulds make paper with distinctive characteristics. As paper is formed it becomes thin in the areas between ribs and thick in bands along and above the ribs. The cause would seem to be uneven drainage caused by the structure of the mould.

During the time taken to form a sheet of paper on the wire surface fewer fibers collect where drainage is poor and more fibers collect where drainage is good. The differences in good and bad drainage must be due to differences in the mould structure. I believe thicker paper along the ribs of a single faced laid is due to the vertical sides of the ribs having the effect of increasing flow there.

Surface tension prevents water from easily detaching from a horizontal surface (until enough accumulates to form drops). Water, as everyone knows, likes to run downhill and since the surface that is being drained (the mould) is basically horizontal there is little impetus for it to flow in any direction (there’s no downhill). Surface tension ‘sticks’ the water to horizontal surfaces until big enough drops are formed to be pulled off by their own weight. (I can’t explain why but I suspect this is not an efficient process.) But in the areas along the ribs a strong directional flow is created, as gravity encourages water to flow down the sides of the ribs thus drawing it away from adjoining horizontal areas. Since water flows strongly down the sides of a rib it builds up along its narrow bottom edge and streams off.

This seems to be an adequate explanation of the uneven nature of “antique laid” paper (paper made on a single faced laid mould). The structure of the mould, especially the interaction of horizontal and vertical surfaces creates areas of uneven drainage; poor between the ribs but improving with proximity to them.

I have a harder time convincing myself that I have an adequate explanation for the very even nature of paper made on a double faced laid mould.

Adding a second layer of wires to a laid mould (to make it a double faced laid mould) eliminates the problems of uneven drainage allowing sheets of even thickness to be formed. It is a little puzzling that the solution turns out to be so simple. Understanding why it works does not seem so simple. My first guess was that the extra wires simply isolate the upper facing by lifting it away from the ribs. I held this belief for a while, but now I think that the extra wires improve drainage and that the even formation of a double faced laid mould may be due to a combination of two factors; isolating (somewhat) the facing from the effect of the ribs, and improving drainage elsewhere. The extra wires might improve drainage simply by adding ‘pathways’, additional surfaces for water to flow along. In this scenario, the lower backing wires, being close to the underside of the laid facing are able to ‘catch’ and draw off water there. They would then function as additional routes for water to flow along. (But this isn’t completely convincing; there may be more ‘routes’ but they are all horizontal and still inefficient at creating directional flow.) Another possibility that occurs to me is that the two layers of wires (closely spaced laid facing wires and widely spaced laid backing wires) might create spaces narrow enough that surface tension could hold water between them, albeit briefly. If this were true (can it be possible?) the water could be drawn toward the ribs in a thick layer that would then turn and flow down their vertical sides.

Another possibility (that occurred to me while writing) is that the ‘vatman’s shake’ is not only instrumental in re-arranging the fibers in the paper being formed but also in helping drain the sheet by shaking the draining water sideways towards the ribs. But the shake is used for both single-faced and double faced moulds so clearly this can’t explain the different results from the two types of mould.

Fortunately it isn’t necessary to have a complete understanding of how moulds work in order to make (or use) them!

The function of backing wires in wove moulds

Backing wires serve a double function for wove moulds. The straight stiff wires provide a structure to support the woven wire facing while presumably working to improve drainage. ‘Wire cloth’ must be supported by backing wires; if sewn directly to the ribs it would soon sag between them from the pressure of couching.

#29 Copper Edge Strips and a few more details.

Copper shim stock .015″ thick makes good edge strips. These are needed to protect the edges of the laid and chain wires. But before the strips can be fastened in place there are a few more steps to be done.

Bridge wires are inserted between the laid facing and the laid backing at both ends. These add support to the top wire layer so it won’t be distorted as badly when the strips are nailed down.

Here you can see one bridge wire trapped between the upper and lower chain wires. It extends into the notch at each end along with the chain wire twists. The other bridge wires are shorter, just long enough to fill the space between the layers above the lower ledge. Cross section drawings in a previous post show this more clearly. (Finishing The Mould Frame)

The locations of nails are marked and laid wires are bent sideways to make room for the brass escutcheon pins that will be hammered in about every inch.

“X” marks the spot where a brass nail will enter the wood.

Strips are cut from the shim stock. Running them over a sanding sponge rounds off the sharp edges that are left.

The ends of laid wires are now hidden but marks on the tape indicate where spaces have been created for the nails.

