So I accidentally shut myself out of this blog for, like four years, because I’m not great at the internet. I just now figured out how to get back in!

Posting shall resume soon! Stay tuned!

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First illumination ever!

I can talk about this now, because the recipient of this piece has received it, and it’s no longer a secret.

It is not, however, a secret that I bind Islamic-style books. One of the sad things about this is that I have neither the time nor the skill to create lovely interiors for my books, which would make them spectacular completed pieces. I don’t calligraph at all. I do paint, and I’ve been practicing at that, with the idea in mind that I could do a single frontispiece for a book and that would be something, at least.

So I’ve been doodling in my sketchbooks, and making small test bits. About a month ago, a friend asked me to create a special scroll to commemorate another friend receiving his court barony, after stepping down as baron of our local SCA group. So I thought, hot dog! It’s a perfect opportunity for me to flex my illumination muscles (weird) and make a real whole scroll!

I spent the next two weeks (actually, probably more than that) deciding what my first project should be. Not too fancy, since I’m newish, but not too plain, because a court barony is kind of a big deal.

I settled on this one:


It’s an illuminated page from a book, and it dates from 1335, according to the LACMA accession info. It’s Ottoman. Someone who reads Arabic could probably tell me what the text says, but I don’t, and I modified it to fit an SCA context. I do know that it’s from a Quran, so that’s something.

Firstly, I traced the whole thing in Illustrator so that I had clean lines to transfer to paint over. I looked something like this:


I turned it sideways and added a bit to the bottom so that it would be more scroll-like, and there would be space for seals. This actually took me the longest, since it involved a lot of detailed tracing work.

Then came tracing the design onto the bristol board so I could paint it. I had thought to use actual burnished paper, but that stuff is expensive and I couldn’t find a supplier who could ship in time, so I used basic bristol. The calligrapher said it was easiest for her to work on that, too. I had been told maybe to use pergamentata, since it’s close to parchment and that’s fancy, but parchment wasn’t the original substrate used in the example, so bristol it is!

Then came the painting. First the red and blue, using a period-style pigment for the blue, and a gouache for the red, in place of toxic mercury red:


I even worked his name into the side in Arabic (I hope it says “Hajji”):


All done and ready for gold!


(Actually, I started the gold before I remembered to take a photo.)

Then comes the gold work, which made the scroll extra-awesome:




In truth, I should have used shell gold, not the gouache I chose for this, but I didn’t want to challenge myself too much right out of the gate. And I waited too long to have it shipped. I can always up my game later! Nobody’s first try is perfect, least of all mine.

Then after that, since my gold was a little chunky in places and the original scroll totally did the thing, I outlined it all in black, using a little brush I made by cutting most of the bristles off a regular small brush. I tried using pen to outline things and i really didn’t like how it looked. I’m happy I chose this route.


And finally, all done, and ready for calligraphy! Thankfully, all the smudges I made when I dragged my hand through paint erased away, which is an added bonus of period-style lamp black paints. You know, the kind you mix with gum arabic and water and mull on a glass plate? Yeah. I feel fancy. I got them soooo smooth, it’s not even funny. Added tip: bookbinding micro-lifters work great as paint mixers.


I then gave it to my friend Mara, who is an amazing calligrapher and did a stellar job on the faux-Nashq script for the text:


(I took an incredibly crappy photo of this. I will attempt to take another, better-lit, non-iPhone photo later.

So there we go! Fittingly, the recipient gave me the first scroll he illuminated, and he gets the first scroll I illuminated. It’s a happy trade.

And now I’m all fired up to make the next one. Hooray, scrolls!

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Short socky post

In which I shock all y’all, because I

1. Said all y’all
2. Am making a new blog post
3. Finished a pair of socks

Three is by far the most significant because I’ve been suffering from some wristy nervy tendony issues for the past two years, and have not knit anything significant since then. My dear friend who knits in Colorado is also a massage therapist (hi, friend!) and lo and behold, her handiwork allowed me to finish these suckers:



Here’s another view:



Soooo that happened.

The pattern is Wollmeise Socks from the Loopy Ewe, and the yarn is from Creatively Dyed yarns. I forget the colorway, but it’s the superwash merino sock yarn. I have a hoard of CD yarns that I’m hanging on to for the perfect project. It looks like you can still get the yarn online? More power to you and your online shopping.

