Making pigments at Guédelon

Guedelon paint (1)The building of a mediæval castle at Guédelon in France involves much more than simply the construction of the building. They are also looking into how the rooms would have been decorated and how the pigments were made. Jill Robertson, from Australia, who subscribes to my free online monthly newsletter (join here), has visited the site and supplied these photographs of pigments being made and used. I am very grateful indeed to her for doing this and allowing me to share them. PLEASE NOTE: All photographs on this page are © Jill Robertson.


Guedelon paint (10)
Pigments may be made from ground stone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (3)Or vegetation and flowers can be mix with water and heated until the colour is released, or pigments, such as cinnabar, can be made ‘by alchemy’.

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (2)The water in some pigments is then allowed to evaporate leaving the pigment to dry to a powder, which is much easier to carry around than wet paint. It is then reconstituted with an adhesive, and finally mixed with water to a suitable consistency.

 

 

Guedelon paint (5)This one has dried so that it looks a little like milk chocolate curls – better not taste it though!

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (9)Then the pigments are mixed again…

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (8)… and are ready to be used.

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (6)Walls in many mediæval buildings, particularly ones like castles which may have housed a noble family with money, could be quite colourful.

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (11)Patterns and floral decoration were painted freehand.

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (13)The walls would certainly brighten up what could have been a rather dull life!

Work, my workroom and ‘Landlove’ magazine, December 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I was very pleasantly surprised and delighted when brilliant journalist Kerry Fowler contacted me about being featured in the popular lifestyle magazine Landlove. This was not the first time that I’ve been in a magazine, but that was usually just half a page or a page. This time it was 6 pages, a whole 3 double spreads. I had bought the magazine before and was most impressed by their focus on crafts and makers – not at all ‘token’ treatment as in some other publications. However, the other makers they had featured usually had large workshops, and often more than one person making the craft. Here, it’s just me and my workshop is not much wider than a large cupboard! (when we had this part of the house built, I wanted the width of the room to be where I could sit at my sloping board and simply swivel round to wash my pens out in the sink behind without getting up – it all just fits, but it’s a squash for more than one person at a time!)

Layout 1Kerry said that the editor had particularly requested ‘a festive piece’ as the feature was due to be in the December issue. This was September, and Christmas wasn’t exactly front of mind. However, a walk in the woods gave me inspiration, and you can read more about the piece I produced shown on the right here.

 

 

 

 

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Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

And here is the photograph Sussie Bell, the wonderful photographer, took of me putting the finishing touches to this piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

My workroom is a bit of a squeeze and so everything is crammed in. I didn’t have anywhere to remove all the stuff to, but before Kerry and Sussie came, I did have a bit of a tidy round and blew the dust off the tools and surfaces (and just for clarification, I make a lot of dust because I sand vellum skins!). I have an artist’s trolley (now well over 30 years old!) on my left-hand side which has paints, pen rests, the pens in current use, ink and sharpening stones on the top, and then other tools and materials in the drawers below. I’ve looked online for something similar, as I know that some of you may contact me and ask where I got it from, but it seems that ones exactly like this aren’t now available. There are others, though, so put ‘artist’s trolley’ into a search engine for the range. This trolley really has been invaluable for me and the way in which I work. Feathers for quills and then cut quills are also to hand in pots, and for those of you who are interested, the very first Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache set is on the window sill. There is a special offer for subscribers to my newsletter on this, so if you want a set for £60 instead of the usual £96, subscribe to my newsletter (home page of this website) and then look here.

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

This is the part of the trolley top closest to where I work with pens ready to use; Arkansas stones are piled up to sharpen nibs (never done this? The difference it makes to the sharpness of your letters will probably amaze you. Look here at the free Calligraphy Clip on sharpening nibs). I use small crucibles a lot for paints as these are perfect for the amount of paint needed by calligraphers. Again for the free Calligraphy Clip on inks and paints for calligraphers, click here. Find crucibles by putting ‘small white porcelain science crucibles’ into a search engine. Look around because some are very much more expensive than others!

