Matilda Part Three: The Chalk Board Panels

Blog post number three of this Matilda write up explains how I worked on the chalkboard panels for this binding, the key part of the design. I opted to use brass sheet for the core of the hinged panels and had tested this out on the sample board. I cut the brass to size using a jewellers piercing saw and filed the edges to remove the saw marks.

As the panels were larger than on the sample board, I decided to use three hinges along the length of each rather than two. With the sample board there was enough resistance in the hinge not to need magnets to hold them closed, I wasn’t quite sure how the hinges would react on the book as there was more weight to these larger panels so I kept an open mind. I glued the hinges to the brass panel using Araldite and once the glue had hardened I further attached them by drilling holes and tying thread around them – the same way in which I had worked on the sample board (please refer back to blog post one for details).

I applied a thin white acrylic paint wash to some thin black calf using a cotton wool ball, to give the appearance of a chalkboard surface. All of the numbers and letters were then painstaking cut out from thin white leather using a sharp scalpel before being stuck down in position on the calf.

I created a card window and also worked through a tracing paper template in order to get the positioning correct. As the surface of the calf was very unforgiving against PVA marks, I tried to ensure that I didn’t use too much glue so it didn’t spill out from the sides of the onlays.

~ Gluing down the two times table

The calf was then turned upside down and back-pared using my French paring knife. I wanted to make sure that the panels were completely flat and smooth so this was an important step. I used Lascaux glue to line some Zerkall paper onto the brass panels. This then meant that I could stick the pieces of calf directly onto the Zerkall layer using normal PVA glue, turning the leather in around all four sides.

I also prepared a piece of the thin black calf for wrapping around the spine of the book. I marked the size of the spine onto the reverse of the leather, and used a template to prick through the reference holes for the letters. I cut out some leather onlays for the MATILDA title, which were stuck down with PVA glue before embroidering the rest of the letter outlines over the top.

It was then time to mark out where the chalkboard panels were going to sit on the binding covers. I first marked the position of the wooden frame onto the goatskin, cutting through the lines with a sharp scalpel and peeling away the goatskin. I didn’t peel the leather off right up to the board joints, instead about 7mm away from it, as I didn’t want to cut the leather too close to this point and potentially affect how the leather was fixed in this flexible area.

Once the area for the frame had been established, I then peeled away the central pieces of goatskin where the panels would sit. Peeling back the black goatskin revealed the bright white watercolour paper underneath, so I applied some black acrylic paint to better conceal it should any of it be visible behind the wooden frame and chalkboard.

At this point I was then able to stick down the MATILDA title panel onto the spine area of the book, gluing the embroidered calf directly onto the black goatskin. I had feathered the edges of the calf, and this was kept slightly overlong so that it would drop down over the cut edge of the goatskin in the joint area of the boards, and stick down at the level of the watercolour paper below, as you can see in the bottom right image.

At this stage I also stuck some thin pieces of the calf around the inner edge of where the wooden frame would lie, mitred and joined at the corners, as I knew this would be visible behind the chalkboard panel after they had been attached.

Once I was happy that I had applied all the necessary layers to the boards I was then able to start attaching the hinged panels to them. Due to the issues I had encountered with the sample board, I knew I had to leave a bit of a gap between the hinged edges of the boards and the frame, so I had planned a gap of about 8mm here to allow them to open to a greater angle.

I positioned the panels in the correct place and marked where I needed to cut the recesses for the hinges. To allow for more give with the opening and closing of the hinges, I decided to embed them into the book boards at a downward angle. I therefore cut a peeled away the book board layers so that when attached the hinges would naturally sit at an angle into the boards.

I glued them with quick setting Araldite glue, holding them down in position whilst they dried. I then drilled small holes through the hinges and the boards and additionally fixed them with both thread wraps and thin wire. I didn’t want to spend lots of time on this book for in ten or twenty years the glue to fail and the panels to fall off, so it was important to me that the hinges were mechanically fixed as as well as using glue. The infilling on the inside of the boards would later conceal the threads and wires.

The hinge voids were then infilled with layers of Zerkall paper and sanded flush. It was at this stage I was able to start thinking about whether I needed to use magnets to hold the boards closed. Due to the brass panels being much larger on the book than on the sample board, the resistance wasn’t as good with the hinges so I did feel that I would need to use concealed magnets. I therefore punched some holes into the laminated board in which to stick some.

With the addition of magnets, I knew I would also need a handle or tab to help open the panels. On the sample board I had added a handle to the front of the chalkboard to pull on, but felt this wouldn’t work as well on the book. The problem with having a raised handle protruding out of the book cover would mean it wouldn’t lie flat and would rock when on its back which I didn’t want.

Instead, I opted to attach a tab on the inside of the panels, which would be glued into a channel and then concealed with the layers that I was still to stick down on the inside. I used a piece of 6mm wide linen tape, and covered this in thinly pared black leather, with a thicker piece at the end of the tab. This was then trimmed to size and stuck in position.

