Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Books and a Bowl of Soup

Wednesday, March 19

I believe. In playing to learn. In playing to be creative.

That’s just what I did last weekend.

Also I believe there is no one ’right’ way to do most things.

At this time of  year particularly I find myself needing a fresh experience to relieve winter doldrums,  to create something different from my usual focus on textiles and fibres but remaining related and with possible application for my work.

Intrigued by a ‘Build a Book’ workshop offered last Sunday by members of Underbridge Press, a student-run publishers at Mount Allison University, I spent an expanding afternoon at the Owens Art Gallery in Sackville.

The play was to learn Coptic book binding, or Coptic sewing, a centuries-old method of binding papers, used by the Copts, early Christians in Egypt, and still used today, mainly by artisans and art book lovers.

What fascinated me most was the word ‘sewing’ as I spend a lot of time with a needle in my hand. There are many elaborate and beautiful variations on the basic Coptic stitch, which was the one we were shown. Dr.  Wilson, a Theology professor demonstrated each step, encouraging us to try it out before starting on our own book. Elijah Teitelbaum, president of Underbridge, and several students gave us continual help, sending us home with supplies to keep us stitching away.

It was intriguing and mind-opening to know these students had learned the technique in theology classes, in mediaeval history, in art studies. My history and art history lectures were immensely interesting, but not nearly as broad-based and enterprising as they evidently are at Mount Allison.

Coptic binding involves covering the outside book covers, carefully measuring and folding the inside pages, referred to as quires, making holes on the cover and along the folded spines, then – using a curved needle, stitching them together, one quire at a time.

Because no adhesive is used this method allows the book to open completely flat.  Ideal for use as a sketch book, a journal, for recipes; so many uses.

Coptic bound books can be made and given as gifts; the outer covers decorated with motifs to suit births, birthdays, weddings, to commemorate special occasions.

Many websites show an amazing variety of beautiful examples. Some are small enough to hold in your palm. There are elaborate and imaginative variations on the basic stitch; bands resembling weaving across the spine, threads flowing across the covers, others are decorated with beads or found objects.  No bounds to imagination. None required.

On the way home my companion and I enjoyed, as always, a bowl of soup, cauliflower and fennel, at another favourite place, Calactus Restaurant. Perfect ending.

Now I’m completing one of my books, envisaging how it will be decorated with fibres, how this will fit into my textile work.

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