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.

About HappyGoth

By day, I'm a graphic designer. By night, I'm a knitter. I'm doing my part to keep Hotlanta stylish. I imagine that if you don't already understand the title of the blog, you're probably confused and perhaps slightly annoyed, but never fear - I do have a reason (and it's a good one). Having gone to hear Stephanie Pearl McPhee, and then having been inspired to blog about knitting, I found myself wondering what to call the blog. I recalled a conversation I had with Mouse and the Chicken Goddess about why it is a Bad Idea to anger knitters - this conversation was following SPM, aka the Yarn Harlot telling the assembled throng about Those Who Do Not Understand Knitting and Therefore Belittle It Much to the Chagrin of Others, or TWDNUKTBMCO, which is not the acronym she used but is the one I'm using because I forgot hers - that is, we are numerous and we all have very pointy sticks, easily transforming into an angry mob. Therefore, knitters = angry mob.
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4 Responses to Yeesh.

  1. If you went for full historical accuracy you did swell by doing it with shell (that’s why I suggested the painting tip after all!) but if you simply wanted something that imitates the period’s bindings then gold tooling would make for a good practice!
    Great links by the way, thanks for sharing!
    Also, thanks a lot for the kind words on my blog!
    Keep up the good work and them pictures coming!

    • HappyGoth says:

      Yes, full historical accuracy was the goal here! Also, the tooling was all done cold (also a period-accurate practice); I haven’t done any heated tooling yet. Someday, maybe! It’s good to keep in mind for more creative bindings in the future…

  2. Ah, yes, Eastern bindings. Damn they’re beautiful! But it’s so hard to find archived photos of them. Have only seen very few up close and never had the chance to handle any (sigh…).
    Your Mamluk binding looks great! Maybe share some pics from the inside as well?
    May I offer one small piece of advice? Hold in place some waste sheets of paper on both sides of the blind tooled lines before your paint them, that would give some crisply straight results!
    Oh, and how come you didn’t gold tool instead of painting? Since you are familiarised with blind tooling it’s not all that different! Unless you just wanted to paint it! 🙂

    • HappyGoth says:

      Ah, thanks for the tips on the tooling! I hadn’t thought of doing that, but it totally makes sense…

      I didn’t do tooled gold on this cover because all the extant bookbinding manuals, plus all the conservators’ notes on the extant pieces I’ve been examining are very explicit about the gold being painted shell gold. I will eventually learn how to do gold tooling, but in this instance it’s not something that is internally consistent with the materials and techniques of these bindings.

      I’m planning to post more photos soon! I had them archived in a separate place from where I made this post, but do intend to share. I didn’t illuminate the interior but blind-stamped the leather for the doublures.

      As for archived photos of Eastern bindings, I recommend the online archive of the Walters Museum of Art in Baltimore, MD. Pretty much everything in their collection is in the process of being scanned/photographed and put up online. It’s where I went to find the books that I eventually saw in person, through their lovely curatorial staff. The link:

      In addition to that, I also referenced this book:
      It’s out of print and therefore very costly to purchase, but can be obtained/borrowed through the interlibrary loan system. He includes a number of Mamluk bindings from the 13th-16th centuries, plus an informative section at the beginning of the book on medieval Islamic binding practices, along with translated excerpts from a couple of medieval binding manuals.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I’ll be sure to keep posting things as I make them!

      And I got a chance to look at your bindings, too, which are pretty incredible. You are clearly a very accomplished professional, and I can only hope to get my craft as fine as yours! Definitely going to be bookmarking your blog for future tool source/inspiration purposes.

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