They were used by religious folk way back when, Wikipedia will fill you in on actual details, or by those folk wanting to look religious. You might carry a girdle copy of the Bible, or a book of prayers. As you wear the book, it’s easy to refer to as and when.
The construction can be quite clever. There are some beautiful examples of girdle book binding out there. Basically, though, a girdle book is a standard book with an extra cover made of soft fabric, elongated from the base of the pages. This extra cover allows the book to be comfortably suspended from a belt or girdle around the wearers waist. The usual method is to have a chunky knot at the very bottom, you can suck in and tuck it under your belt and so long as your belt is nice and tight it’ll stay in place pretty well. When you want to use your girdle book, you can just lift it up and use it while it’s still attached. Orienting the cover elongation at the base lets you read comfortably.You can also remove it from your belt and use the knot to hold the book, keeping mucky fingers off your precious paper.
All this was quite handy for monks and fashionable young ladies wanting to show off their piety, I’m sure, but the girdle book does still have use today. I am, of course, talking about bastardising a beautiful piece of fashion accessory history for Live Action Roleplay purposes. In Fools and Heroes various class types have to carry around books with their skills and such written up in. This leads to players making some gorgeous, detailed, intricate props that they then shove in a pouch and no one gets to see. It’s such a shame!
The girdle book concept lets us get around that though, the beautiful book is worn out in the open. A few adaptations to the historic examples and its a really practical accessory, the extra cover can be made of thin leather and extended to wrap around the book, effectively waterproofing it. Having it so close to hand means you’re more likely to use it, and it’s a good way to add unique detail to character kit.
This is one I’ve made recently for my Dwarf character. Previously, I’d made a more decorative version for a Priestess, with brass panels and lovely leather. This one I wanted to look rougher, while still being tough enough to last. I bought a small hardback sketch pad for the book this time, from Blackwells in Newcastle. The extra cover is made from faux cream suede fabric with scraps of various leather layered over the top section. I stitched these down as my machine munches through leather quite happily. To attach it to the book, I sandwiched the book covers between my extra cover and another couple of scraps of leather for the inside covers. Then I drilled a few holes and used two part brass rivets to hold everything together.
To hold the flappy side pieces of leather around the book I’ve just used a simple leather cord with a chunky wooden bead that threads through to hold it closed. The only side of the paper book left exposed is the top, the sides and base are all covered by the extra cover. So long as there is an inch or so extension on the cover, this shouldn’t be a problem. The top of the book is the part that will hang lowest whilst you’re wearing it from your belt, so my rain should run straight off.
I also made a simpler book last week to use as an account book. It’s hideously made, but that was the look I was going for. It should do the job quite nicely, and will look better once its been used a few times.
The leather scraps I had to hand weren’t quite big enough to cover my stack alone, so I went for a thick backing with a kind of wrap around front. It’s a bit weird, and I’m regretting the Sam Browne, it makes an awkward lump when I’m trying to write. I wet moulded the thicker leather to shape before putting in the paper stack, leaving a gap between the paper and leather. If I end up carrying this book round too, I’ll thread a piece of cord through here and suspend it from my belt or throw it over my shoulder.
Hope this has been interesting and maybe prompted a few ideas out there. Thanks to Ben mark II for modelling.