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ISLAMIC BOOKBINDING VI

ISLAMIC BOOKBINDING VI

Painting the backgrounds; here I am in my element so I felt like I knew what I was doing!; tucking the cutouts under the leather for a more seamless transitions; inserting and sticking the cutouts to finish; lining the book with gold.

Now the process got quite straightforward; it involves painting and the final touches. Painting on leather is much the same as painting on paper except for the fact that the paint is not absorbed as much, it sits on the surface rather than being absorbed in, as with paper or silk. The top right hand corner has a silk background (just to try all the different techniques). The book is taking shape slowly, and looks like an Islamic book now; the colours remind me of Central Asian colours!

With enormous thanks to my mother for looking after baby Caspian, without whom I would never have been able to do this! I love you mama~

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ISLAMIC BOOKBINDING V

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ISLAMIC BOOKBINDING V

Enjoying the flattened leather ‘veneer’; having fun water gilding the leather and bookcloth corners with 12 carat white gold and the back bookcloth torang with 23 carat yellow gold; water gold size; allowing to dry and transferring the designs to the back; cutting out the intricate tezhib/tazhib islimi shapes inside the leather and bookcloth.

This is the Year of Gold for me. I love ‘gold’ gold, Renaissance gold, yellow gold, and all the varying colours that gold appears in. White gold is equally beautiful, its appearance is a warm silver colour with an added quietness and softness. This gentleness suits Islamic book covers very well I think and will complement yellow shell gold beautifully. As a contrast I also applied yellow gold leaf.

I adore the gilding process and regularly use gold gilding in my work. I have never used white gold before so this was a nice highlight of my day; because it was 12ct it was lighter and thinner to handle, and therefore a bit more flyaway. Sometimes this quality makes gilding easier; sometimes the heavier weights of gold (22ct and above, to 23, 23.5 and 24ct Renaissance gold) makes gilding easier, depending on the job, the time of day, the weather outside (gold responds to the atmosphere and the slightest breath of air causes it to float; beaten loose gold leaf is an amazing substance that seems lighter than air), other people in the studio, the energy in the air, the energy of one’s hand, one’s current mood and the phase of the moon…

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ISLAMIC BOOKBINDING IV

ISLAMIC BOOKBINDING IV

Tezhib islimi – arabesque biomorphic design – torang shape drawn by the Master for me to copy as we wanted the spine to have a direction (pointing North); my tracing of the final design, ready to cut out; template cut out and scored onto the leather; cutting out the design from the leather and lifting it out; splitting the leather of the cutout; stiffening the floppy, fragile leather ‘veneer’ with starch paste and letting it to dry, pressing it flat in the press overnight.

Splitting – paring – the leather (perhaps this originates from the word ‘pair’ as you end up with a matching pair of leather surfaces?!) is difficult.  Perhaps as difficult as skiving (bevelling) the leather, but I can imagine with practice this skill will improve. It takes all one’s attention and is very absorbing. Any distraction and the fragile leather is liable to tear – mine tore in two places (because I got distracted…twice!). However, the Master says this is fairly normal and that the piece was good to use. As another bookbinder told me, let’s not make the craftspeople of the past into gods and idols – they were humans too, they got distracted, and if you look closely at many works of traditional art, you can see the humanity, the quirks, the hands of the people that lived long ago and loved their craft, their knowing touches all embodied within these breathtakingly complete works of beauty.

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ISLAMIC BOOKBINDING III

ISLAMIC BOOKBINDING III

Pasting the leather to the boards; pressing the book boards; rounding the spine using the edge of the table; gluing the book block to the open leather of the spine; tying cord round the hinge to increase the indent (this can also be done with a metal tool to create a pattern; this nylon cord and rope did an approximate job); pressing to finish.

My favourite part of making the cover was rounding the spine around the edge of a table: such a simple move and yet so effective!

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ISLAMIC BOOKBINDING II

ISLAMIC BOOKBINDING II

Bookblock; bone folder; non-plasticized pH-neutral EVA glue for expediency (traditionally would have used rabbit skin glue or a plant-based root glue such as asfodel, similar to tapioca starch, which survives centuries!); cutting cardboard to size for the cover with a slight overhang; cutting leather for the cover; skiving the goatskin leather. Goatskin is the leather of choice for traditional bookbinding as it is finer than calfskin.

Skiving the leather involves taking a shallow bevel off the leather by hand using a special flat rectangular or scythe-crescent shaped tool. It’s best to handmake one’s own tools for these, to fit into one’s own hand snugly for maximum control, so that is for another time.  Skiving the leather is a difficult skill which requires practice; I couldn’t do it the first time and the second time I still couldn’t do it, although I got 1% better… implying that after 100 times I will be able to do it!

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ISLAMIC BOOKBINDING I

ISLAMIC BOOKBINDING I WITH DR SHAHRIYAR PIROOZRAM

Handmaking own tools for use in leather tooling; a selection of the Master’s tools; sharpening the edges; splitting leather; interesting tool seen in the workshop (I think for ceramics!); my very own leather tool.

Splitting the goatskin leather by hand was difficult and requires practice.  I managed in the end with patience and perseverance!

It’s lovely to make one’s own tools; I shaped mine to fit snugly into the palm of my hand for ease of working.

Thank you Dr Shahriyar!