Since I have not written about the 346 project in a while, here a brief summary of what happened so far: In spring/early summer 2011 I spent 7 weeks in a hospital bed in room number 346, giving birth to twins as slowly as possible – which meant no getting up and walking, which made the hospital stay especially boring and the story, hopefully, more interesting. – I suppose you are all buring to know how to wash your hair while staying flat (with raised pelvis) in a hospital bed.
I set out to make a book about this experience about a year ago, and decided to give it the form of a box filled with postcards, one for each day. This was mainly because I always have wanted to make a book in the form of a box filled with postcards, and it looked to me like the subject was fitting, since I kept a visual diary in that time, so I thought, one picture on the front, a little text on the back – that should do nicely. I worked on that idea for about 8 or so month, until it turned out that it didn’t work well this way: I did not have a picture for each day, after all, there had been days when it was just impossible for me to do it, and the retelling of events for this days were even too much to fit on two sides of a postcard. But I especially disliked that the reader can see the pile getting smaller and smaller, and thus, when he reached the bottom of the pile, it is pretty clear that the twins will be born soon, but in the text and images, I still ramble about the difficult perspective of staying in this bed for another 6 or more weeks.
So, I had the new idea to make it into a scroll wich would be hidden from the user (first idea and sketch can be found here). Thus hiding how much there is still left to go through. I made a first test piece, starting in September (blog post making of 346) and finished the scroll about two weeks later. I also made a little device that I called a “test reader” which simulated the top of the box in which I planned to hide the scroll. I wanted to see how large a window I want to provide for the reader. And whether the layout with the images worked for the size I had decided on.
Luckily I did! It not only showed that I wanted a larger window for the reader, and demonstrated that the rolling of the scroll and pulling it through those slits is pretty annoying, tedious work, I also noticed a major problem: seams. I knew I would have to work on those, but did not anticipate the magnitude of the problem. There seems just no good way of doing it. I tried several different styles of forming a seam for this first scroll, pretty much I tried everything I could think of. But there is just no way to avoid it being bulky at the seam. And this makes the scroll catch in the slits. Making the slits larger is of course the first approach. But there is just no way of ensuring it doesn’t get stuck even with a larger slit. With this test scroll it was just annoying, fiddly work to get it going again each time a seam got stuck, but with the whole mechanism hidden from a potential reader, I don’t see how they could make out the difference between reaching the end of the scroll (which means: do not pull further, just roll back, please) and the scroll catching on the slit (pull, pull, PULL! – but gently).
Another slight problem was that I had found out that such a box would need to be quite complicated, with tension rods and maybe blocks against it curling back and all that. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to make, but no idea how, and from which material I would make these toothed wheels an all that.
Those of you who are subscribed to the Book Arts List probably noticed that I asked about scrolls there last week. (If you are not subscribed to the list, you should head over to philobiblon and subscribe right away. There is really no excuse for not subscribing.) I figured that there might be knowledge out there that already addresses that problem. It is weird how much more literature there seems about codices compared to scrolls. The suggestions for literature I got are interesting (I am still trying to get a hold on some of the sources mentioned), but most suggestions either treat Asian type (hanging) scrolls or focus on the usage and storage of scrolls. No-one could name a source where the craft of making (Hebraic) scolls is described. Since they are actively made and used all the time, I wonder whether it is considered a craft or maybe even a (semi-)religious secret.
But Anne Tomalak answered my question. She is a conservator at the British Library in London and worked on the Hebraic scolls digitalization project. She provided me with some insight into how and why scrolls she had seen failed, how the seams were made, and how the scrolls are attached to the rollers. This has been so very useful! Also she made me aware of Esther scrolls. The book of Esther is comparably short, and Esther scrolls are usually made with just one roller, which can be hidden in an encasement like seen in the photo above.
That was an eye opener. I actually think that pulling out the text would be even more fitting than hiding both parts. Thus the reader has a very visual reminder of how much time passed, but still the definite ending of the story would be hidden. And it puts an end to all the difficult mechanical questions involved with a cranked box. I immediately made a mock-up, which was pleasingly easy and straight forward. Here are some images:
The seams still catch a little on the slit, but I have some ideas how to make it better. Also now the reader can see what is happening while rewinding, so I really only have to worry about one direction which makes it less than half the trouble. According to the time stamp between the last two images, it took me 4 minutes to get all the paper back into the box. However, I was also trimming some seams, so I guess 3 minutes should suffice. Or maybe even just 2.
Now what is left to do is more editing of the text and some general reworkings I want to do. And then designing the containers. I am so happy to have been shown this construction. But I feel very much like I should have through of that. Ah, well. – Back to work!