Silk Road Goods

Marhabaan مرحبا (Hello)

The bustle of people crowd the busy market place. There are smells in this market that make a person’s mouth water and intoxicate the senses. Almonds, apples, pistachios, rice, dates, and even coffee lend their fragrance to the morning air. The hot sun is not yet overhead and the sense of urgency to escape the heat of the day has not yet descended, shoppers move between the stalls and storehouses holding all the wealth of the word. In Damascus, a hub of the Ottoman empire and a stop on the great Silk Road, all things can be found. From the north west comes wool of the finest quality, gold and silver rings and pendants. From the East comes silks of all colors, perfumes scenting the air, and pottery as beautiful as any painting.

It is in this world that my Persona would find themselves in. I invite you into my humble shop to show you just a portion of the wonders that can be seen outside of your normal world. My trades are works of pottery and books from the East. Here, let me show you.

Tang Empire 朝 (Modern China)

Far to the east can be found the land which was once ruled by the Tang Dynasty. The Tang Dynasty was truly a golden age and existed from 618 to 906 A.D. During this time, the arts and poetry flourished and many advances in these fields were made. Pottery saw advances in glazing techniques, including the Sancai (three color) and celadon glazes, which were the first stable glazes. Advancements in new paper making and the development of woodblock printing led to the creation of various new ways of presenting information beyond the scroll ( Editors).

Sancai 三彩 (Three Colors) Pottery

During the Tang Dynasty a new form of pottery decoration emerged. Tang Sancai — san meaning three, and cai meaning colors. This name refers to the three main colors used in the glaze style (green, yellow, white/cream, and black). Sancai was not limited to these colors; brown and blues were also used. These wares were exported and imported from Asia and made their way along the trade routes and the styles were soon imitated (Chinese Lo-Fired Glazes.).

At this time the pottery used in China was not the smooth white porcelain, which later came to be known and highly prized in areas west of China. Instead, the pottery was a rough primitive version — rougher and darker to look at and touch (Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia.). A white slip containing Kaolinite was applied to the clay body to give it the smoother and brighter white look. The pieces were then fired at a high fire to harden the pottery and then at a lower temperature after the pottery was glazed. The glazes used were low-fired, lead-based glazes with chemical compounds added to give them their distinctive colors – Iron oxide for brown/blacks, copper oxide for green, and colbalt/manganese for blue (Cui, Jianfeng, et al.).

When seeking to recreate this technique, the first step was to find pieces made in this style that I found interesting. My interest is in useful ceramics, i.e. cups, plates, dishes. Once my pieces were found, then came the time to experiment. I use a community studio for firing my pieces and so I am limited as to what glazes and clay I am allowed to use to an approved list. Regardless, because I strive to make useful pottery, lead-based glaze would render the pieces intended for eating not safe, so I would use that as a glaze base.

First Pieces

Three Color Cup side view
Three Color Cup side view
Three Color Cup
Three Color Cup top view

The first pieces I made were cups (they hold a special place in my heart as you can see from last years exhibit.)

Cup, part of a wine set. Earthenware with coloured lead glazes
“Cup: Unknown: V&A Explore The Collections.

The symmetry and shape of this piece, along with the knowledge that the pottery wheel had been used in China for several thousand years, indicated to me this was likely thrown on a wheel. I used a modern electric wheel, but the basic principle is the same. A potter uses force to mold the clay on a rotating surface.

For the clay body I used a CKK6 a bright-white mid range porcelain bought from Seattle Pottery. This clay would likely be closer to the later more refined porcelain, but would give the bright white that I thought could be found with the slip-covered earlier porcelain.

The body and handles were each thrown separately, then the handle attached later. Thanks to an accident with the firing (this sometimes occurs in community kilns) the pottery was high-fired first instead of bisque-fired (~2232F instead of ~1828 F). This caused the body of the pieces to become hard and made applying the glaze a bit trickier, as it had to be applied more thickly, and more slowly. For glazing, first I applied spots of Rusted Iron Mayco and Dark Green Amaco glaze in several layers in random spots toward the lip of the cup. Once these had dried I applied a coyote zinc-free clear glaze over the entire pieces. The pieces were then re-fired at cone 6 (~2232 F).

The designs ran a bit down the cup, but tended to fan out. For the next pieces using these glazes, I believe applying it thicker in spots will encourage a run. Also, I am going to attempt to place the colored glaze over the clear glaze to see what effect that has.

Second Pieces

All three color cups
Final Pieces

For the next piece I also chose a cup, but of a slightly different look.