 

 

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Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Other tubes of Schmincke paint are in the drawer in the trolley. There is no system here, so I rummage round to find particular colours if I’m being lazy about mixing them! If you are interested in how to mix the paints of the Schmincke Calligraphy set to create no end of colours, again I have a free Calligraphy Clip here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Tools are all in jars on the right hand side. In my tidying up, I hadn’t noticed that I was cramming pens into the pen pot and one was sticking up rather a lot! I use pen holders that are quite small as my hands aren’t large; they are also a bit like using quills. I found these old wooden pen holders being chucked out by a school many years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

The rest of the tools I use most often are also in pots – erasers and sets of dividers, odd pens and a heavy duty knife nearest, brushes, ‘weird’ pens, brushes, quill knives etc further back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I was photographed finishing off polishing some shell gold on a vellum piece I had written using an agate dog tooth burnisher. Shell gold is in the crucible and in the little glass jar, and the green felt burnisher’s sleeve is at the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Kerry and Sussie seemed to love the copies of animals I had done from the Ashmolean Bestiary – using the traditional tools, materials and processes of mediæval manuscript miniatures. We shall be creating these and similar ones on the three-day intensive course I’m teaching in Kent, UK, on Saturday 27th May, Sunday 28th May and Monday 29th May 2017. Contact me through my website for more details. There is more about the previous course I ran here.

 

 

 

 

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Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

This is the little miniature that I took with me when I went to teach and talk at Harvard in October 2016 to show the various stages in creating a mediæval miniature. Here I’m about to apply a piece of loose gold to the pink raised gesso. More on how I did this here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I use quills a lot, and also demonstrate how they are cut to conferences and at talks, so I have quite a few! There are goose and swans’ feathers here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_008I also have rolls of vellum in store ready to be used. For the difference between parchment and vellum and lots more information, and another special offer on vellum and parchment for subscribers to my newsletter, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_018

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Although I don’t teach egg tempera painting in classes any more, I do still demonstrate how to change the powdered pigment as here into usable paints with egg as the adhesive. Cornelissen in London stock traditional powdered pigments in cute little jars. The colours are amazingly strong! If you want to know how to make egg tempera paint from pigments then it is shown and written about in my DVD on Illumination and also in my book Illumination – Gold and Colour. More details here. The one at the front right is orpiment. For more on a pigment that glisters but isn’t gold, see this blogpost.

 

 

 

Calligrapher_029

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I was about to teach a course at the Fitzwilliam Museum when Kerry and Sussie visited, and always aim to take with me the names of the people on the course written out calligraphically so they have a memento to take home with them from the day as well as the work they’ve done. As I was writing out the names for the course, I included one for Kerry and Sussie too as a thank you to Sussie for making what I do look so wonderful, and to Kerry for writing such a fantastic piece on me. And Hurray for Landlove and their inspired editor!

 

 

Rustics – not that rustic!

6316096470_0cb8df28e2_bRustics are very elegant letter-forms that have a distinctive diagonal feel to them, with the thickest strokes going from top left to bottom right. The fifth-century Vergilius Romanus, a manuscript now in the Vatican Library, shows one of the best examples of Rustics in book form. This is one of the manuscripts featured in my British Library book The Art and History of Calligraphy (published April 2017) where a whole double spread is devoted to over 75 different manuscripts from the third century CE to the present day – each showing a full page image of the manuscript and the opposite text focuses in detail on the history, art and the script. These are in addition to chapters which give an overview on the art and history, explain how mediæval manuscripts were made and show how the letters were written.

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 18.42.11The word ‘Rustics’ does somehow suggest a more rural and less well executed style of writing, yet they are hardly that. Perhaps they are less formal than Roman Square Capitals, but the many pen changes to create the letter-forms show nothing easy and casual. They are called ‘Canonised Capitals’ by some palæographers. Rustics occur also in the prefatory pages of the Vespasian Psalter, which can be viewed on the British Library website in its entirety here.

 

 

 

pompeya_2_reducidoIt is thought that the writing style originated from Roman Square Capitals. Rustics can be seen written with a brush on walls by the ancient Romans, and there is evidence of this in Pompeii in Italy as on the right. Here the shop looks as if it’s selling olive oil, and the lettering is magnificent for an advertising slogan!

 

Roman-graffiti-on-building-2This one is about election slogans.

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 19.52.28But the best manuscript example of Rustics is the Vergilius Romanus and this is available for viewing online here. You might be able to enlarge it as much as I have on the right. If so, you will be able to see the effects of the ink on the vellum. Note to the right in the middle line where the ink, which contains acid, has eaten through the skin to create holes. This is a problem with this manuscript as in some places the letters, or the spaces between letters have fallen out of the manuscript. This is not an isolated instance with oak gall ink.

