Tools for escaping your Manor


Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.

Mason Cooley

During these times many of us find ourselves trapped in our manor and longing for an escape. A good story can take you to far off places or teach you new skills while a good drink can warm your body and soul. This experience is one experience that transcends time and geography.

This exhibit will research and attempt to recreate the items needed for these journeys. The items focused on are the book (codex), story, vessel, and the drink. Given format of this event for this road I will be focusing on one specific time 4th Century and location Egypt. The goal for Athenaum next year will be multiple times/locations.


This journey begins in 4th century Egypt where the first surviving fully bound codex found. The Gnostic manuscripts (also called the Nag Hammadi library, or Chenoboski Manuscripts) were found in 1945 buried within a jar near the ancient monastery of Chenoboskin. This library contained 13 papyrus codices of the single-quire style. For this exhibit I will be recreating one of these codices.

I choose to start with this book style not just because it is one of the earliest known sewn books, but also to use it as a starting point on my organized book re-creation journey. I am not comfortable with leather working at attempts at other books have shown this lack of knowledge. By working through the various book styles the goal is to grow my knowledge and technique with the styles leading eventually into the beautifully covered books of the 14th -16th centuries.


  • Pages and Stiffed Liner: Papyrus sourced from Egypt. This matches what was used in the original works.
  • Cover and Ties: Cow Leather pre-treated. the original works were made sheep or goat leather.
  • Glue: PVA Glue. Traditionally this would likely have been a wheat or animal glue. PVA glue was used to prevent some of issues present in wheat glue including acidity, ability to stand-up over time and instead of animal glue which can be sensitive to heat and moisture.


The construction of this re-created codex is based upon pictures and descriptions in The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding by J.A. Szirmai.

Example of one Codex’s construction

The Pages

Sourcing the Papyrus within a budget was the first challenge. Sheets proved to costly so smaller similarly sized pages were used.

These sheets were then folded in half and the tie holes marked at approximately 1 inch from each end and then two more holes placed evenly between the out holes. Using a hand awl to punch holes along the folded center line of each quire page and placed the pages inside of each other to form the single quire.

Using Linen thread the pages were sewn to leather stays. For added stability I did not attach the pages to the spine at this time but instead sewed them only to themselves.

The Cover

When researching books from this library it was noted that the stiffened liners were made of pages several from other books or waste pages. Following this example my lining was made with papyrus pages whose edges and size made them not ideal for the pages glued together. As the books are describes as limp I only used a few pages of each to give some structure but not create a hard cover.

The cover was cut to a size one inch longer the pages on 3 sides and additional inches were added to the fourth size to form the flap. I erred on the side of caution and gave this side extra length and then cut it to size and shape after assembly.


First the lining pages were glued done to one side of the cover and the edges turned down and tacked in place with linen thread.

Page and cover assembly method found in original Codex and used in this assembly (Szirmai, J. A)

Judging where the stay holes for the pages would align next to the glued lining, holes were made in the spine strip and spine of the cover. Using Linen Thread the pages were then sewn to the spine of the cover and spine strip.

The last set of lining was placed just on the other side of the spine strip and glued to the cover similar to the first side leaving the flap side unfolded.

The flap side was then cut to form the pointed shape as seen on the original codex and a tie was placed through the point and knotted and sewn in place.

The last step was using papyrus as a paste down to further secure the lining and cover as well as providing a finished look.

Lessons Learned & Next Steps

This book took me a long time to start as making a book off of a picture requires visualizing it in three dimensions which is not my strong point. Overall I am happy with the way it turned out and had fun using tools and materials which were close to the originals. If I make another of these books I would work on either gathering a sheet or spending a bit more for more uniform sheets as the pages I used were varied enough as to provide a very unfinished look.

It was not a difficult book to make once I got up the grit to make it and convince myself it is just leather and I can always order more papyrus. One item I do need to find as a source is Goat or sheep leather as this was more common then cow leather and I am interested to see how it would change the look/feel.

Look out next year for more books in this exhibit including the Glazier Codex (5th century Egyptian) which I have already completed.


Behind the Story

By the 4th century the Roman empire was faltering, but it still held tightly to is control over Egypt. Egypt had been under Roman rule for several centuries following the defeat of Mark Antony and removal of Cleopatra as Pharaoh in 30 BC provided Rome, but that is a story for another exhibit.

Given the Roman hold of this region and the exhibit book based in Egypt the story for this journey is that of Androclus which was told by Aulus Gellius in his 2nd century work the Attick Nights. As you read the story provided in the link don’t be suprised if it harkens to a fable you grew up listening to, or a cartoon you watched as child.