Bell shaped cup with bands of impressed concentric circles
“Cup: Unknown: V&A Explore The Collections.”

The concentric circle patterns in this cup reminded me of several other cups I had seen from other cultures, including Viking cups. I find it fascinating when ideas repeat, and I always wonder if it was an accident or if one influenced the other.

For the clay body I used a CKK6 a bright-white mid-range porcelain bought from Seattle Pottery. The shape and design of this cup, especially the rim and foot, made me think this cup was also thrown. I threw my piece on the wheel taking extra care to ensure the dimensions matched that of the original piece, taking into account the roughly 12% shrinkage rate. I turned the rim over and trimmed the foot to match what I could see in the image. I determined that each circle was likely individually applied in the original cup, rather than a roller being used, because I saw the uneven placement of the circles on the piece. For the pattern I used a stamp to impress the individual circles when the clay was leather hard. When dry, the pieces were bisque-fired to cone 06.

For these cups, I tried different glaze combinations to see what would give me the closest results to the original piece. As mentioned, I am limited to what glazes I can use in the community kilns to only certain commercial glazes or those made by the studio. For these pieces I tried the following combinations.

Outside BrownInside GreenResulting CupNotes
Mayco Rusted IronAmaco Dark GreenThree color cupThe outside was too matte and flat.
The inside was too dark green.
Amaco Iron CeladonAmaco Dark GreenThree color cupThe outside is good.
The inside was too dark green.
Amaco Iron CeladonAmaco True CeladonThree color cupThe outside is good.
The inside is good.

I found the best combination to be the Amaco Iron Celadon and Amaco True Celadon. This is fitting since Celadon glazes developed during the Tang Dynasty alongside this glazing style. It is likely Amaco used those colors as their inspiration.

Third Pieces

3 Color pieces

For this piece I wanted to create curved shapes which were common during that era, without a specific source piece in mind. The main purpose of these pieces was to attempt yet another glazing technique, and attempt to get this style a little closer to the original technique used.

For the clay body I used an Alpine white stoneware bought from Seattle Pottery. This clay is coarser than the CKK6 used in the prior builds, and while it fires white, it is not as white as the porcelain. I chose this clay for its rougher and slightly darker look to see if it could achieve the earthier look of the early tang pieces.

First I threw my shapes on the wheel, focusing on a shapes with rounded bodies to accentuate the drips and drops found on the vase pieces. For the smaller vase pieces, I simply cut them off the bat with no shaping to the foot, for the larger pieces I shaped a standard ring. The pieces were then bisque-fired to cone 06. They were ready for glazing.

For these pieces I took some Georgies zinc-free clear and in small containers mixed in the chemical compounds into the glaze itself to recreate the main colors found in the Three-color pieces.

Coloring agents mixed with clear glaze
Coloring agents mixed with clear glaze

Further examination of several of the Tang Dynasty three-color pottery pieces showed several pieces with round circles of white where the glaze colors appear to run around them. This was likely done with a wax or other resist. So for two of the four pieces I made, I used a wax resist to make circle patterns to examine how the colors would run around these patterns.

Once the wax had dried, I applied the colors to the various pieces in different combinations and patterns, using thick drips. Once these drips had dried, I applied a layer of the unadulterated clear over the entire piece (excluding the bottom 1/4 inch to avoid the piece sticking to the kiln shelf). The pieces were then fired to cone 6 with the following results.

Color CompoundsDecoration StylePre-firePost Fire
Green – Copper Carbonate (CuCO3)
Blue – Cobalt Oxide (CoO or Co3O4)
White – Clay body covered in clear glaze
Wax Resist Dots applied
Color mixed with glaze applied thickly in drips
Clear Glaze applied over entire piece (not shown)
Container with Copper Carbonate and Cobalt Oxide applied
Green – Copper Carbonate (CuCO3)
Brown – Red Iron Oxide (Fe2O3)
White – Clay body covered in clear glaze
Wax Resist Dots
Color mixed with glaze applied thickly in drips
Clear Glaze applied over entire piece (not shown)
Container with Copper Carbonate and Red Iron Oxide applied
Black – Black Iron Oxide (Fe3O4)
Blue – Cobalt carbonate (CoCO3)
White – Clay body covered in clear glaze
Color mixed with glaze applied thickly in drips
Clear Glaze applied over entire piece (not shown)
Container with Iron Oxide and Cobalt carbonate2 color vase
Black – Black Iron Oxide (Fe3O4)
Brown – Red Iron Oxide (Fe2O3)
Green – Copper Carbonate (CuCO3)
Blue – Cobalt Oxide (CoO or Co3O4)
Blue – Cobalt carbonate (CoCO3)
White – Clay body covered in clear glaze
Color mixed with glaze applied thickly in drips and sponging
Clear Glaze applied over entire piece (not shown)
Container with all color agents applied
Green – Copper Carbonate (CuCO3)
Blue – Cobalt Oxide (CoO or Co3O4)
Blue – Cobalt carbonate (CoCO3)
White – Clay body covered in clear glaze
Clear glaze applied first and then Color not mixed with glaze applied thickly in dripsNo picture

