Once the parchment was prepared and cut, several further steps were required before the scribe could begin to write. First, several sheets had to be brought together to form a “quire” or gathering. To create a quire, typically four or five sheets were laid on top of one another then folded along the midpoint, which doubled the page count to either eight or ten.

Specific rules generally were followed when assembling a quire. A sheet of parchment has a hair side and a flesh side, and they differ in appearance, the hair side being darker than the flesh side. Continental scribes usually arranged their quires in the aesthetically pleasing sequence that placed the hair side of one page facing the hair side of another and likewise with the flesh sides. By the late tenth or early eleventh century this practice had made its way to England.

Once the quire was assembled, a scribe might use a process known as tacketing, by which he preliminarily tied the parts together with thread or a strip of parchment. Once tacketed, the scribe wrote on the individual quires at his (or sometimes her) desk. Only after all the text and images were complete on all the quires would they be brought together into a single unit — often a complex task. To make the process easier for the binder, scribes sometimes entered numbers or letters at the bottom of the final folio of a quire to make its proper position within the sequence clear. If numbers or letters were not used, the first word of the next quire — called a catchword — could be entered on the bottom of the last folio of the preceding quire. Only once the careful assembly of the quires was completed could the binder begin the process of creating the codex.

Takamiya MS 41: Statutes of England from Edward III to Henry VI

Takamiya MS 41. Statutes of England, from Edward III to Henry VI. England, c. 1427.

Takamiya MS 41 is a unique binding structure that allows additional quires to be added to the original codex without rebinding the entire manuscript. The very long sewing supports are threaded through the limp vellum cover, which can be easily removed to insert an additional quire before the cover is returned.