It won't get better if you pick at it...

...or will it?
As you may have noticed, I'm trying to find a layout for the blog that I like - and that looks OK on different pc screens. So I've been changing the design a lot in the last few days.
I was quite confidend with the colours yesterday, if not with the boring layout - but when I returned to the office today it was quite a shock to see them: Instead of the nice creamy yellow my screen at home showed me, here everything had a pinkish hue. Not my favorite colour in the world :-(

I'm still new to blogging and I was trying to use one of the ready made designs for the blog, but some way or the other all of them are not what I was looking for.

To all you experienced bloggers who might read this: Is there any other way?  


How to calculate along lines - Rechenbuch (part 1)

A Rechenbuch is a kind of calculating manual, dating from medieval or renaissance times...
This book is a reprint of one of Adam Ries works "Rechenbuch auff Linnien", printed as a follow-up edition in 1578. Although the original text is from the middle of the 16th century, the cover should look like a simple no-nonsens binding from the 15th century. Sturdy, practical, not too expensive - the right thing for a clerk around 1476 who would have need of such a Rechenbuch.
I started by discarding the modern book cover and taking apart the modern binding. After that, the book was just a little heap of pages, folded and stacked into sections. Now I could start again, just as if it had recently come from the press :-)

The binding and cover will follow the technique and design of this little book: Ephraem Syrus: Sermones from the 15th century, a small volume with wooden boards and a simple leather cover. It measures 14,5 by 10 cm and has 99 leafs.

The Rechenbuch is 16 by 10,5cm and has 114 pages, so not exactly the same, but very similar in format.

 I used 5 raised bands cut from chamois leather just like on the Sermones, which is quiete a lot for a book that small. I think the medieval bookbinder wanted to make really sure this binding would last - well, it did for almost 500 years :-)

Above you can see the sewing over the raised bands, the spine has been glued for the first time and is ready to have the headbands sewn on.
As the book is so slim, I needed the help of two turned wooden jars I use to store dryed glue and polishing chalk to make it stand up. Again I'm amazed about the beauty simple things like tools or containers have, when they are handmade!
To the right you can see the book lying on a small book bag with tassels, handwoven from madder and tansy dyed wool. Another lovely little detail that makes medieval bookbinding such fun :-)

Speaking about little details - here`s a preview of the brass clasps and mounts that will decorate the leather cover:

The clasp is still burnished as it was produced to replace a missing clasp on an original medieval book during restoration. I gladly use these replicas, but I polish them before use till they gleam.
The little semipherical mounts will be on the front and back cover near the corners, they prevent the leather from contact with the table or bookshelve surface.

Some books have a similar mount in the middle of the cover, some have a more eleborate flower, cross or rosette to add a little decoration.
When you look closely on the cover of the Sermones, you can still see the tiny holes in the leather left by the long gone mounts...

Enough for today, I`ll keep you posted :-)

Girdle book (part 3)

Here are the dirty details as promised in part 1 :-)

First, an overall view of the book, lying on the cream-coloured chamois I'm going to use for the inner book cover, under the textile book cover that really forms the Beutelbuch.
You can see the three raised bands on the spine, that is the hemp cords the sections are sewn onto. The ends of the cords were frayed so they really lie flat when pasted to the oak boards. At the ends of the spine you can see additional cords called headbands. Those were sewn onto the spine ends after sewing the sections to the raised bands. At this time, they don't look very decorative as you can see in the next foto:

 It's just a plain cord lying on top of the pages...

"What for?" you may ask - but this is just the first step :-)
The headbands are used for different purposes. On some books, the leather cover is sewn to them to fix it and to protect the spine from dirt. Not very pretty, but usefull...
The headbands can also be a decoration AND a protection for the book, when headband and leather cover are fixed together not with plain sewing but with one or more strips of leather braided over the headband and through the leather of the cover. This very prominent braid can be the same colour as the leather or a contrasting colour or it can even be a multicoloured design.
But those leather braided headband are not very practical if you want to put a book upright on a shelve as it is normal today...

For a girdle book, this also does not work, at least not for the outer cover.
The next option is to wrap the headband with thread before you cover the boards with leather - and this is what I  did here. As the outer cover is going to be silk fabric, I used silk thread instead of the more common red and white linnen thread for the headbands.