Making little boxes

fullsizerender-2There are occasions when you need a suitable container for a gift and there is nothing available. If the gift is small, why not make your own ‘wrapping’? These little boxes are really easy to make involving simple folding. They are so easy that children can make them if they are shown how.

 

You will need:

img_1932i. Suitable paper: photocopying paper is good – the boxes above were made with red and green 100 gsm photocopying paper on which I had printed the ‘Happy Christmas’ that I’d written out in Gothic Black Letter in a repeated pattern. Stiffish gift wrapping paper is good too.

 

 

img_1933ii. Paper should be cut into two squares, one with sides 11 cm long (the lid) and one with sides 10·5 cm (the base).

 

 

 

 

iii. A pencil and ruler. Scissors for scoring.

iv. Errm – that’s it!

How to make the boxes:

img_1934i. Use the pencil and ruler to draw lines marking the diagonals from point to point on the reverse of the patterned side, creating a cross.

 

 

 

img_1935ii. Fold in each corner so that the tip touches the point where the lines cross.

 

 

 

 

img_1936iii. Then fold over again, making sure that you hold the tip at the point of the cross and don’t let it slip. Repeat this for all four sides. Open out the folds so the paper is flat. The large middle square is the top (or bottom) of your box so make sure that it doesn’t get creased.

 

 

img_1938iv. In the middle of each side of the square is a small diamond.

 

 

 

 

img_1939v. Turn over to the other side and use the tip of the scissors to score a short line from tip to tip as shown.

 

 

 

 

img_1942vi. Fold in one side ensuring that the tip goes to the centre, and then fold the paper up again to make the side.

Now repeat this for the opposite side.

On the third side, push in two diamonds that you have scored as shown here.

 

img_1943vii. Then bend this side over to secure the other two adjacent sides. Use your fingernail to ensure that the top folds are sharp and smooth.

 

 

 

 

img_1944viii. Now repeat this for the last side and the box is secure. If necessary, you can use a dab of glue to secure the base.

 

 

 

 

img_1945ix. Repeat this for the other square making a base (or a lid).

 

 

 

 

img_1946You can do this again and again with smaller squares, making boxes that fit inside one another – a great idea for a very special surprise (perhaps something really really expensive!!). Reduce the sides by 5 mm each time.

Cut squares out using a sharp knife and straight edge, then children can easily make these boxes with a small amount of help.

 

‘Waters Rising’ – Sheila Waters


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This month, November 2016, marks the fiftieth anniversary of a devastating disaster in Florence. On the night of November 4th a series of disastrous weather combinations meant that a vast wave of water rushed through the city, with the narrow roads acting as funnels and the bridges impeding the escape of the flood. Sadly over 30 people were killed and millions of precious artworks and books damaged or destroyed. This new book by Sheila Waters, Waters Rising, is not only a fascinating personal insight to that event, but also an account of Peter Waters’ (Sheila’s husband) seminal work in Florence in book conservation. The majority of this book consists of their letters to one another during the separation while Peter worked in Florence and Sheila worked and looked after their three boys in the UK. The later letters, once Sheila had joined Peter together with two of their sons, were written to their mothers,

peter1990s2Peter Waters (right) was a prodigy, starting to train when he was only 14 with master binder William Matthews at Guildford College of Art in Surrey. He went on to the Royal College of Art where his talent and skills were noticed by the great bookbinder Roger Powell, and Peter later became his business partner. Sheila collaborated with Peter in many bookbinding designs, and their work is in the British Library and the V&A as well as other prestigious institutions.

 

 

imagesIt was in Florence where Peter pretty much revolutionised the process of book conservation. In that one dreadful flood, 1,300,000 items, a third of the collection of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (BNCF), was under water. On November 25th fifty years ago Peter was asked to select two other colleagues and travel to Florence to help. He was joined by craftspeople from many nations, some staying only for a short time and others staying years. Any secret book binding and conservation processes known only to a few individuals were freely shared when everyone saw the extent of the damage.