A sharpened nail set (below) is used with a small hammer to pierce the copper and start holes into the wood. These cross-grooved needle nose pliers are used to hold the nails while they are started with a hammer. On the ends of moulds every third nail is 3/8″ long. The rest are 1/4″. The corner nails are 1/2″ long. The nails are #18 brass escutcheon pins. They are .050″ diameter with small domed heads. British moulds typically use copper wire nails with flat heads. The ones I have measured are made of 1mm (.040″) wire. I have not been able to find a source for these.

This is the altered carpenter’s nail set that is used to pierce the copper strip.

The end strips have been attached, protecting the ends of the laid wires along both ends of the mould. Two more strips are applied parallel to the laid wires to protect the fragile extensions of the chain wires.

The bottom strip has had its outside corner snipped off a bit farther in than the upper strip. After both strips are nailed in place the corner of the upper strip can be burnished down over the lower one.

Along the sides a nail is placed just to one side of every twist. These nails are 1/4″ long.

Nails sometimes loosen with use. They can be tapped back down or if necessary replaced with the next longer size. On occasion I have screwed the edge strips in place with tiny #2 flat head brass screws. (Slightly larger #3 screws were used on the four corners.) This works very well but adds considerable time and expense.

After all the nails are hammered in the soft copper is burnished to lie tightly against the wood.

As mentioned the upper strips are burnished down at at the corners

Even with the support of the ledges and bridge wires the force of the nails causes laid wires to distort.

This tool is just a piece of brass rod clamped into a file handle. The end is blunt and the sides tapered like a screwdriver. It is used to poke and prod the laid wires, bending them a little to make them lie fairly straight again.

The tops of the escutcheon pins are carefully filed off to leave clearance under the deckle rim. A misdirected stroke with a file could easily destroy a chain wire!

The mould is finished (but needs a deckle)!

Some of the tiny copper nails extracted from British moulds during repairs.

Paper Mould Sold

This is one of the moulds being constructed and documented for this blog.

The net proceeds from the sale of this mould will be donated to The University of Iowa Center for the Book Windgate Challenge Grant. For details visit: https://book.grad.uiowa.edu/UICB-2020

The mould sold for $3049.00! As soon as eBay deposits the net amount in my account I will send a check to UICB. Check out the link above if you wish to donate.

#23 Sewing a Double Faced Laid Mould

Backing and facing wires have been fitted to this mould; the next step is to sew them to the ribs. A soft (annealed phosphor bronze, in this case .010″ diameter) sewing wire follows a spiral path for the length of each rib to bind the wires to it. The ribs have been drilled at regular intervals to put a stitch in every sixth space (over the chain wire between pairs of laid wires) except at the ends where the stitches are closer.

This ‘sewing frame’ (for lack of a better name) holds the mould leaving both hands free to handle the sewing wire. The height can be adjusted for sewing laid or wove moulds. The angle of the mould can be changed easily by loosening the two wooden handles at the ends. When not in use the frame can be folded flat (or taken to pieces) for storage.

Before sewing a rib the upper chain wire directly above it must be straightened and aligned with the scribed marks at either end.

Then the lower chain wire (of the backing) is pulled over to rest directly below the upper chain wire. The straight bridge wire is pushed up against these two chain wires from one side. All line up directly above the narrow flat top of the rib. The wire stitches will hold this cluster of wires in place.

This first rib of this laid mould is ready for sewing. It is one of the middle ribs, the seventh from the bottom. The mould is angled down to allow the holes in the rib to be seen from above so the sewing wire can be fed through them from that direction. Sewing commences from the middle of the rib towards the right hand end. After the right hand side is completed the mould will be tilted up so that the holes can be seen on the other (lower) side of the rib. This is necessary because now the sewing is done from right to left and the wire must enter the holes from the opposite direction.

The sewing wire makes a clockwise spiral looking from near to far. Like the thread on a standard screw. (The chain wires are twisted the same way; I wonder if anyone knows what proportion of moulds in history have right-hand twists. ) A sewing wire passes over the chain wire at regular intervals, between laid wires and through the holes in the ribs to stitch the wire parts to the mould frame. The sewing wire should never cross a laid wire; that stitch would ‘stick up’ and leave a light (thin) spot there in every sheet of paper formed.

As mentioned each rib is sewn from the center outward. (I am hoping that repetition makes things clearer.) This is the view I have while sewing from left to right. The mould is tilted down so the holes can be seen from above in order to poke the sewing wire through them, one stitch at a time.

Now the mould is tilted up so that the holes on the lower side of the rib can be seen. The other end of the wire is picked up to finish the rib, this time sewing from right to left.