The third pieces were defiantly an experiment. Based on the drips at the bottom of the glaze, more experimenting needs to be done to work on how thick to apply glaze to the items. The wax resist did not do much to prevent the glaze from running, so next time I will use thicker dots and less glaze. On the last cup glazed, I found that applying the stain not mixed with a glaze over a clear glaze resulted in some burned texture, and glaze running down the base to cause it to stick to the shelf. The most successful method appears to be mixing the color with the clear glaze, that being said I still need to experiment with applying the color first and then the clear glaze over the top.

What I learned/Next steps

There are many more articles on this technique and I will keep adjusting the technique to get it truer to the traditional method, while still allowing the pieces to be usable.

This project was more of a growth project than I originally planned. The original plan was to just re-create the first piece using what I had available to make it look close to the extant piece. I was able to accomplish that fairly easily with the first pieces. There is some glazing order I want to retry, but with the exception of throwing the piece and determining how to get the handle that round shape, the piece came together quickly.

I fell in love with the colors and designs. I started looking for more shapes and pieces and decorating styles, which grew into the second pieces with some more experimentation. These cups are some of my favorites that I have made. While making these, I increased my skillset, focusing on throwing with shrinkage in mind and using a stamp on the greenware. I was aware of these techniques and had tried them a handful of times, but for these cups I threw seven different forms to ensure the most accurate results.

More research into the history and science, as well as gaining access to more areas and supplies in the pottery studio, opened the door for the third pieces and experimenting with colors. On these pieces I am learning to not just work with commercial and studio glazes, but with compounds to achieve new custom looks and appreciate how the pieces would have been decorated during that time. I can see how useful these techniques are and if I ever get my own kiln, I look forward to creating my own glazes.

Many of the pieces which employed this technique during the Tang dynasty were sculptures. For my next growth in this style, I will take on sculpting the way I do in most of my studies — in an incremental style. The first sculpted item I have already started: a ceramic pillow. Yes, ceramic pillows were a real thing, developed in the Tang Dynasty and widely used by the Ming Dynasty. An article in the V&A Online Journal by Kirstin Beattie is a great place to start if you are interested in knowing more about them. My first attempt is a hand-built box form pillow featuring engraving and a wax resist circle decoration based on one in the Royal Ontario Museum. By the time of the virtual event, I hope to have this first pillow fully decorated. After this box construction I plan progressively more complex pieces to attempt to practice sculpting, as well as learning how to better control and use the colors in this technique style.

Chinese Bookbinding

Accordion and Butterfly bound books
Accordion and Butterfly bound books

The Tang Dynasty highly prized paper and its role in the government and daily life grew. Taxes could be paid in paper, and it is during this time that paper was used as a form of money for the first time (Boeykens, Coralie). The availability of paper and the invention of block printing naturally lead to advancements, as bookbinding moved from awkward scrolls to bindings similar to what we know today. Below are two binding styles which developed during or right after the Tang Dynasty.

Accordion Book

Accordion bound book
Accordion bound book
Accordion bound book
Accordion bound book

Following the use of scrolls and the invention of block printing, new bookbinding techniques developed in China and spread throughout Asia. One of the earliest post-scroll techniques was the accordion bookbinding. Easier to read than scrolls, this technique used concertina folding and end boards to form a long text. When creating this book I used the technique described in Japanese Bookbinding: Instructions from a Master Craftsman by Ikegami Kōjirō.