The actual design is not taken from a surviving book, this is just my idea what would look nice when its peeking over the top of the pages when you read the book. Surviving examples often show a very asymmetrical arrangement of colours or are just executed in one colour. But I liked the two dark red stripes in the green silk wrapping to be almost symmetrical (I didn't measure with a ruler or something, I just changed colour when I thought fit. When you look at medieval books, precision to the millimeter seemes to be a concept totally strange to the medieval bookbinder...)

The next steps will be: Putting another layer of glue unto the spine, covering the boards with the (inner) leather cover, attaching the clasps and finally putting on the (outer) silk cover that will extend over the lower part of the book and have a turkish knot on the end...

Way to go, I think I'm almost halfway through :-)


Girdle book (part 2)

Here are some fotos I recently took in St. Annen Museum in Lübeck:

Its the Altar of the "Gertrudenbruderschaft der Träger" (Gertrud brotherhood of the porters) from 1509 and it shows St. Anne and the Holy Kinship. Two of St. Annes relatives are carrying a girdle book :-)
Here you can see the two possible methods in "wearing" a girdle book - in your hand or tucked through your belt.

 A really nice details is the red colour of the cover the lady is wearing through her belt in comparison to the simple black cover of the other girdle book. Note the folds of the cover under the clasp - the leather extends the cover on all sides, not just on the lower part. This way the book is completely protected all around.
The little circular mounts on the front and back are also a protection besides beeing decorative: When you put the book on a table, only the mounts touch the surface, the leather (or in my case, even more important the silk) doesn't come in contact with it.

I already bought little mounts for the book from Lorifactor. Cute little brass flowers originally intended to be belt fittings, but they look just like the ones used for books :-) 

Girdle book (part 1)

Last weekend in Quakenbrück I had the time to work on some book projects while I was explainig medieval bookbinding techniques to the public.
As there is always some spare time while the book sits in the press and you have to wait for the glue to dry, I normally work on two or three books in turns.

This time, I worked on a small Rechenbuch I already mentioned in an older post and on a small girdle book.
Girdle books are a special type of medieval binding where part of the leather cover extends over the wooden boards and hangs down freely from the lower part of the book when reading. The end of this cover extentions is often gathered by a (turkish) knot which could be tucked under ones belt to carry the book around and still have ones hands free.
Besides rather plain prayer books for the lower clergy and merchants account books this type of binding was also in use in a more elaborate form for Books of Hours for well-to-do persons.
And this is what I'm working on at the moment - instead of a plain leather cover the girdle book will be bound in lovely fabric such as silk velvet or multicoloured damast silk (I haven't decided yet...).

The inner construction of the book is no different from that on a "normal" medieval one without the cover extentions. In fact a lot of girdle books were nothing more than a standart binding with leather covered boards and had an additional cover with extentions over the first one! Ecspecially for girdle books with a delicate textile cover this is very useful - if the textile fades or wears out, there still is the sturdy leather cover underneath to protect the book.

So I'm going to make a little leather bound book with some blind tooled decoration and then cover it with nice fabric so that nobody is ever going to see the decorated leather cover :-) Sounds a bit silly, but hey, this is what they did...
You can see the inner cover with decoration on the girdle book to the right - the open flap to show whats under the outer cover is a modern addition...
To give you a quick glimps on the progress:

This is me, taking a sip (it was really hot on sunday with the sun shining into the market stall / workshop) while sewing on the headbands. The sections (folded pages stacked into each other) are already sewn to the cords, the cords ends are pasted to the boards and the spine got its first layer of glue...
I'll show you all the dirty details in part 2 :-)


Hood, jerkin & hose

Back from Quakenbrück I want to show you the 1480 clothes I already mentioned. They are not totaly finished, but wearable: Some details like 3 more buttons at the front of the jerkin and one button on each sleeve are still missing, the laces for the hose are "under construction" and the hood has no lining. So for now just a quick overall look, pictures of the clothes in detail will follow.

Looking at the pictures I'm again amazed by the vivid colours you can get out of natural dyestuff. The orange was really blazing in the sun and the blue is very lively. I think this is just the right combination. A big "Thank you!" to David from Rubia Pflanzenfärberei for this great work!!