An electronic copy of this complete work translated by John C. Rolf published in 1927 can be found online at

Hand carved An Tir Populace printing block I made

The story of Androclus

A battle with wild beasts on a grand scale was being exhibited to the people. Of that spectacle, since I chanced to be in Rome, I was,” he says, “an eye-witness. There were there many savage wild beasts, brutes remarkable for their huge size, and all of uncommon appearance or unusual ferocity. But beyond all others,” says he, “did the vast size of the lions excite wonder, and one of these in particular surpassed all the rest. This one lion had drawn to himself the attention and eyes of all because of the activity and huge size of his body, his terrific and deep roar, the development of his muscles, and the mane streaming over his shoulders. There was brought in, among many others who had been condemned to fight with the wild beasts, the slave of an ex-consul; the slave’s name was Androclus. When that lion saw him from a distance,” says Apion, “he stopped short as if in amazement, and then approached the man slowly and quietly, as if he recognized him. Then, wagging his tail in a mild and caressing way, after the manner and fashion of fawning dogs, he came close to the man, who was now half dead from fright, and gently licked his feet and hands. The man Androclus, while submitting to the caresses of so fierce a beast, regained his lost courage and gradually turned his eyes to look at the lion. Then,” says Apion, “you might have seen man and lion exchange joyful greetings, as if they had recognized each other.”

He says that at this sight, so truly astonishing, the people broke out into mighty shouts; and Gaius Caesar called Androclus to him and inquired the reason why that fiercest of lions had spared him alone. Then Androclus related a strange and surprising story. “My master,” said he, “was governing Africa with proconsular authority. While there, I was forced by his undeserved and daily floggings to run away, and that my hiding-places might be safer from my master, the ruler of that country, I took refuge in lonely plains and deserts, intending, if food should fail me, to seek death in some form. Then,” said he, “when the midday sun was fierce and scorching, finding a remote and secluded cavern, I entered it, and hid myself. Not long afterwards this lion came to the same cave with one paw lame and bleeding, making known by groans and moans the torturing pain of his wound.” And then, at the first sight of the approaching lion, Androclus said that his mind was overwhelmed with fear and dread. “But when the lion,” said he,“had entered what was evidently his own lair, and saw me cowering at a distance, he approached me mildly and gently, and lifting up his foot, was evidently showing it to me and holding it out as if to ask for help. Then,” said he, “I drew out a huge splinter that was embedded in the sole of the foot, squeezed out the pus that had formed in the interior of the wound, wiped away the blood, and dried it thoroughly, being now free from any great feeling of fear. Then, relieved by that attention and treatment of mine, the lion, putting his paw in my hand, lay down and went to sleep, and for three whole years from that day the lion and I lived in the same cave, and on the same food as well. For he used to bring for me to the cave the choicest parts of the game which he took in hunting, which I, having no means of making a fire, dried in the noonday sun and ate. But,” said he, “after I had finally grown tired of that wild life, I left the cave when the lion had gone off to hunt, and after travelling nearly three days, I was seen and caught by some soldiers and taken from Africa to Rome to my master. He at once had me condemned to death by being thrown to the wild beasts. But,” said he, “I perceive that this lion was also captured, after I left him, and that he is now requiting me for my kindness and my cure of him.”

Apion records that Androclus told this story, and that when it had been made known to the people by being written out in full on a tablet and carried about the Circus, at the request of all Androclus was freed, acquitted and presented with the lion by vote of the people. “Afterwards,” said he, “we used to see Androclus with the lion, attached to a slender leash, making the rounds of the shops throughout the city; Androclus was given money, the lion was sprinkled with flowers, and everyone who met them anywhere exclaimed: ‘This is the lion that was a man’s friend, this is the man who was physician to a lion.

The Emperor Freeing the Slave Androcles
Dei Musi, Agostino. The Emperor Freeing the Slave Androcles


The search for a drinking earthenware vessel led through many museums to the MET and a coptic collections which had two cups made in the Kharga Oasis which located approximately 115 southwest of the Chenoboskin Monastery where the book source was found.


For the clay body I am limited to using only certain clays allowed for firing through my local studio. Looking into Egyptian Nile clay it is an Iron rich clay body. I choose to use Klamath Yellow clay body which is an Iron rich clay that fires to a similar red look.


Potter with wheel 2445-2414 BC

Examination of the cups noting the consistent round shape and directional lines in the clay body and the knowledge that the pottery wheel was ancient Egypt from at centuries prior to the creation of this vessel lead me to the conclusion that this vessel was likely constructed by throwing on a wheel.