Emboldened by this victory, I’ve started on Banyan Tree Socks, also by the Loopy Ewe. I’m knitting it up in Dragonfly Fibers golden pear djinni, which appears to be made exactly for these socks. It’s lovely. I’m on row 10! Yay!

So there’s that! And also SCA stuff like being elevated to the Laurel but that’s another, far longer post.

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Making things!

Okay, the making isn’t the big thing. The blogging is.


I’ve been working on learning book embellishment techniques outside of the simple blind tooling I’ve been using on the Egyptian Mamluk books I’ve made, and up until now I’ve been super shy about trying out some of the tougher stuff. The first reason is that I doubt my own skills (dumb, I know, but I think this is a natural thing for artists to do). I have skills, but they’re largely self-taught, as far as embellishment goes, with the exception of a couple of more construction-based things.

Reason 2 is that these books are so intricately worked, and on such a small scale, that I find myself being frustrated by them.

Sometimes all you need is a good kick in the pants.

This particular kick has come in the form of a class I’m teaching next week on Islamic bookbinding embellishment techniques. I teach the construction part pretty regularly, but then I feel a little bad because my students are left with an embellish-able (not a word, but I’m using it like one) but completely plain book, which is not a thing you would have used in period. I have wanted to teach them how to finish the book and make it lovely, but haven’t had a way to do that. So I talked to a fellow bookbinder. She takes lots of classes from professionals, and I thought she’d be a good source of inspiration and ideas, and lo, she is that.

An afternoon’s work later, I have these:



These are three examples of very common embellishment techniques, sometimes used by themselves but often used in conjunction with each other. I’ve designed these in such a way that half the leather is glued down and the other half is loose, so when passed around a class, students can pull away the leather to see the underlying construction. I made these with my own pasteboard, which is the best thing ever (not bragging; make your own pasteboard and see how awesome it is to work with).

The green sample is a simple blind-tooled design, which is something seen on both interiors and exteriors, either by itself or with one of the other embellishment styles (you can see on the mostly gold sample that it has a blind-tooled fillet around the edge of the center design). This particular motif is based on a Mughal binding in the collection of the Walter’s Art Museum in Baltimore. I have a feeling that these designs are partially cut into the leather, but I’m still too much of a weenie to do that, so I use a tool that presses the designs into the leather, which is pretty ok, too. Most Egyptian Mamluk books that I study use this technique, but with much more geometric designs.

The brown sample at the bottom right is the next step from there, and consists of a thicker cover made of two pieces of board laminated to each other, with a cutout in the topmost piece. The board is glued and leather is pressed into the indentation. Then the leather in the indentation is tooled with floral designs. I think that in some cases there are also small pieces of board behind the floral shapes to give them a more raised profile, but this one is just tooled (and I’ve seen examples like this, as well). This was extremely satisfying, since my sample looks a lot like some of the extant examples I’ve seen, and I’ve been super-shy about working one of these. It was definitely a challenge. So worth it!

The brown sample at the top right is a simplified version of something you see mostly on the interior covers of books, as it is very delicate. It’s a piece of leather backed with a piece of paper and then cut into lacy shapes with a sharp knife. This one is gilded (using gold gesso, since it dries quickly and is super cheap; not using shell gold for samples), but many examples are elaborately cut and tooled into animal and plant shapes. My current favorite is from the Timurid period, and features a center design of a monkey sitting on a tree. I have a long way to go before I get there. However, I do feel very happy that my theory about backing the leather before cutting appears to be sound. I had attempted doing it without backing before, and found that the leather moves too much. Paper is very helpful! After cutting, the design is glued to the base pasteboard, which has been either painted or gilded, so that a lovely color (generally lapis blue) or shiny gold shows through the cutwork. It’s beautiful, and very very time-intensive. That one piece took me as long as the other two combined.

Anyway, if you want to hear more and see more photos of lovely things, come take my class on the Friday of Gulf Wars (gulfwars.org), and I’ll fill your brain with lovely ideas!

Can’t wait to start a full cover using some of these techniques very soon…

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Not superstitious.

But if I was, this would creep me out:

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 10.25.36 AM


Heh. Now we’re at 667, so if you’re one of those people who are weirded out by three sixes, you can breathe easy. (Though I like to see it as three groups of two threes, or 18, which is two of nine, or whatever numerology stuffs you want to apply to it.)

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I’ve been falling down the tumblr rabbit hole and I totally forgot about this thing.