  • Paper: I used a mulberry paper acquired at my local art store as this would be close to the traditional paper used.
  • End boards: A thick cardboard
  • End paper: Mulberry white paper with flecks of gold. Flecked paper as well as paper marbled with sumi ink are common choices.
  • Cover paper: I chose red. Most often red, brown, navy, tan, or indigo are used for covers and outer surfaces
  • Folding Tool: A piece of wood whose end is cut at a 45 degree angle. I made one out of some scrap plywood.
  • Glue: For this book I used PVA glue, though wheat starch paste would have been traditionally used.
  • Ruler, paste brush, cutting tool

Prepare the roll: Cut the pages to the desired final height. The length of the pages is not as important as they will be glued together to form a long sheet. Apply glue to the end of the sheets and glue them together to form one long roll.

Fold the pages: Using the folding tool, fold the pages concertina-style. Ensure that the end pages will allow them to be pasted on the same side. Glue the end pages to the first and final pages.

Prepare the cover: Apply glue to the covers and paste to the end boards. Wrap the extra cover paper around the board and fold, trimming the corners to remove bulk.

Final assembly: Glue the end sheets to the cover and finish by attaching the title strip to the top center of the cover page.

Butterfly Book 蝴蝶裝

Butterfly bound book
Butterfly bound book
Butterfly bound book open
Butterfly bound book open

The accordion book was easier to use than the hand scroll, but still left a lot to be desired. The pages of the accordion book could flutter out when dropped, since there was no binding along a spine. The butterfly book was developed as one of the first binding book styles with pages bound along a spine. This method is very easy to bind, requiring only glue, the pages, and covers, and so enjoyed great popularity. In this style the paper is folded in half and the pages are stacked so the folded edges are glued together, forming the spine. This folding and pasting allows the book to open in the glued pairs which resemble a butterfly’s wings, giving the binding its name. When creating this book I used the technique described in Japanese Bookbinding: Instructions from a Master Craftsman by Ikegami Kōjirō.


  • Paper: I used a mulberry paper acquired at my local art store as this would be close to the traditional paper used.
  • End boards: A thick cardboard
  • End paper: Cloth glued and sized to paper
  • Spine: Same material as the cover
  • Title Strip: Dyed paper
  • Folding Tool: A piece of wood whose end is cut at a 45 degree angle. I made one out of some scrap plywood.
  • Glue: Wheat starch paste
  • Ruler, paste brush, cutting tool

Prepare the pages: Cut the pages to the desired final height and twice the desired width. Fold the paper in half creasing with a folding tool and pounding flat. Brush paste on the narrow strip on the outer side of the fold and paste all the pages together.

Prepare the cover: Apply paste in a thin line along the one long edge of each cover page and glue to the spine strip overlapping the spine strip at the top and bottom.

Final assembly: Brush paste along the spine and along the spine edges of one of the cover pages and paste together. Fold the cover to match the size of the page, trimming the corners to remove bulk. Brush paste along the inner edges of the cover and paste to end page. Repeat for other cover. Paste the title strip at the upper outside edge.

What I learned/Next steps

During the last year I have had the amazing opportunity to take classes from artisans from all over the world. One class I took introduced me to the idea of books from outside of the European style. I have always had an interest in how things developed into what they are today. The class, the opportunity to study progression, and my interest in non-European items and culture presented the perfect opportunity to study these techniques for this project.

Obtaining paper proved to be a bit more difficult than I expected. I originally bought paper from the local art store, only to find it was thinner than that described in the book. With further research, I discovered that much of the paper sold is actually an inferior rice paper, or just thinner made paper. I have continued looking for the various levels of paper mentioned in the book, to experiment with the feel.

This project also provided me with the first opportunity to make my own wheat paste and wheat starch paste, as well as using animal hide glue in combination with them for gluing and sizing. For the cover I used the mixtures that I made, but I discovered that they truly do have a shelf life when mixed: they go bad if not used quickly, resulting in a bad fragrance and discoloration. Several of the books were made in stages, so PVA glue was also used for the assembly. Next time when creating these books I will organize my time to allow the glue I made to be used for the entire project within the approximately three days of glue life.

The beauty of these books is the simplicity. I find them a great project to work on to create quick and beautiful results. They are a great way to introduce someone to bookbinding and I have already begun making them for largess donations and as simple journal gifts. The knowledge gained from making these books will also be used for teaching others.

Nippon 日本 (Modern Japan)

Beyond the land of the Tang Dynasty, you can find the land where the sun rises. China and Japan have a long and complex history going back to the founding of the country itself. Many ideas were brought from China to Japan, where the ideas were shaped and molded to make their own. The culture of tea started in China, became part of religious ceremony in Japan, bringing about Raku pottery. Paper and bookbinding were brought over and the pouch binding style grew to such popularity that it is considered to be the most Japanese of bookbinding styles (Ikegami Kōjirō).

