Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Diary of an Antiquary, Part 3

Welcome back. This third post in the in-progress series of the making of The Diary of an Antiquary begins with the construction of the chain structure for the hinged box, that by this point I had decided would house a handmade book. My plan was to make it worn very low, at or below the waist, to recall the girdle books from centuries back, albeit in a very different form. Although at this stage the book had yet to be made (I'd cross THAT bridge...) I did envision that the book would be removeable from the box, but chained to it, and so married to the holding structure.

In imagining the chain for this piece, I began to mull over different materials than I was used to working with for this purpose. I'm not sure what got me thinking about wood, but soon I was readying to try whittling a 'whimsy' - the age-old practice of carving shapes in wood that was often mastered by sailors on their long voyages. I have a few antique examples - both are cages that contain balls that move inside them, carved from a single piece of wood. So I began by choosing a length of wood that would lay over the shoulder and neck (I wanted the piece to be worn not like a necklace but over the shoulder like a handbag). This first group of images shows the links being created from a strip of maple. I didn't photograph the wood before I began cutting, but it was a rectangular block that I then rabbeted out along its length as shown.

The links are now roughed out in size.

Removing wood from the interiors of the links.

A big moment is when the first link comes free...

...and can be shaped.

Working along the length, shaping them as I go.

The links ready to be painted.

A short video of the aftermath.

Painting the chain to harmonize with the box.

Next came another part of the chain - which would be straight bars, with decoration turned into them - to hang along the length. Here the brass segments have been hardened and textured and are ready to be sized and turned.

Cutting large steel jump-rings to use as the bulk of the chain.

The long links finished and ready to integrate with the steel chain.

Wood, brass and steel rubbing elbows.

Getting the length established, I snap myself in the mirror with the piece on.

Then I find a much more attractive model (in-house, of course!).

At this point it occurred to me that I would like to have the box mounted on a stand, so it could be elegantly displayed when not worn (because of the design thus far, it wasn't able to stand upright on its own).

As a base, I settled on an antique Indian candle-holder of cast brass and cut it apart.

One of the very few solder joins in this piece being prepared.

Fabricating little posts to protrude from the bottom of the box, to straddle the bar of the stand.

The posts installed on the box.

The stand completed (the horizontal bar is wrapped in 1920's linen thread, which I'll use much more of later).

Small 'claws' grip the posts on both sides of the box...

...and the posts, seen from the back here, keep the piece stable.

Now there were absolutely no more excuses for pushing the book until later - it was time to tackle it. The home was ready for its occupant.

So I plunged nose-down into Keith Smith's excellent book 'Smith's Sewing Single Sheets' and got my head together to try another first for me - fabricating and binding a book.

Stay tuned for the next and final post, which will see the piece to completion.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Diary of an Antiquary, Part 2

Welcome back for episode two in the 'Diary' chronicles...

Once I had gotten the hinge working on the enclosure, I began to see it as a housing to hold something removeable. As I was sitting with the stucture talking about it with my partner Irena, she held it off to the side of her stomach and commented that it would be interesting for it to hang low, and it got my mind racing - her feedback is always right on target, I'm a lucky man. Soon I came around to thinking about girdle books, which had always fascinated me. Once quite common, only about 25 have survived the centuries; these were books bound to be hung from the clothing - here are a few examples.

(Girdle book from the British Museum)

The piece was now in high gear, as I began to envision a small book to inhabit the low-slung box. That would be a whole different set of problems, as I'd never bound a book myself. I'd have time to mull on that - there was plenty on my plate first. I found the title for the piece at this point, from a newspaper from about 1870. So the next step was to create a plate for the top of the box that would incorporate the title, as well as some kind of hook and eye closure. This jogged my memory to 2004 when I photographed the incredible armor at the Metropolitan Museum in NY. I had taken many images of interesting metal connections, and this supplied the inspiration for the catch I was about to fabricate.

Getting ready to etch the brass plate.

Etching in cupric chloride.

The closure begins.

The design for the plate.

Coming together...

Creating four brass 'bumpers' to protrude from the front and back of the box.

Ready to tube-rivet the hook mechanism.

The top plate complete, with fresh-water pearls set under the swinging hook.

The box nearing completion, I now would turn my time towards creating a really special chain for it to hang down to the 'girdle'. The next post will show you the very unconventional solution to that next challenge - and would find me chalking up another 'first' in my repertoire of making.

Until then, ciao!

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