15th c. Italian Incunable and Cuir Bouilli Case – Malys MacGregor

During my time working with leather, attempting minor crafts of making journals. I have found a deep passion for medieval books and their accessories within research. Through my research I gained an interest in book cases. The book cases were meant to easily carry and protect the book housed within. Books that were commonly carried in these travel cases would be devotional books such as missals or prayer books. This project was done backwards, starting with the case since the example I’m using does not contain a book any longer. The example itself is an Italian piece residing in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, New York. I have done some Cuir Bouilli prior to this project but I have used some modern materials. My goal for this was to keep it as accurate to the original as possible. For my submission I will be creating an Incunable of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Since the book would have been made in an earlier time frame of the same century.

Cuir Bouilli Case
Tools and Materials:
Vegetable tanned Leather of 3-4 oz and calf hide
Wooden mould
Rabbit Hide glue
Silk thread
Vinegar black
Glass container
Glue brush
Bone folder
Rawhide hammer
Tooling stamps

In the first step, I started by making a wooden core from some scrap wood material. The original measurements of the example I’m using are 5 7/8 x 6 ½ x 2 11/16 inches. I cut the core to be ¼ inch smaller than the measurements for the case due to the thickness of the leather being used, I also filed down the edges so the leather would be rounded to give the leather a smooth curve.

In the next step I prepare the rabbit hide glue, since the prepared glue will keep once rehydrated it can be refrigerated. I decided to do it prior to working with the leather and since I planned on using it on both the case and the book. To rehydrate the glue I used 10 parts cold water to 1 part rabbit skin granules and left it to sit for about three hours. I did this in a glass container since the next step is to use a double boiler till it becomes a soft gelatin. Then it is set aside until it cools slightly then I cover the glass container with plastic wrap to keep the moisture in.

Once the glue is ready I begin the next step. I started cutting the leather. I am using 3-4 oz vegetable tanned leather which is cut a half inch bigger than the mould due to boiling leather will shrink. The leather is soaked in warm water until soft then it is put into the pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds. It is then taken out and the edges are skived and glue is applied and then smoothed with a bone folder. It is then left to dry fully and this is done for two layers. Then a line is cut for the opening once the leather has dried.

One more layer is done over this as well, before this layer is dry. Side slits are cut and pegs are slid in to hold form, these will be used for running cording through so it can be worn on the hip and keep the lid attached. Once the case is dry another cut is made for the opening and tooling is started.

For the tooling, it is done in a blind tooling method. I tried to imitate the original design but I did switch some aspects. For example, I added the design for the Silver Brooch Award I received recently.

The following step, I began to dye the whole project. I decided to use vinegar-black, made from vinegar and old rusted iron. Since vinegar-black has a high ph level, I decided to lower it with burnt and powdered egg shells so it wouldn’t eat away at the leather over time.

Once the case is dyed, I then seal the whole case with beeswax. Heating the wax and brushing it on, hardens the case. Once the case is fully covered in wax and it has hardened, I hold the case over an open flame to reheat and wipe away excess wax.

Now that the case is done, I began making the cording to hold it all together using silk thread or cording to make a twisted braid with tassels.

After the case was made I measured the inside of the case and took off a half inch so the book would fit but not get stuck. I found an example of an Italian prayer book that I wanted to base the design off of.

14 thoughts on “15th c. Italian Incunable and Cuir Bouilli Case – Malys MacGregor

  1. That is amazing work, and such indepth research. I commend your efforts.

  2. What a wonderful case! I am thinking how well it could be utilized to hide many a modern “sin” at events!

  3. This is gorgeous. Thank you for sharing your process and beautiful work. I now have pretty book case needs.

  4. Beautiful work, & it’s really cool to learn more about the process…thank you!

  5. This is wonderful. I don’t know much about this type of work but I enjoyed the way you presented it and the final result is just lovely!

Comments are closed.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