Raku-yaki 楽焼 and other alternative decorating

Raku, which has come to be associated with a low fire Japanese glazing technique, gets its name from the raku character signifying the “enjoyment of leisure.” Raku was likely first invented between 1577 and 1580 AD by a tile maker named Chojiro. The tea master Sen no Rikyu commissioned these first pieces from Chojiro, who used his experience with tiles and firing to create this new technique.

Traditionally, Raku pieces are tea bowls built by hand. Each bowl has a unique look and feel. Tea bowls developed alongside the tea ceremony, which plays an important part in Japanese culture. The traditional colors are red and black, although occasionally artists build white cups (“The Flowering of Ceramic Art”).

To create a glazed Raku cup, the pieces are bisque-fired at a high temperature to cure the pieces.

For pieces desiring a smoke/carbon look, the pieces are placed in a container with burning coals and other items to add random carbon marks.

Raku glaze is applied thickly to the bisque-fired pieces and the kiln is pre-heated. Once the kiln has reached approximately 1550 F the raku pieces are placed in the kiln. The pieces are then left in the kiln till they reach the desired temperature/look. When this temperature is reached, the glaze had reached the “glossy” stage. The pieces are removed from the kiln and placed to cool in the air.

Raku Setup

For my Raku setup, I participated in several Raku firing nights at the studio where I am a member. Due to limitations in the city limits and resources, we used a modern setup with a propane fire source injected into a modern kiln. This allowed for a more controlled heat source which could be regulated and a less open flame. This had the added ability to control the heating time of the kiln, lessening the chance of thermal shock to the pieces.

Glazed Raku

Raku glazed pieces
Raku glazed pieces

In traditionally glazed Raku, the pieces would not be finalized by placing in a chamber with combustible items to produce smoke and perform a reduction firing. Instead, the pieces would cool in the air after the heat. For the Western method, the hot piece is placed in a chamber (in this case a small metal garbage can filled with newspaper and sawdust) and the lid is closed, forming a reduction firing as the oxygen is removed. I am looking for glazes which will react without reduction, but at this time I used the Western method of placing the item in the container. Most glazes were metallic or bright in color which did not fit the look I wanted; for a compromise I used a white crackle glaze available.

Pottery piece with raku glaze
White crackle Raku glazed piece

The bisqued, glazed pieces were pre-warmed to 100 F in a warming kiln and then placed into the Raku kiln. Using the propane flame the kiln temperature was raised to 1800 F. Once that temperature was reached, the kiln was opened up and the pieces were placed into the prepared container lined with newspaper and sawdust and the lid was placed on it as soon as the items had ignited the combustible material. The pieces remained in the container until it had cooled and the smoke had stopped.

The pieces were then removed and cleaned, producing the following results.

Naked Raku

All naked Raku pieces
All naked Raku pieces

Naked Raku is a technique similar to the western Raku above, but instead of glaze, a slip of clay is placed over the bisque pieces prior to the final firing. The slip does not stick fully to the pottery piece and forms cracks exposing the pottery’s surface. Any area exposed will turn black during the carbon step.

Pottery Naked Raku piece
Pottery Naked Raku piece prior to Raku firing

These pieces I did not pre-heat in the warming kiln, but instead placed directly into the kiln. This increases the risk of thermal shock, but reduces the flaking of the slip. Using the propane flame the kiln temperature was raised to 1800 F. Once that temperature was reached the kiln was opened up and the pieces were placed into the prepared container lined with newspaper and sawdust and the lid was placed on as soon as the items had ignited the combustibles. The pieces remained in the container until it had cooled and the smoke had stopped.

When the pieces are removed from the carbon chambers, they need to be scoured to remove the excess slip and reveal the smoke patterns. The following are the results of the first experiment.

Researching more decoration styles using the Raku firing technique, I found the phrase “colored Naked Raku.” This technique is the same as normal Raku with the exception that colored compounds are added into or on top of the piece prior to the bisque firing. Slip is then applied like normal to the bisqued piece prior to being placed into the kiln.

Mason Stained pieces
Mason stained bisque ware prior to Raku firing

For this technique the firing, placing in the chamber, and cleaning are all the same as the traditional Naked Raku, but where the smoke does not reach the clay the muted colors show through, producing a piece like below.

Naked Raku vase with under stain
Naked Raku vase with under stain

Horse Hair

Horse Hair and Feather decorated pieces
Horse Hair and Feather decorated pieces

I have just begun to explore the technique of firing often called horse hair. There is evidence that points to it being a very old technique used in different places around the world, including the United States South West. Further research needs to be done on my end on the history of this technique. For this project I focused on performing the technique.