Every stitch is made in several small steps; it isn’t good to drag wire around a corner to accomplish two steps at once. This would flex the wire and ‘working’ it this way will gradually make it harder and more likely to break. (A broken sewing wire must be cut out and re-done.) Instead the wire is handled in such a way that it stays as ‘fresh’ as possible. Kinks must be avoided as they too will stress and weaken the wire if they are allowed to form. If a loop starts to form it can be gently straightened out before it tightens to become a kink. This becomes second nature with time.

At the end of a rib the stitches are placed in a specific pattern with the last three stitches right next to each other. This pattern is identical for both ends of all the ribs of a mould in order to create a uniform surface for the deckle to press against. A sort of knot is formed (not actually a knot but a way of twisting the wire around itself to hold it in place) and the end of the wire is wrapped three times around the twist as seen above. The twist/knot is described in detail below.

The last rib has been sewn, finishing the first half of this mould. Next the mould will be turned 180 degrees in the frame so the other half can be sewn.

When sewing is completed the tape is removed. To finish the mould copper edge strips will be applied to protect the edges of the wire facing.

The ‘Knot’

These two sequences attempt to illustrate the steps of forming the twists that secure the sewing wire at the end of a rib. Above, the first stages of the twist/knot.

The sequence below shows the steps that take place after the sewing wire passes through the hole to the other side of the rib. Passing the sewing wire under the last stitch and then pulling it tight puts in one more twist (which ends up hidden inside the hole).

The Knot Explained in Stages

After passing over the chain wire the sewing wire is passed through the last hole in the rib in preparation for making the very last stitch. The wire is purposefully left a little loose on this (second to the last) stitch.

The wire has passed over the chain wire to form the last stitch and is poked up through the loose space that was left.

The sewing wire is pulled a little but not too tight; notice that there is still space left under the previous stitch.

The wire has been passed out through the long narrow space between the last two laid wires. This was just so the wire could be aimed up through the aforementioned ‘loose space’ to begin the twist around the previous stitch. (The sewing wire must pass back between these same two laid wires so it doesn’t ‘catch’ one of them.)

The loop is pulled out of the wire. You can see that the wire now twists around the previous stitch. Everything is left a little loose for a purpose….

When the sewing wire is pulled tight both parts of the twist are able to distort so they twine more or less equally around each other. This holds the wire in place so it won’t slip back and loosen. (This desireable result is what all the previous fuss was about.) The sewing wire is now fed through the hole one more time and the mould tilted to reveal the other side of the rib. (Next photo.)

Now the wire is passed down between the last stitch and the side of the rib.

Again, it is passed down between laid wires but not pulled too tight.

Now it is passed up between the same two laid wires and up.

When it is pulled tight it puts one more twist around the stitched wire.

Then the excess wire is fed through the space between the last laid wire and the wooden frame so it can be wound three times around a twist on the top of the mould.

Stages of the Stitches

As mentioned the sewing is done in steps to avoid stressing and weakening the sewing wire. The four photos below show a single stitch being made.

(1) The wire is pulled snug after crossing the chain wire. It is always best when pulling the sewing wire tight to grip it near where the stitch is being formed. Pulling far out on the wire invites kinks and stresses the same parts of the wire over and over.

In the early stages a lot of wire must be pulled through every hole in the rib. As sewing progresses the length of the wire diminishes. Even for this small mould there are about 25 holes that the wire must pass through (on each side). If the wire isn’t handled ‘gingerly’ it can be pretty beat up (and weakened) by the time the last stitches need to be made.

(2) The wire is poked into the next hole in the rib and carefully pulled down. After it is in its proper place the wire is gripped near the rib and given a tug to ‘seat’ the wire; compressing the wood around the hole (a little) and locking the stitch in place by forming it around the previous features, the chain wire and the edge of the hole.

(3) Now the wire is poked between a pair of laid wires (below the rib) halfway to the next hole in the rib. The wire is pulled straight out and tugged to ‘seat’ it again. With each step the wire is first gently guided into place and then tugged with a measured amount of force (holding it near the rib) to ‘set’ or ‘seat’ the stitch.

(4) The wire is passed back between the same pair of laid wires above the rib. This way it will cross the chain wire but will not cross a laid wire. Returning to step (1) it will now be pulled straight in (toward the person sewing), gripped near the rib, and given the aforementioned tug to set the stitch. Repeat.

