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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