So anyway, here’s what I’ve been doing lately:

That’s a 15th-century Mamluk book binding, based on a group of books in an exhibition at the University of Chicago in the 1980s. This book is more ambitious than any of the projects I’ve done so far, in that I used entirely period materials, and made the pasteboard myself. I’m getting much better at tooling, which was aided by using vegetable-tanned leather instead of the chrome-tanned I used on the last book. I still have a couple of things i need to work on, but all in all, it’s pretty close!

One of the most amazing things I learned was that the turn-ins on most every Mamluk book up to a certain time period (~ the 1500s) are pasted over the doublures, which is pretty much the opposite of books produced in other regions. I had a full hour “holy crap” session when I figured that out. I felt really smart.

(Will post process stuffs once I’ve got access to my photos.)

So, yeah.

I can’t decide if I want to do another Mamluk book next, and try to perfect the process, or move on to Mughal books. I’m kind of leaning that way, mostly because of this beauty:

This is a Mughal book from the 16th century. It’s very similar in design to Persian books from the same period, but the tooling techniques are rather different. They’re entirely gilded, and almost incised. You can tell by the gloved hands that this beauty is rather large. The interiors are full of annotations (so many that the margins are totally covered).

But the thing that makes me drool? The doublures:

I am encouraged by the fact that each of the filigree pieces is a separate inset bit, with lapis painted pieces underneath. I will have to work very hard on the fineness of my painting and tooling to be able to do a reproduction of this justice. BUT JUST LOOK AT IT. How could you not? It’s amazing. I have the leather already. I will do this thing.

I also found a source online for directions on how to do aged and burnished paper, which is a thing I’d like to learn. The paper I’m using is very nice cotton rag, but these books were all bound using aged and burnished paper. You can’t really buy it commercially, but now that I’ve found a source on the process, I can at least make a sheet or two (it’s a laborious process, so I have no illusions about being able to do it for an entire book).

Also in the queue are another Mamluk book, the papyrus pasteboard book from the British Museum (I think, or is it the Bodlean Library?), and one of the tiny little octagonal books that come up ever so often…

It’s hard doing these when I am also teaching workshops for beginners, but I read somewhere that even in period binders took 8 months to two years to finish bindings, so I think I’m doing pretty well.

I will need more shell gold, though. That stuff goes quickly.

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And then (more music)

After an intense period of insomniac self-reflection last night, I came to the following realization:

I just really, really like music.

With the exception of a lot of ballady R&B, most rap, and the harder end of metal (my tastes in the metal arena generally tend towards the prog end of the spectrum, although a good power ballad or rockin’ arena anthem are not ever something I’ll turn down, and I enjoy hip hop than straight-up rap), plus most of modern country music, I’m pretty okay with listening to most things. As in, I could have music going in the background of my entire life, and it bums me out that I don’t play a musical instrument better than I do. Or sing more proficiently. I think I probably fall into the analog group to art critics, which is to say that I’m the sort of person who consumes music and has deep thoughts about it, but isn’t really a creator in that way. My medium has always been visual, be it dance or les artes plastiques (to be totally pretentious, there’s not really an equivalent genre term in English that encompasses all the visual-type arts in such a nice way as that French term). 

I’ve been diving into modern Korean music (both indie and pop) and have come to the realization that I’m picking and choosing artists/songs much the same way as I do all the other music I listen to. I’m not into bro rock, but I do like Dave Matthews Band. I don’t really do country, but I like old-timey Western, especially if there’s a steel or slide guitar in the mix somewhere (actually, that rule applies to all music, because the steel and slide guitar are like strange aural magnets for me; I’m looking at you, Chris Isaac). Electronic sound turns my ear in a way that nothing else does. I like classical music, but not Baroque, opera, or a lot of Chinese, Korean, or Japanese traditional vocals. Oddly, South Asian classical vocal pieces are something I love, probably because much of that classical vocal tradition has been incorporated into modern Bollywood/South Asian pop music and, to some extent, South Asian indie music.

See? Those who can’t make talk about things a lot and try to sound smart. I’m talking about what I like here, and am always open to listening to new things, even if I don’t end up listening to them a second time. I also really don’t like easy listening, much of the pop music of the 1990s (ugh) and the psychedelic/fuzz rock genre, which WH listens to all the time and really digs. We do not listen to music together terribly often, with the exception of Queen. Queen is, in our mutual opinion, the greatest musical group of all time ever. Better than the Beatles. Yeah. I said it. Freddie Mercury est mort. Vivre Freddie Mercury.