In the photos you can see ‘clumps’ where the backing laid wires interact (visually) with the upper laid wires. This helps you identify the right space to thread the wire through (the same above and below the rib) to avoid crossing a laid wire. Another trick is pulling the sewing wire gently to one side to flex the laid wire sideways to visually indicate the space the sewing wire should pass through on the other side of the rib. It is a good habit while sewing to touch the top of each stitch after it is made (where it crosses the chain wire) to make sure it ‘feels right’ and hasn’t left a ‘bump’ from crossing over a laid wire.

Sewing should not be too tight. In particular a single faced laid mould should not be sewn tightly as the stitches will force the chain wires into the top of the rib (the wood is fairly soft) and the laid facing will bulge noticeably between stitches. The problem will be compounded when the ribs become wet and swell a little.

The main function of sewing is simply to hold the wires securely in place. Structurally each stitch is ‘responsible’ for supporting a very small area of facing wires; not much force is needed for that. That said, there shouldn’t be too much slack in the sewing wire either. A laid mould MUST be sewn. The chain wires are relatively fragile (and there aren’t many of them) compared to the hundreds of laid wires. They aren’t strong enough to hold the facing together without help from the wire stitches, which evenly distribute the forces that the facing must withstand in use. If the mould were left unsewn, the chain wires would stretch from the weight of all the laid wires, especially during couching (the larger the mould, the worse this would be). A laid wire facing is not strong enough to be attached to the mould only at the edges. It would pull out from under the copper strip and wires would soon begin to bend and break. (On a sewn mould the edges of the wire aren’t really attached along the upper rim of the mould. The twists and laid wire ends are only held in place and protected by the strips of copper but are not themselves fixed to the wood.)

#22 Fitting Backing and Facing to a Double Faced Laid Mould

The mould frame is finished, a backing and a facing have been made for it. Now the parts are fitted together prior to sewing the wires to the ribs.

Fitting the Backing

The twists on one side are trimmed to fit into the notches cut in the frame. The backing has been made wider than needed and with several narrower spaces along one side. Trimming away one, two or three of these spaces (or none) allows the width of the backing web to be adjusted to closely fit the space. If you look closely you can see that the last four wires are closer together than the rest; in this case it worked best to leave three of the narrow spaces along the edge.

The far side of the backing has been taped to the frame and the extra part is being cut off.

One more laid wire needs to be removed.

Now the other side can be taped in place. For now it is only necessary to tape the wire to the mould in every fourth space between ribs.

The chain wire on each end will need to be pushed along the laid wires and re-located. A fingernail will suffice, or an old credit card. It should be moved gradually, with care taken not to bend or stretch the wires.

The laid backing wires are trimmed to fit down into the lowest ledge.

Sometimes the chain wires need to be moved a bit closer to the ribs before putting on the facing.

The backing is fitted and the mould is ready for the facing.

Fitting the Laid Facing

Laid facings also need to be trimmed to fit.

The far side has been taped in place; now some extra laid wires need to be removed to narrow the facing.

You can see that five laid wires were pulled out.

Removing the laid wires has loosened the chain wires so the twists need tightening. These parallel action pliers are useful for this because the mechanism is stiff and they hold onto the wire by themselves after being squeezed. This makes it easy to tighten the twists since you don’t have to squeeze and turn at the same time.

The tightened twists are shortened to fit in the notches.

The laid facing its carefully marked so that it will drop into the shallow ledge after trimming.

Above every rib a bridge wire is fed into the space between facing and backing and alongside the upper and lower chain wires. The bridge wires at the ends of the mould will be added later, after sewing has been completed.

The facing has been taped every fourth space between ribs. More strips of tape are now added to narrow the spacing to every other rib. This way every chain wire is tugged on equally to better align the facing while it is sewn to the ribs.

Overlapping layers of tape are applied over the ends, then a strip of tape is run all the way around the outside of the mould to keep all the other tape from coming loose. (The tape sticks better to itself than to the oiled wood.) The tape prevents the exposed wire ends from being caught and damaged while the mould is being sewn. A narrow strip (green here) protects the twists. It is narrow enough to leave the scribed lines visible along the edges. This helps when adjusting the chain wire to align with these marks.

Preparing a rib for sewing. Starting at a middle rib and working outwards a chain wire cluster will be sewn to each rib with wire. First the upper chain wire is nudged into a straight line aligning with the scribed mark at each end. The lower chain wire and the bridge wire are then coaxed into place (with the tool shown below) to lie right alongside each other on top of the narrow rib. In the photo the middle rib is ready to be sewn. You can see that chain wires on the other two have not yet been aligned.

This dental tool is used to reach down between the laid facing wires to move the backing chain wires and bridge wires into place. It is called a “double ended cowhorn explorer”. It is also used a lot while sewing to help handle the wire.