91cb83b645ccb547b8c6c92012a9ab9dPeter assessed the situation and then set up a process whereby the books, which were not only damaged by water, mud and sewage but also by oil from the overflowing tanks for domestic heating, were dried, pages carefully separated, mud removed, cleaned, and their repair and rebinding prioritised. Sheila was on hand to use her artistic skills to draw diagrams of the equipment that Peter devised to deal with the situation, and she took part in the processes too. The ‘Mud Angels’ helped to rescue books and artworks, often simply handing items from one person to another, but being covered in mud in so doing! The book contains an astonishing unique collection of photographs mostly taken by Peter which gives an insight into the situation they faced and the processes which were devised in coping with such a tragedy.

watersOne of the results of Peter’s work in Florence is that he was recruited by the Library of Congress in Washington and here he transformed the way they dealt with the conservation of their book and manuscripts treasures.

This is a highly recommended book produced to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of what could have turned out to have been a far worse disaster for the BNCF had not Peter Waters been there.

 

Gilding and painting a miniature of a female martyr

cimg2855I had been asked to speak at the Houghton Library, and teach and give a demonstration at Harvard as part of the wonderful ‘Beyond Words’ exhibition there. Taking a lot of tools and materials on a plane is not sensible, and so I decided to almost finish a tiny miniature shown in the exhibition, which is a cutting from an Italian mid-fifteenth century Anitphonal (Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Typ 983), and then add some more gold and paint more as a demonstration. The original female martyr, holding her martyr’s palm, had a bit of a double chin and a rather unfortunate expression, so I decided to do a bit of cosmetic surgery on her, and make a few adjustments (if only it was that easy in real life!).

 

cimg2833I selected a piece of vellum which had hair follicle markings on it and traced down the outline in red (minium) which is traditional. I then laid gesso ready to receive the real gold leaf.

 

 

 

 

 

cimg2834I planned from the start not to gild it all so that I could show how it was done when I went to Harvard.

 

 

 

 

 

cimg2835Then it was on to painting the base colours. At this point, as always, any painting skills that you think you might have seem to go out the window (!).

 

 

 

 

 

cimg2855However, once the shades and tones, fine lines and details are added, suddenly the whole thing seems to come to life. The face, hair, hands and delicate white tracery on the blue background are very finely painted indeed, the dress and left-hand side of the initial ‘D’ less so. It is quite possible that the ‘master’ did the former, and an apprentice did the slightly less-well executed ‘colouring in’. It was a very interesting exercise and I do hope that Harvard find it a useful addition to their teaching repertoire.

The Brentwood Charters

cimg2583One of the more unusual commissions I had recently was to copy out two thirteenth-century charters on to vellum panels, and write the translations underneath.

 

 

cimg2585The charters granted the rights to a weekly market and an annual two-day fair to the district of Brentwood (Bois Arsus, Brendewode, and Burntwood); one was dated 1227 and the other 1252.

 

 

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This may seem straightforward – until you see the actual charters, as one of them on the right. The earlier one of 1227 had a great many contractions, and I was most grateful to Tessa Webber at Cambridge University for very kindly transcribing it for me, so at least I was able to try to decipher whether a Latin word started with ‘min…’ or ‘uni…’ or ‘niu…’ etc! The later charter of 1252 was slightly clearer, but it still meant that I had to resort to my scant knowledge of mediæval Latin on occasion.

cimg2556The width of the panels was determined by the charters themselves, and I felt that there should be a consistency between the two panels in terms of size, shape and layout, even though this may mean larger gaps between the copied Latin and the English translation (as in the first panel above). I was able to get some wonderfully marked skin from Cowleys and cut pieces to size before stretching them. The excess was ideal to use for determining how much preparation was required for each skin.

cimg2560Then it was time to rule the lines with a 4H pencil and the sliding rule of my sloping board. Distances between the lines were marked with dividers.

 

 

 

cimg2563I started with the translations. The two charters were in totally different hands, albeit being only twenty-five years apart, but I thought it important that the translations should be in the same writing style, trying to marry together the hands on the two charters rather than choosing any particular calligraphic style. Also, the writing needed to be legible for those who wished to know what the Latin in the charter meant.

cimg2562This is a close-up of my first efforts. I thought the final effect too heavy and dominant and so chose a smaller nib which seemed to balance the writing in the charters better.