Perhaps this is all because when I was growing up, music was a constant in our house. My parents have an old, reliable, and very good stereo system, which my dad later augmented with a few professional disc changers (like the sort they used to use in radio stations before everyone started transitioning to digital). They also had a pretty massive record collection, mostly consisting of classical and 1960s/1970s hippie music. My mom had her own private little collection of Native American protest groups, which I still really enjoy listening to (No Exit, anyone? Good stuff.). So there was a lot of encouragement from my parents to be a consumer of music. We went to the symphony once every couple of months, which then eventually became me going to shows pretty regularly in college. I can’t imagine music not being part of my life.

(No, really. And I may also be the last person to have listened to the Shins’ Port of Morrow? Well, anyway, I just did, and if you are also in the group of folks who likes that sort of music but hasn’t listened, you really ought to. It falls under the slide/steel guitar rule. As you might have guessed.)

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Boy Bands, a little late



O hai Big Bang. But I have to ask, Taeyang – what’s up with that turtleneck? Sneeeeaky.

(Apologies in advance for the folks for whom this post is entirely irrelevant. When I asked my husband if he was into NKOTB when he was a younger person, he went, “NKOT who?” And then I felt silly.)

So when I was a younger-type person, boy bands were a big thing. All my friends were into New Kids on the Block, primarily Donnie, I think? Well, as you do, we all had our favorites. We liked their music (I still have a fondness for “The Right Stuff,” even if it transforms into Weird Al Yankovic’s “The White Stuff” whenever I try to remember how it sounds). We wore their merchandise. We had Trapper Keepers with their faces emblazoned on the covers. One of my friends even went to a concert!

But I? Not I. I mean, I wanted to. I really did! The one album I owned was their Christmas special, given to me as a gift by a sympathetic aunt. But my parents are quintessential hippies/beatniks, and looked down their noses at that whole pop music/boy supergroup thing.


By the time my cousin had gotten into her serious Backstreet Boys phase (and swore up and down that the Backstreet Boys were in every way superior to NSYNC), I had found the one boy group that my parents were ok with me listening to – the Beatles.

Hooray for the Beatles, right? Their contribution to modern pop music is hugely significant, and while I poke fun at myself, the White Album is, in my opinion, one of the best albums of the modern era. The Beatles influence everybody, including Michael Jackson, who in turn influences everybody else.

The one problem? I was 13 at the height of my Beatlemania, and while the music was a thing I was into, the Fab Four themselves were the ones I really swooned over. HOWEVER, as everybody knows, well, they’re not young men any more. In fact, by the time I discovered their existence, John had already been gone for over 10 years.

Also a bummer.

Let’s take a fast-forward to 2012, as a strange and oddly amazing video makes its way around YouTube like Genghis Khan around Asia. I had heard about Psy’s Gangnam Style, and then didn’t watch the video. Finally I gave in, and saw this list of related videos on the sidebar. So I clicked. I like clicking links. You find great (and also awful) stuff clicking links.

And that led to f(x), which led to 2NE1, which led to Big Bang, which led to a deep (and for WH, irritating) obsession with KPop.

I was watching variety programs starring the members of Big Bang on YouTube the other night, and realized with a start that this is what it must have felt like to be a Monkees fan back when the Monkees were in their heyday. Or the Beatles. Or NKOTB. We really don’t have an equivalent in America right now, and I don’t recall our groups ever having been as phenomenally flashy as the K-Pop groups, but it’s still the same sort of thing.

I’m kind of loving this feeling. I feel like I’m getting to live a little bit of my youth over again, a part of it that I missed the first go around. It’s on me if I indulge in some swanning over megagroups.

(The other crucial bit of information that I realized is that this new thing is actually an extension of an old thing, in that I’ve always preferred electronic music to other genres, and there’s been a major adoption of electronic music by megagroups and pop stars. I don’t know what it comes from – Skrillex? Hip hop? It’s probably a far more complex origin than I realize, but whatever it is, I’m very happy that there are more ways to access electropop than there were 10 years ago, when you kind of had to know where to look for it. Like my favorite fringe preferences that become mainstream, I’m going to enjoy them while they’re easy to get, and not beat myself up over the fact that they’re mainstream. I’m not that much of a hipster.)

And I really can’t wait to see what T.O.P. is doing in 5 or 10 years. I don’t know what the longevity of your average Korean idol group is, but that man has some serious potential, and I’m anxious to see what he does with it.