In this decorative style the pieces are not decorated with glaze or smoke, but instead by the carbon print left from organic materials being placed on its surface and burning when it is at a high temperature.

The bisqued glazed pieces were pre-warmed to 100 F in a warming kiln and then placed into the Raku kiln. Using the propane flame the kiln temperature was raised to 1500 F. This is lower then the temperature of the above techniques. Once that temperature was reached, the kiln was opened and the pieces were placed on a solid surface. Organic materials were then placed against the surface while it was hot. Where they touched and burned they left their print on the pottery.

Horse Hair piece after application
Horse hair piece after applying hair before cleaning
Horse Hair piece
Immediately following horse hair application

There is a short window during which the pottery is warm enough to take the imprinted pattern. Once it cools too much, the carbon no longer sticks to the surface. The pieces are then left to cool in the air and the following results were produced.


All Obvara pieces
All Obvara pieces

When studying something, it leaves you open to discover more about that item. Maybe you are more attuned to looking for it, or maybe it is timing, but Obvara was one of these items for me. I was studying Raku techniques when I came across the term Obvara.

There is much I am still trying to learn about this technique. It is widely agreed that this technique, if not developed in the Baltic region, was brought to there and can be found used in modern times. Many of the sites I researched have stated that it is a 12th century technique, with little documentation to back it up. I am in contact with individuals knowledgeable about this technique and will continue to attempt to document its history. As of right now all I can confirm is that it is possible it could have occurred in the 12th century, but I do not have proof.

Obvara takes a little preparation. Three to five days prior to the firing (depending upon your weather) the obvara liquid needs to be made. I use the recipe from Jane Jermyn of 1kg flour, 1 packet dried yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 8 to 10 liters of water (Jermyn, Jane.). I place this in a fermenting bucket (any container with a lid will work as long as it is not to firmly closed so it can breath) and stir it at least once each day.

On the day of firing, I place this bucket next to a bucket of water. The bisqued glazed pieces were pre-warmed to 100 F in a warming kiln and then placed into the Raku kiln. Using the propane flame the kiln temperature was raised to temperature. Once that temperature was reached the kiln was opened up and the pieces were first dipped into the mixture and then into the water (being careful of spitting boiling water and possibility of ceramic thermal shock). The piece is then left to dry in the open air and cleaned carefully with water when cooled. The video of the first attempt at the studio is below.

I have performed this technique twice. The first time the Kiln temperature was raised to 1800 F and the plain mixture was used. We found that for the white body clays the results were dark browns and some black, while for the dark bodied clays the results were a burned look.

At the next month’s firing, it was time for experimenting to try and vary the results. I brought two mixtures, one with the plain formula and one with 2 cups of beet juice in it. The theory was that the beet juice would produce a more red brown.

For the three pieces, on two of them I adjusted the type fired to have more texture by throwing with Sodium Silica, and for the other piece I stained it with various mason stains prior to bisque firing.

For the kiln, pieces were taken out at a lower temperature of 1600 F to see if this would lessen the blackening and increase the amount of carbon marking sticking to the forms.

The results were in fact less burned-looking pieces and more brown. I did not notice an appreciable difference in the colors resulting from the different formula, but the darker clay bodies, due either to the temperature or the formulas, produced a wider variety of colors in this mixture. With this lower temperature, the timing of moving the pieces was more important. At the next experiment, I will arrange the items in a different layout and have more water quenching buckets.

What I learned/Next steps

This journey started with the goal of trying to learn about one of the pottery techniques that Japan is known for, Raku. The initial plan was to create a tea bowl, which is one if the most defining items used for this technique. The more I studied, the more I learned the art behind this bowl, and in the end I am not yet ready to make the bowl. The bowl requires a mind shift to approach the bowl in how it is experienced, designed, and decorated. I will make the bowl one day, but today is not that day.

Based on where I live and the availability at the studio, I have not yet been able to replicate the traditional Japanese Raku method using wood and having a long slow fire with the various traditional goals. I am working with friends who have access to land and who are willing to allow me to work to fire on their property (with all safety precautions taken). I hope to try more of the traditional method, instead of the western version.