 

 

 

 

cimg2480The writing in that period of time was Gothic, but Gothic Black Letter majuscules are so difficult to read, so again I devised a style, this time based on Gothic Black Letter and Gothic Cursive. I used a five-diamond cross to separate the title from the date, as this looked more in keeping than the simple dash. The titles were written in vermilion.

cimg2589The third panel, on paper the same size as the stretched vellum, explained about the charters, what they were written on and the pen and ink used originally. The cost of the charters was met entirely by sponsors who commissioned the panels (The Brentwood Borough Renaissance Group, Brentwood Chamber of Commerce and the Essex Farmers’ Markets Ltd) and Clive Othen, Chair of the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce and the Brentwood Borough Renaissance Group, was the driving force behind this project. Dr Jennifer Ward translated them. Clive and Elaine Richardson from the Borough were some of the best clients I have worked with and I hope the panels prove interesting to those who live in Brentwood and others who visit.

 

‘Art of the Islands’ by Michelle Brown

img_1727Michelle Brown is a prolific author, yet every additional book comes with new insights explained in her inimitable user-friendly way, and this volume is no exception. It covers the period from c. 450–1050 AD, that is from the departure of the Romans to the incoming of the Normans and their conquest. The book is beautifully produced and the illustrations particularly clear and detailed, and it brings together aspects of manuscripts, stone-work, armour, metalwork, jewellery and architecture as well as archæological finds and hoards.

 

 

ship_burial_helmetAfter an Introduction, the book is divided into five sections, starting with the period 300–700. This includes artefacts from the Sutton Hoo burial mound, a belt buckle from Kent, the St Augustine Gospels, and the Franks Casket. The influence of figures such as Benedict Biscop, Bede, King Æthelbert of Kent and his wife Bertha are also considered.

 

 

 
lindisfarne_gospels_folio_139r-1The importance of the identity of the Anglo-Saxons in their art and artefacts at this time is brought out in the next chapter in a consideration, amongst others, of manuscripts from the early eighth century such as the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Codex Amiatinus. The influence of Bede and stylistic aspects led Michelle Brown to date the Lindisfarne Gospels later than the previously accepted date of 698. Her conclusion is that they were completed by Bishop Eadfrith from 710–20, the unfinished nature of a few pages in the book likely to have been due to his death in 722.

 

 

staffordshire_hoard_annotatedThe Staffordshire Hoard was found in 2009 near Lichfield, and, at over 3,500 items, is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold. In the next chapter in the book on Southumbrian art, this hoard is linked to the crypt at Repton and the ‘Tiberius’ group of manuscripts. This group includes the Vespasian Psalter, the Book of Cerne, the Tiberius Bede and the magnificent Stockholm Codex Aureus.

 

athelstanWhat happened in art after the defeat of the Vikings is covered in the following chapter where Bede’s Life of St Cuthbert is shown here being presented by King Æthelstan to the saint himself. Their rather swarthy appearance is due to the discolouration of white pigment. Art in Wales, Alba (Scotland mainly), Cornwall, Ireland and other places is considered with illustrations of many local stone crosses, and also a delightful set of stone caryatids from Fermanagh in Ireland and the glorious Cross of Cong.

 

 

2006bc6621_jpg_lThe fusion of Insular, Carolingian, Ottonian, Byzantine and Scandinavian influences are brought together in the last chapter which deals with art from the mid-tenth century onwards.The Benedictional of St Æthelwold, the Ramsey and Harley Psalters, the Sutton Isle of Ely brooch and a grave slab from St Paul’s Cathedral all show those influences.

 

 

 

For anyone who loves manuscripts this is a wonderful book, produced by the Bodleian Library Publishing, as it places script, illumination, and page design and decoration in the context of what else was happening in other forms of art at various stages in this fascinating period of British history. It is very highly recommended.

 

 

 

An unknown book by Graily Hewitt


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Graily Hewitt was a truly great craftsman. Not only did he write the ‘Illuminating’ section in Edward Johnston’s seminal work ‘Writing & Illuminating, and Lettering’ but his work is astonishingly fine, particularly his gilding on gesso. The gesso is usually laid exquisitely, with spine-tingling serifs, and the burnish of the gold leaf enviable. I have been shown and have been given permission to feature this book which has been previously unknown.