For both cups the majority of the cup shape was made during the throwing phase. I left a very large foot and thicker bottom to allow for the extra shaping to be done during the trimming stage. Once I had one style of each cup to my liking it was onto the trimming to further shape the cups into the desired look.

The now shaped cups were left to dry and would then be placed in a kiln and fired. The original cups do not appear to have a glaze and researching cups in that area/time it is likely they would only be fired once then used.

Lessons Learned & Next Steps

Being locked out of the studio has meant that these cups are as of yet incomplete. The color is still yellow instead of the red following the firing and the roughly 12% shrinkage has not yet occurred. There is even the chance they won’t survive the process, but for now I have some greenware cups to show.

The very V shape of these cups were different then any I had thrown before and proved a bit of a challenge. I was able to get the base shape, but relied upon trimming for the final look. More practice is definatly needed before I am able to master this shape.

Regarding the cup with the stem that was the most challenging. I have not yet successfully made one of these to my liking either ruining the shape by twisting the cup off or attempting to trim to wet and having a cup that is less then straight. I was able to get my best stem cup to date in this project but will need a lot more practice before I am ready for the goblets and stemmed cups of the high middle ages.


Heqqt or beer was a staple item in the diet of Egyptians from the wealthy to the poor. From payment to medicine beer featured a key role in stories and festivals. As such a key part of daily life for over a thousand years this drink was common enough and across the social spectrum that it can be concluded that this would likely be a drink consumed when reading a story during this time and so the focused drink of this project.


  • Grain: Based on the finding by Sanuel the two most common grains identified in beer in ancient Egypt were Barley and Emmer. These grains were likely used both separate and together. I had never heard of Emmer before so of course I decided to use it.
  • Yeast: Given the large quantities of beer made it is likely that a yeast was harvested from batches to be used in later batches. As this is the first batch made I used an ale Kveiking yeast from Imperial yeastto help the fermentation process.
  • Water: The water used in my process was likely cleaner that that used in the original beer


While the exact process for creation of this drink is unknown research by Delwn Sanuel indicates a two-part process was likely used in some brewing, and that as a part that process malted grain was likely used. This research and the information from the British museum’s blog on this topic guided my process towards this method.


Malting is the process of germinating grain to a set point and then stopping the germination by drying out the grains. This process creates enzymes which are essential for breaking down molecules during the berwing process.

To attempt to reproduce as accurately as possible I decided to malt my own Emmer from the same batch of grain that would be used in second half of the mash. Researching this process lead me to a website by Francois describing steps for malting Emmer, Spelt, and Khorasan. Using their site as a guide the grain was malted using the following steps:

  1. Cleaned the grains and then steeped in water and stored in a cool location for ~9 hours. The grain was then allowed to dry for 8 hours and then is steeped again. The process was repeated till the desired moisture content is reached (preferably 42%)
  2. The now moist grains were then placed in a container to allow to sprout. This took 4 days.
  3. Sprouted grains were then placed in a dehydrator to dry for 8 horus and then cured at the lowest temperature in my oven 170 F for an additional 4 hours
  4. The grains were roughly ground to use in the cold mash

Two Kinds of Mashes

The cold mash was made using water that has been boiled and brought back to room temperature and mixed with the ground malted grains.

The warm mash was made using water that has been boiled and then mixed with the ground unmalted emmer and heated to ~150F to form a mixture the consistency of porridge.

Both Mashes are mixed together and left to cool to room temperature giving them time to start the fermenting process and ensuring that the added mixture would not kill the yeast in the next step.

Half the mixture was then sieved into the container containing just the yeast while the other half was sieved into a container containing yeast and figs (a high sugar ingredient that would have been available in time and location of this exhibit). Both containers were covered and left to ferment. The mixture was tasted day 5.

Lessons Learned & Next Steps

It is surprising how quickly this drink was created. Including the malting process it was 10 days from start to finish to have something drinkable.

I agree upon the recommendation from the video to have a straw handy for tasting as the process is quick and without any filtering there is a lot of slurry left in the bottom.

Also, for this batch I fermented in glass containers. I have since thrown a ceramic vessel that once I am able to fire I will use for my next batches to see if there is a difference in taste.

This was my first beer as I stick to wine and infused liquors traditionally and it was fun to try something new.

At the time of this posting I have only tasted the beer at day 5. I will be tasting it for the next several days and will have more feedback over the next week. That being said the taste at day 5 of fermentation was a very light drink. As it is still fermenting it had almost a light or bubbly taste. The smell was similar to that of bread and it tasted almost like a very watered down light beer which had had some bread dipped in it at one time. The taste between the two beers were almost identical with only a small hint of the figs in the second beer.