Studying the Raku firing technique helped me to discover many more methods I had not heard of prior to this project. I was able to experiment as part of this project with Obvara, horse hair, and various decorating techniques, but I have only scratched the surface of these. Further research into their origins (many claim to be period but documentation is difficult to find) and how to further use these techniques to achieve more results are needed. So many alternative firing methods exist, which I look forward to attempting in the future.

Fukuro toji 袋とじ (Pouch Binding)

Japanese Pouch Bound Books
Japanese Pouch Bound Books

Chinese culture and inventions played a major influence in the countries surrounding it, and Japan was no different. Art, literature, cuisine, and inventions flowed from the mainland to the small island nation, including paper and the developing bookbinding styles.

Of all the styles which made their way from the mainland, the one style which was fully embraced by the Japanese people and which can still be seen today is the Fukuro toji or Pouch binding method. In this method, sheets of paper are printed or written on one side (as the traditional paper only takes ink on one side), and then folded and bound with decorative stitching on the open end, forming pouch-style pages.

Building the book


  • Paper: I used a mulberry paper acquired online internationally
  • Cover: I chose to use a white and blue cloth
  • End paper: Mulberry paper with gold lines
  • Paste: Wheat Paste, Wheat Starch Paste, Animal Hide Glue, and PVA glue (not all are usually needed)
  • Title Strip: Thicker cardstock style paper
  • Thread for binding & Needle: Traditionally silk though I used DMC floss
  • Ruler, paste brush, cutting tool, folding tool/bone folder, awl, mallet

Making Flour Paste: Combine one part flour to four parts water in a saucepan and let stand till all the lumps are dissolved. Cook over medium heat while stirring for five minutes then remove from heat and allow to cool. Can be stored 3-5 days in a cool space (I found it often did not last 5 days).

Making Wheat Starch Paste: Mix flour with water till a stiff dough is formed. Knead till the dough is “earlobe consistency” and then cover with water in a bowl and continue to knead. Pour off the water when kneading into a separate container adding fresh water after each pour (repeat 2-3 times). Let the removed water in the bowl settle and discarded the top water keeping the bottom starch which can be cooked into a paste. The stretchy remaining dough is known and fu and can be eaten (think tofu with less flavor).

Bows containing wheat paste and byproduct
Left: Wheat Paste water Right: Remaining by-product fu

Backing the cover: To add structure and reduce shrinking the cloth/paper of the cover is backed to paper.

Cut the cloth into strips at least 1 inch taller and twice as long +1 inch longer than the intended book (extra is better as this will allow for squaring after sizing). Apply paste to the cloth and paste cloth to paper, smoothing to remove any wrinkles. Let dry.

Sizing the cover: To reduce the wear on the cover and prevent the cloth/paper from becoming abraded, a protective layer is placed over the cover prior to assembly.

Mix paste and animal/hide/fish glue to form a protective solution. Spread the mixture over the top of the cover cloth/paper and let dry.

Preparing the pages: Cut the pages to the desired height and twice the width of the final book. My final book was going to be a traditional Hanshi book (approximately 165 x 235 mm). Fold the pages in half and line them up and trim the unfolded edges. Using the awl, punch two sets of holes near the unfolded long edge and run thread (or rolled paper) through each set and tie the pages together. Apply the corner pieces by folding and gluing them in pace over the spine corners.

Preparing the cover: Cut the pages to size (about 1″ larger on each side then the pages) and Apply paste in a thin line along the edge of each cover page and fold trimming the corners to remove bulk.

Attaching cover to pages: Line up the pages and cover. Along the spine (sewn) side, punch 4 holes: two about an inch from the ends, and the other two a third of the way from each end. Using the thread and needle, sew the spine to the cover. There are several different sewing patterns available and with some creativity, some unique ones can be made. For this project I used the traditional and Kangxi variation.

Finishing the book: Paste the cover title strip to the cover, in the top left corner.

What I learned/Next steps

I learned of this technique from an artisan in Atlantia. She was working on learning non-European binding styles. I had already begun this journey with an Egyptian Coptic bound book and we shared our journey and next-to-build list. This conversation helped shape what countries I would look into researching for this year’s project. The bindings themselves are simple, so I focused on limiting the modern ingredients and focused instead on making my own.

Making paste was a good new experience, it was one of my next steps from last year’s Athenaeum and I was excited to make progress in making a more period technical book. The book I used for my instructions was wonderful in that it provided recipes and directions not just for wheat paste, but also for making wheat starch, and another sizing compound (dosa), which was a mixture of paste and animal glue. I found that none of these mixtures were hard to make, but the shelf life of the prepared mixture meant that once you started, you were on a very short timeline or you would find yourself making them again. I will use these recipes and make the items again for other projects, but admit that I will likely use store-bought wheat and rice starch for making my starch paste, for ease.