 

 

 

CIMG2734The book is a hand-written copy of the poem ‘John Gilpin’ and was written for the granddaughter of Dr R A Holmes (see right). He was a student of Graily Hewitt and they corresponded until the Dr’s death. Because his granddaughter had shown an interest in what the Dr did as a hobby (although a very competent ‘hobbyist’!) he left his desk and all his tools, materials and equipment to her. During the war, vellum, parchment, gold and pigments were scarce, and the granddaughter was asked if Graily Hewitt could have some of the calligraphy materials that had been left to her. She agreed and this book was sent to her as a thank you.

 

CIMG2735The accompanying letter written by Graily Hewitt is delightful, and starts ‘Dear Little Maid’. It explains that the book is ‘mere writing’ but what ‘your grandfather and I used to love and practice together’. He goes on to say that her grandfather ‘was getting on famously, though his profession kept him too busy to enjoy doing it often’.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2737Graily Hewitt then says that it is in thanks for her ‘unselfishness in parting with all his beautiful parchment and gold and most of his pens, that I, who loved him very much, might have them to continue in the work we both so much cared for … I can hardly get such things nowadays; and I shall be so glad to have them for their reminder of him and the craft he loved, as well as his continued kindness to me’.

 

 

 

CIMG2728 (1)The illumination is just perfect, even looked at under magnification.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2729The poem is written on parchment, not vellum, being Graily Hewitt’s preferred writing surface (for the different between the two see here), and so the writing isn’t always as sparklingly fine as it can be on vellum, but it shows the hand of a great master nevertheless.

 

 

 

CIMG2723The book is bound in fine red leather on raised bands, evident on the spine. The title is gold blocked and there is a simple narrow gold border around the front and back covers.

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG2725At the back of the book the name of the binder is recorded as ‘W H Smith’. This is now a newsagents, bookseller and stationers in the UK. It may seem strange to think that they once did such a fine binding. Dr Christopher de Hamel of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge has told me that Douglas Cockerell used to do most of the binding for W H Smith, so perhaps this slim volume has a link with another great man.

Cobblers and cordwainers

220px-Cordwainer_statue_Watling_StreetThe nursery rhyme says it all ‘Cobbler, cobbler mend my shoe’! It is cordwainers, not cobblers, who make shoes from new leather, and although the name is slightly archaic, it is still used by the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers, who received their first ordinance in 1272. There is even a Cordwainer ward in London which is where most of the cordwainers lived, and where this statue is now situated. The Cordwainers’ College in London existed as a separate entity until the year 2000 when it was incorporated into the London College of Fashion.

 

 

Cordwainers-crestThe name comes through Anglo-French ‘cordonnier’ as a corruption of cordouan leather from Córdoba in Spain. This leather was made from Musoli goatskin which was tawed with alum; it was in demand throughout Europe for the best shoes, particularly the red leather. In fact images of the goat are on the shield of the Cordwainers’ Company and as their crest.

 

 

 

 

Paris_psaulter_gr139_fol7vThe high-grade status of the red leather of skin from Córdoba is emphasised in this Byzantine image of King David. Only someone wealthy and really important such as a king would wear red leather shoes.

 

 

 

 

 

220px-Lohgerber_1880Making shoes today follows a similar pattern. Leather is first soaked in water to clean and soften the skins. The hair was then removed and the skin ‘bated’ by pounding dung into the skin or soaking in dung, urine and animal brains. For this reason tanneries were usually on the outskirts of towns as this was a stinky business! Vegetable tanning uses bark, often oak bark, and the hides are used mainly for luggage and furniture, strong shoes and belts.

 

Clicking-Image-1bThen the hides are taken to the clicker who cuts the uppers for the shoes, This is a skilled job because thin and damaged areas of skin need to be avoided, and the best sections of the skin used for the appropriate parts of the shoe. The craftspeople are called clickers because of the sound of their knives against the metal edged-binding of the patterns for the shoes.
hqdefaultThe uppers are then closed or sewn together, a process which includes decoration, punching holes and fitting eyelets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

imgresThen the soles and heels are cut from leather, the heels being built up from a number of layers.

 

 

 

2.aaCJ1187The next stage is lasting, where the tops of the shoes take shape over a wooden last, and are attached to the inner sole.

 

 

_benchmade_04After a number of other processes finally the uppers are attached to the soles and heels, the shoes finished, polished and packed ready to be sold. This is a short film of how shoes are made.