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Volume 16 - Autumn 2003


 
 

A Short Binding Story

by Susan Allix
 

The binding began with the railway timetable; and the railway timetable appeared because the road was terrible. The man reading it said, "You could take the Golden Temple Mail to Bharatpur".

It was one of those moments that cause a slight shiver, a premonition that something was going to happen. The words went round and round in my head, and were still with me as I stood on the station platform. The Golden Temple Mail, a fairly ordinary Indian train, drew in, scattering some families of pigs from the tracks. To my disappointment there was only one man in my carriage and the journey stretched uneventfully ahead. Then the man began to talk, recounting a variety of strange and mystical stories, one of which was the starting point of the book.

So the book became a collection of six Indian encounters accompanied by six coloured etchings. It was neither too big, nor too small, nor too thick nor too thin - in fact the only drawback concerning the binding was a slight inflexibility in the paper on which I had printed the etchings.

A binding must be part of the spirit of the book, so the binding for The Golden Temple Mail to Bharatpur had to be the seventh encounter, harmonising the brilliant colours that weave themselves into everyday life. I had acquired some paper for endpapers in Jaipur, in an unlikely paper warehouse that was situated in a modern concrete block above a carpet store. It was a completely disorganised place where small men dived and heaved among colossal piles of coloured papers to find a required sheet, while a sad and silent ring of the unlucky sat cross-legged on the floor filling plastic envelopes with hand-made notepaper.

The structure of the binding was quite simple, so that the inlays of coloured leather could lie smoothly over both boards. I remembered some leather left from an edition completed many years ago, and I found that its original hard yellow had mellowed without darkening, so this was a good start. I added a deep red, a brighter red and shades of pinkish orange all inlaid together. The effect of a complete inlaid binding, even when the colours and design work successfully, can sometimes be quite hard, so to introduce a different texture and sparkle I tried something nerve-wracking. After hours of inlay work I took a pad of cotton wool and a bowl of diluted leather dye and made a wide curved swipe over the surface to unite yellow, orange and red. Just once, perfectly, was what as required; and there were no second chances!

After this I cut out an irregular rectangle and inlaid a piece of shiny golden yellow glace kid to give another texture. This is a rigid piece of leather, so it required exactness. The tooling consisted of some of my "painting" with the polishing iron. This means rubbing the edge of the iron through foil, which can give the effect of pencil or crayon shading and use of an old square blank for a tool that I never made, but which had a nice crumbled edge. Finally the book was given a box lined with Indian yellow suede.

All that remained was to repeat the binding eleven more times for the edition, and so it was many months and many events since the moment of the railway timetable before all the books were complete.

Susan Allix - Studied painting, followed by an MA in printmaking at the Royal College of Art, and a Prix de Rome. Presently working at her own press, where she has been designing and making artists' books for many years. Each book is made completely by hand, using letterpress, printmaking techniques and a variety of materials for fine bindings.

 

Skin Deep - Volume 16 - Autumn 2003

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