As with the Chinese bound books I had trouble acquiring the correct thickness paper. I bought some paper internationally with hopes that this would be closer to what I was hoping to find. While this paper was thicker than the paper found in my local craft store, I am not certain that this is comparable to hanshi paper and will continue to search for some paper that is not cost prohibitive.

This binding technique is very simple and lends to easy learning and teaching, but as with most simple things, any little flaw is easily seen. When I make my next versions of these books, I will be a bit more precise with the paper trimming to avoid the messy look in some areas of the book. I also am looking at various other decorative binding styles and hope to prepare additional works examining these techniques.

Mae alsalama مع السلامة (Good bye)

The time moves on and I thank you for joining me on my journey east through discovery and experimentation. The journey never ends and while there are many more experiments and much practice needed on these subjects, I am often the rolling stone and I see the next works calling to me. The beautiful works of Ancient Rome await instruction in a class, traditional throwing methods from India in the book at my elbow, and the hidden treasures beckon with their strange and rewarding taste, like Tej on a hot day. I look forward to the time when we may meet again and I can share more of my journey with you and learn more about yours.

Til that time, Mae alsalama.


Sancai & Chinese Bookbinding

Raku & Japanese Bookbinding

14 Replies to “Silk Road Goods”

  1. I love your passion for research and rabbit holes! You made a fantastic presentation! Great work!

  2. Wow! Your work is absolutely stunning – I particularly love the Raku pieces, they’re gorgeous. I really enjoyed your exhibit and love that you concluded each piece with your next steps, since this is a journey you are still working on 🙂 Well done!

  3. Wonderful presentation! And I like the conclusions that discus your next steps! 😉 I am thinking I should do that with mine too…
    Inspiring! Loved it!

    1. Hi Tanikh,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my exhibit. One thing I found out early on is there is always a next step if you are going to keep up with something. I even sometimes make a rabbit hole I have previously found and am able to incorporate that into a next step (the hard part is keeping track of them). I hope you had fun during this process and hopefully next year we can meet at an inperson Athenaeum or other event.

    1. Hi Phelan,

      Thank you so much for your continued kind words and support. I am really looking forward to wood firing as well. There will be a few different fires if all goes right with the first one being a basic pit fire with the pieces fired in a pit with wood, horse manure, cat litter, and other items. I try to do everything incrementally so the first fire will likely be fairly simple with subsequent fires using Slag and other techniques. I am even hoping to maybe make an outdoor kiln for an Indian firing as that is the technique I will be focusing on next year if the land owner agrees.

  4. I am especially intrigued by your experiences making simple books using the Japanese techniques. Having these types of items helps our ambiance-building. I also envision these small book items as gifts. Thank you.

    1. Hi Rowenna,

      Thank you for your nice comments. It was actually a nice break to see a simple but still really elegant book style. Like many things I have found especially studying the Japanese culture there is beauty in the simplicity, but also any little mistake can show so more precision and care is needed. If you are interested in trying I can’t recommend the Japanese Bookbinding book enough as it truely is a step by step guide and the author who translated it worked with the original author’s son, translators, specialists, and walked through each step themselves to insure accuracy and clarity in the translation.

      I am actually making several of these for kingdom and local largess as well as just gifts as I have found them fun to make and they are not cost/item prohibitive. The goal is to teach classes on making these books once everything opens up again.

  5. All fascinating work. Thank-you so much for doing this! I’m looking forward to getting a close-up view of the different styles of books you created. They look lovely. Well done!

    1. Hello Halima,

      Thank you for your kind words. I am planning on attending Athenaeum next year and if it is in person I will bring the books and Items I made over the last few years as well as some new pieces so everyone can handle and look at them. Pictures are all well and good, but I love true crafts that get to be handled and used.

  6. Fabulous job on your presentation. I thought the organization/tables/explanations were superb. It’s amazing how much work you’ve done in developing various skill sets in pottery and book binding. (I especially enjoyed the Tang Dynasty pieces). You’re a fearless artisan. 🙂

    1. Hi Lantani,

      Thank you for the kind words, from someone with such a fun eye for art that is a true compliment. It is always easy to develop skills when they are fun and to be honest I have always enjoyed playing in the mud. I can’t wait till I get to see you in person again soon. I am especially interested in the pieces I have been watching you create lately, they are lovely!


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