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Florentine Bookbinding & Paper Marbling

Bookbinding and paper marbling are crafts ingrained in the heart of Florence. CEA Florence set up workshops with a local studio to give students a crash course in bookbinding. Our teacher for the afternoon was a woman from Switzerland who only spoke in Italian, and though I have been in Florence for two months now, I could not understand everything she said. Luckily Daniele, CEA staff, translated her summary of bookbinding and the instructions to make the journal.
The set up work spaces

The woman started by explaining a short history of paper making and the development of books. Egyptians had the first recorded language of hieroglyphs carved into or painted on stone. The next large development was papyrus made from the plant fibers and parchment made from calfskin. At this time extremely skilled scribes wrote everything by hand, which took a long time. Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized printmaking with the invention of the Gutenberg Press around 1440 and movable type, allowing multiple copies of documents to be quickly produced.

To create the beautiful paper marbling designs, different colored inks are dripped onto a tray of water. The water has certain chemicals to keep the inks on top of the water instead of mixing. After dripping a variety of colors, the design starts to form by taking a wire comb and running it through the colors. The wire combs come in different sizes for more freedom to make the design. Finally the inks can be imprinted on the paper by placing the paper carefully on top of the inks and sliding it off.

Unfortunately we were not able to practice any paper marbling, but we were able to create our own journal. Each of us had a station prepared with all of the tools and a bag containing the materials.

The first step included color coordinating and decision-making, with three colors of books (red, blue, and gray), bookmark strings, headbands, and patterned papers. After picking everything out, we started putting the pieces together with glue and a bone folder. Our teacher had an ivory bone folder bought before ivory became illegal, causing manufacturers to change to plastic or wood bone folders. We attached the bookmark string, headbands, and strengthened the corners of the cover before pasting the patterned paper on. The final step to assembling the journal used a clamp like machine to press the book, but we could not open the journal because we had to leave a weight on the books overnight while the glue dried.

 My finished journal

Although we could not see any paper marbling at the studio, I found some other local shops where I can hopefully watch the whole process and possibly buy a paper marbled journal as a souvenir. Instagram, blogs, and scrapbooks are a few ways to capture the memories from studying abroad, but I have always loved writing in journals. What better journal to use than one I made in Florence!

Stephanie Ino is the Fall 2015 MOJO Blogger in Florence, Italy.  She is currently a senior at UC Davis.

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