Thursday, January 19, 2017

Non-Traditional SCA Award

I was asked to prepare a Golden Pillar of Artemisia award scroll for HE Asgierr, a dear friend. I debated for some time whether to make a traditional scroll, something "new to me" style-wise, or something non-traditional.  I opted for non-traditional, and decided to make a hand-bound book, since I did a traditional one for Asgierr just last year.

St. Cuthbert Gospel, British Library
I was inspired by the St. Cuthbert Gospel, an early 8th Century manuscript (British Library Add MS 89000).  The St. Cuthbert Gospel is not only a phenomenal piece of work, but is the earliest intact European example of bookbinding.

The British Library's blog has a fascinating post here about results of X-Rays and CT scans of the book. Previously, attempts at duplicating the bindings included using leather or rope for the raised design. The CT Scans make it clear that the design is made out of a clay-like substance. Mine is not a replication of this book, not by far! But the design concepts are what got my brain ticking.

I started off in traditional fashion by cutting out pages, and folding them into quires of five or so pages each. I then wrote the scroll text, loosely based on/inspired by the intro to Beowulf. I give full credit to THL Colyne Stewart for this blog post at The Scriptorium for the inspiration.

I translated the wording into runes - yes, the English decoder-ring style runes. Please don't hate. I know this is not a period practice, but I knew the recipient would love this. I then wrote out said runes on pages 2 and 3 of the first quire. I left page 1 blank, because every book I've made, without exception, gets glued to the end page at least 1/4 inch up.

For Christmas last month, I was given a hand-made stitching frame from my parents. My father is a brilliant craftsman (he also made my book press). I'm a lucky girl. Click the images to see larger versions.

I used a simple twine for my sewing cords, and waxed linen thread to stitch the quires together. This was my first time using a stitching frame, and it makes some things easier, and some things more difficult. I imagine it would make life much better when making a huge book, but for a tiny thing like this, it's really not that necessary. I did like practicing on it though!

Once the quires were stitched together, I pressed them into the book press, and used a light hammer to round out the spine a bit, and prepare it for gluing. To be honest, I need to do more reading as to the period practice of reinforcing the spine at this step in medieval bookbinding, but for this book I used a small strip of linen for reinforcement, and used PVA glue. When that was dry, I added pre-made headbands (not pictured).

I left that to dry, and set about making a raised design to add to the cover. Due to the timeline, researching and recreating period sculpting clay or gesso was not feasible. Additionally, my bookboard was slated to be pieces of chipboard rather than actual wood, which changes the scope of the project as well. 

My dear husband suggested I use sculpy - it's lightweight, fast to cure, and would never show under the leather binding. Pretty much a perfect idea.

I sculpted pieces that comprise a Valknut, a Norse symbol of importance to the recipient.

I'd never used sculpy before, and found it difficult to maintain sharp smooth edges when trying to move it from my cutting board over onto the silicone baking sheet. I crossed my fingers and hoped that covering the whole thing in leather would hide some of my sins.

I covered the text block with paper to protect it from stray glue, and covered the book in a supple brown goat skin. I used small manicure tools and a bookbinding spatula to push the leather into the nooks and crannies of the Valknut. When that was completely dry, I added red end papers (not pictured) and called it good!

Text Translation:
Lo, praise the labor of Artemisians;
Of strong-armed Danes, in days long sped - we have heard!
And what honor the Northman gives!
Oft Asgierr Rekke I Dane from unseen Quarters 
aids many a tribe, house and nobles-all.
Never he rests, always seeking duty done.
Famed is this Asgierr, far flies the boast of him,
Son of the Dane in the Gryphon Lands.
So comes to this great man, recognition of Jarls
From hands of the good Tsar called Lakhan, 
And Tsarista Vigdis, come honors.
Named as a Pillar, Golden and cherished, this hall-sung hero.
Done this fourteenth day of January in the Fifty-first year of the Society,
Being 2017 in the Common Era.

Lakhan, Tsar
Vigdis, Tsarista

Things I'd do differently next time?
  1. Leave more of a border on the left side of the text. It worked out, but my eyes would like a bit more white space.
  2. Start on page 3 instead of 2. An extra blank page at the beginning would be a good thing, since page 1 actually becomes part of the endpaper.
  3. Use wood or a heavier bookboard, and do that research on period clay stuff!
  4. Dilute the glue more when working on fiddly cover bits. If it gets too sticky too soon, that's no bueno. The extra work time will help in stretching the leather over the spine as well - I felt this was a bit too loose.
  5. Take the time to press the final book for 24 hours.