Once all this was done it was time to paint black and stick on the wooden frame of the chalkboard. Using PVA glue, I positioned the pieces and clamped them with mini clips whilst the glue dried. As with the hinges, I decided to further fix these pieces of wood using a mechanical method so stop them falling off in the future. I drilled some little holes through the wood and fixed them onto the cover using some thin black wire.

Now came the fun part…the bunting and the colourful drawings! I had prepared four pieces of 300gsm recycled card as a backdrop for the colourful drawings. I chose it because of its neutral colour, also because the weight of the paper would allow it to take the thickness of the children’s drawings as inlays.

I cut out a variety of bunting flags from different thin leathers and arranged them in a random order. They were then stuck down and an embroidered string was sewn over the top.

~ Creating the bunting from leather onlays

I had planned quite accurately which drawings to select for this area, what colour leather they would all be placed on, plus the spread of them across the two open panels. The sample board had them all applied to white leather, however the client asked if they could be more of a mix of different coloured backdrops to the drawings. I agreed that this sounded like a great idea, as the memory of doing multiple drawings on multicoloured sugar paper at primary school came rushing back!

Sugar paper is coloured paper with a slightly rough texture, and the surface is unfinished. Due to the source material, mainly wood pulp, small particles are visible on the paper’s surface. With the sugar paper vision in my head I selected leathers that to me gave the impression of sugar paper – matt coloured and pastel shades.

~ The plan for the layout of the children’s drawings

A few of the drawings that made the cut were as follows; a lovely self portrait drawn by my seven year old daughter and a rather large and colourful ice cream with many sprinkles (surely a favourite for any child?!).

Matilda is a bright, book-loving girl with special telekinetic powers. But, as well as being very clever, Matilda is very brave, like when she stands up to recite her own limerick about Miss Honey to the class, despite being very nervous.

“The thing we all ask about Jenny
Is, “Surely there cannot be many
Young girls in the place
With so lovely a face?”
The answer to that is, “Not any!””

Matilda, page 73

I asked both of my daughters to write out this epicure, you can see their attempts in the below left image. I really liked the red biro writing at the top so recreated this onto some pale green leather. I traced the writing onto a piece of tracing paper the correct size and pricked through that into the leather to get the outlines of the lettering before embroidering it in red thread.

Not everything goes to plan though…I realised after completing this piece that the panel size was actually a bit smaller than I had originally planned so I needed to trim down the width of the green leather! I ummed and ahed over this for a while and decided after a day or so that I would be able to unpick the lettering and squeeze it up a little. For anyone who has young children you’ll know that they often don’t have a good awareness of their size of their writing in comparison to the size of the bit of paper it needs to go on and the letters get smaller and smaller at the end of sentences so this seemed to add to the effect!

The image to the below right shows how much of the lettering I needed to unpick and squash – fortunately it worked out in the end and it wasn’t necessary to redo the whole panel. What isn’t shown in this image is that after the wording was embroidered I added ruled lines onto the leather to give the appearance of lined paper.

All of the children’s drawings were made on oversized pieces of leather and I stored them in a plastic envelope once they were complete. I didn’t want to trim them down to size until they had all been completed and I was ready to inlay them inside the hinged panels.

~ The children’s drawings in progress

Other selected drawings were these outlines and names of farm animals which were transformed into embroidered line drawings in multicoloured threads on red leather. Plus a montage of some different styles of butterflies onto pale turquoise leather.

I also included a version of this flower from ‘Swet land’, which I think is meant to read ‘Sweet Land'(?!), which reminded me rather aptly of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! Plus I liked this little line drawing of a teddy bear so that was included on bright pink leather.

Once all the images were complete I cut them to size and laid them out in their correct positions across the inside of the panels. I paired them up with little strips of coloured leather that would be stuck on to appear like little pieces of tape holding the images up on the wall. In the image below you can also see the colourful “Matilda” title I cut out from onlays as a title to go on an outer conservation box – the container will be covered in the last blog post in this series.

~ Laying out the completed children’s drawings

I felt that the most exciting bit of the whole book was inlaying these drawings as it totally brought it to life seeing them all stuck on! I marked around the outlines of the inlays, and then cut through the recycled paper with a scalpel in order to peel away the window. I could them stick the inlays in place using PVA glue.

The magnets were concealed under the inlays, I had to play around a bit with how many to use as I wanted to be sure that they panels would hold close. This was especially important for the back cover as when lifting the book up off the table I didn’t want to panel to fall open.

After the last image went it, I left the book between some boards under a light weight for it to settle overnight and I am pleased to say that the magnets were enough to do their job of holding the panels closed!

~ Inlaying drawings into the book covers

Blog post number four will show how the box was designed to fit in with this binding.

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