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Thank you thank you thank you.

(This post is heavily SCA-based, and because Facebook won’t let me post it due to length, so apologies to those for whom this will be confusing).

I think it’s appropriate that Castle Wars comes before Thanksgiving, because I am full of thanks for all the people who came and had fun, and to the people who did so much work to make the event what it was. In particular:

Master Robin, our intrepid Event Steward;
Master Ximon, his deputy, and the most selfless, positive person on the planet (seriously);
Majda, for sharing her tent and almost six months of her time;
Lady Ayla, for sharing her time and her hookah;
Lady Siobhan, for being the person to keep track of the moneys and pay the site when we were all done;
Their Excellencies Hajji and Jadi, the Baronial motivators, the lovely face of our hospitality, and a damned fine Baron and Baroness;
Their Majesties Thomas and Elisenda, and His Highness Ulrich, for being our inspiration and for spending the weekend with us;
Maire, who did the jobs of six people and is a superwoman (hello, first time as reservationist? whoa!);
Lady Muriel, who made sure that our new people had garb and felt welcome, and that everyone had the land they needed when they needed it;
THL Serafina, who wrangled a bunch of crazy artisans and got us teaching awesome classes;
Lord Logan, who was, as always, meticulous and totally reliable with equestrian;
Lord Sebastianos, my favorite “fake” brother and the mastermind behind our shiny new castle and the great fighting scenarios;
Lord Jareth, who kept us in live weapons;
THL Peryn, the new King’s Lancer and a good half of the coursing;
Lady Jac, the other half of that pair;
Lady Lucia, who made sure we knew all the things we needed to know at the right times;
Mistress Adela, who coordinated the merchants;
and to the rest of you folks who carried things, set things up, schlepped, worked troll, and helped make this what it was. You’re all awesome.

(Apologies if I left anyone off this list; I have tired brain. You are appreciated, I promise!)

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New Book, Part 2

So with the block completed, the block is ready for covering. Which is infinitely more difficult than I had anticipated. European-style binders, I respect you in new ways now.

Anyway, first came lacing the covers onto the block, via the leather sewing supports:

You can also see the placement of the pegs, which help keep the supports in place. Also you can see where one of the endband cords has been threaded into the block and (presumably) glued to the inside face of the cover board.

And then you do that for all the supports, trimming the leather flush when done:


I used a very small, fine file to smooth out the surface when I was done. Another step that one is supposed to complete is to plaster the inside with gesso, but I cannot figure out how to get it to be the correct consistency, so that’s a step that will have to wait until the next book, when I have a little more time to experiment.

Anyway, so then you cut a little spine lining piece, and if you have time to go to the specialty hardware store that is only open during the times when you cannot go, you buy hide glue and glue the piece of parchment to your spine, forming a support. Instead, I used wheat paste, which I found some reference to in my sources, but which does not work as nicely as the other glue might (or so I am led to believe. Anyway, here’s what the spine piece looks like:


And glued in place over the boards:

You can see two extra things in this picture: one, that the fake parchment isn’t ideal (but will work in a pinch) and two, that I carved out channels for the straps to go into, so they wouldn’t show too badly under the covering leather.

Here are the straps, affixed to the book:


These were a major PITA to get to stay in place. I even scored both the leather and wood beforehand! Aargh. I had to re-glue them at least four times before they took.


I did some more jugaad with a utility knife and a scrap of marble from a surplus store, and skived leather strips to use to cover the flap end of the book. Like so:


Further note to save you trouble: using a long, breakaway-style utility knife blade without the handle because you bought the wrong sized blades? Not the easiest thing. Using said blade with the handle? MUCH BETTER. I have yet to figure out a good tool to use for hand-skiving, but when I do, I will let you know. I like to share knowledge.

Here are the strips, glued in place:


So then came the gluing of the actual cover, which involved a tricky bit of cutting little slits for the straps (and then gluing them in place YET AGAIN). 

Not too shabby, in the end.

And the turn-ins:

Yeah, I probably could have made those more even, but I ended up covering them anyway, so whatever.

The headband tuck (I’m particularly proud of this):

And then I stuck the whole shebang into a press with linen thread tied around the spine to get nice, crisp cord definition:


And that’s the end of that day, as I left it overnight and into the next evening so it could dry.


Learned also: skiving leather makes your arms tired.

Tomorrow is the final bits – the brass fittings, flap, endleaves and knot.



Posted in book, bookbinding, medieval, sca | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments