Saturday, November 13, 2010

I've been away these past few days taking the first part of Bookbinding Part III with Dan Mezza.  He is a bookbinder in London, Ontario who does restoration work on rare book collections and also teaches courses for CBBAG (Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild).

I've been busy paring leather for exposed hinges on two books as well as preparing two text blocks.  One, a simple lap stitch, sewn on flattened cords and another a packed stitch over raised cords.  During the break before the last part of the course (in a week's time) I'm going to make another text block to try out the stitching over split cords.  These are replicating medieval historical bindings.  We won't be doing full leather bindings because we won't have enough time to complete both books that way.  We'll do that in another workshop.

I've taken some photos of the work to date and I'll post them as soon as I've transferred and cropped them.

Paring leather takes a sharp knife and muscles in my hand that I'm not used to using.  I have to admit, it is quite amazing just how thin you can pare the leather when hand, eye and knife come together and work in conjunction with each other.  Dan seems to make it look like he is cutting through butter with a hot knife.  He place the knife where he wants to begin his cut and then the excess leather peels away like apple from the core. 

I pick up my knife and try for the same fluid motion and nothing happens.  My knife is still at the starting point.  Eventually I get things started but my apple, or rather my leather does not peel in one easy piece.  I seem to start and stop or waver up and down.  All things come with practice and if I am to believe Dan, after 15 years or so, I'll find it just as easy as he does.  He tells me that I'll feel the leather with my finger tips. 

After one hour you don't not feel with your finger tips.  In fact, it is hard to feel your finger tips themselves.  Eventually, you can get into a kind of Zen state of paring where you seem to be one with the knife and you get into the rhythm of feel of paring.  Unfortunately, by that time, your practice piece of leather looks a little worse for wear and it's time to start with a fresh piece.

All leather does not pare equally.  Even leather taken from the same hide will pare differently when taken from different areas of that hide.  Leather made from different animals will be harder or easier to pare and that can also be determined by the tanning process.  For our final practice, we used leather from the hide that we were going to use for our books. 

I think that was the hardest part for me.  To cut into my pristine goat hide and take strips for the hinges and for practice purposes.  Like the words of the song.... "The first cut was the hardest".

I purchased an English leather paring knife but it needs to be further sharpened since it is basically a blank.  I started sharpening under Dan's guidance and will move to a finer grit stone this week.  While I was at his studio I used an English knife and a French blade which is rounded rather than pointed. I can seen that both have their uses and if I were to work consistently with leather I would probably want to have both.

Photos to be posted soon.

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