During the process I don’t think I let the hot mash sit long enough before adding it to the ambient mash. Re-watching the video I realized mine did not look to have the same broken down consistency and will try this on the next batch. Next batch I will be a bit more careful in the mash stage and will add a few more flavors to the fig beer.


11 Replies to “Tools for escaping your Manor”

  1. Tova and I loved talking to you about your projects. It was fun hearing about your malting experiments. Some ideas for experimentation: cracked vs uncracked grain in the mash and steeping time. I think you’ll get a much better sugar extraction with holding the mash at a constant temperature and having cracked grains.

    Thanks so much for the rum connection! We’ll have to share some next we see you!

  2. I loved reading your projects and the theme really ties them together. I was thrilled to read the original myth to Androcles and the Lion!!

    Question: how was the papyrus to work with? Do you soak the sheets to make them pliable?

    1. Hi Julia,

      Thank you for your comment. I am having fun finding Roman stories and am hoping for another one to go with my 5th century part of my exhibit.

      Papyrus was sturdier then I expected but did tend to sliver. I was worried to the hole time that it would break but moved easily. I did find I had to be careful making holes for sewing as they went trough easy and unlike paper it doesn’t partially repair making the hole looking smaller then it is.

      I did not think about soaking them in water first to make them pliable but will try that for the next book! Thank you so much for that suggestion.

  3. This is so interesting! I’m intrigued by your themed project, it isn’t something that I have seen before and I can’t wait to see what other time periods and cultures you explore.

    1. Hello Maire,

      Thank you so much. I tend to A&S squirrel and was trying to find a way to link the projects I love doing together. This seemed like the best way to have them all and I even managed to sneak in my block printing block I made. The hope is to end up without about a dozen or so ranging from 4th century all the way into 16th century in as many cultures I can find unique book styles for. I am looking forward to trying to make another Dos-a-dos as my first wasn’t up to my hopes (example here

  4. “A good story can take you to far off places”

    Could not agree more! 😀 Love your Lion/Thorn story.

    I loved your papyrus book, I had no idea papyrus was ever bound like that! Would it have been written on prior to binding or used like we’d use a notebook? (I only ask because the center stay pieces seem like it would make it hard to write on after the fact?)

    A good book with a good ale, sounds like the perfect summer!
    Thank you so much for sharing such wonderful research and recreations!

    1. Hi Sigga kausi Geiradotter,

      It is always fun to find a new story or a older source for a story. From what I can tell Papyrus was not used very long (relatively) for book binding but I am still working forward in my history so I may find more. When working with the papyrus it tended to crackle and tried to break so I don’t know that personally I would trust it to stand of to the ware and tare of reading much.
      The books were written before they were compiled to ensure that the spacing and everything was where it should be and especially in later times the person writing the book could be different then the one illuminating and even another binding (sounds a lot like how some original scrolls are made). I can’t imagine though trying to keep track of the page order though.

      Thank you for your comments.

  5. That tiny little foot on the goblet is indeed a challenge to make. One has to wonder why the ancient potter threw it that shape??? But keep at it and you will do it too. At least it’s fun to practice. A hint is to actually use a little bubble level balanced on the rim after it’s been thrown to see if it’s level and push it by small amounts to level it up.
    Both your cups look good though, that is a clay color that is spot on. I hope I will get to see them fired too.
    There is one of the most Master Bookbinders in the U.S. that lives in the woods near Santa, Idaho. I hope I can introduce you sometime, you would love to talk I’m sure.

    1. Hi Morgaina,

      I have noticed for the coptic cups I have found they seemed to love the little feet. I would almost say it is to prove that that they could have delicate things but even several of the simple cups have them so it may have been a preference in style to show the steeped angles with a different foot.
      Thank you so much for the recommendation with the bubble level I will be stealing the extra one for the woodshop. I am planning to keep trying the goblets till I get it down. Do you usually throw them as one piece or as two and then attach them?
      I would love to meet more bookbinders. I took the class you recommended last year in Moscow and that was a lot of fun. Leatherworking is my Achilles heal right now which is why I am starting where I am the books are easier, but the cups at least for me are harder.
      I look forward to events starting back up so I can talk with you more in person.

      ‘Izza al-Dimashqiyya

      1. Rachael said a friend of mine took her class! So glad it was you.
        I am convinced “styles” of pottery that became the fad happened even in the past. One potter would see another potter doing it, or see something from another country and copy that technique. The thing that makes me wonder, especially about those tiny bases though is they were usually very concerned about function. Potters today can get away with things that are awkwardly functional.
        I used to always throw goblets in two pieces, but after watching a video of Gwen the Potter throwing in one piece earlier in the year I have started throwing them in one piece. It’s nice not to have to put them together

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