Likka for Calligraphy
One of Islamic calligraphy’s most important and most oft-overlooked tools is Likka (ليقه in Persian). It is raw silk fibers that are put into the inkwell and used to soak up the ink. This serves two important functions. First of all, it regulates the amount of ink on the pen and prevents big puddles of ink from forming, which is what would happen were you to just dip your pen directly into a pool of ink. This allows your first line to be sharp and clean right out of the gate. Secondly, it prevents spills, because if you knock over an inkwell with likka in it, assuming you’re using it correctly, there isnt enough ink in the well to pool and spill out. So it is a regulator of both technique and workspace safety.
Here is how I make likka in the traditional way. First of all, you must use raw, gummed silk fibers. Ideally you want the silk right after it has been unwound from the cocoons, prior to any processing or refining. They should be stiff. You don’t use silk thread, you don’t use silk yarn. Raw mulberry silk is the best. The silk I use isn’t cheap, it’s $150/lb, and it comes by the skein. Each skein produces roughly 15 likka.
The skeins look like this before we start the process.
You can see the silk has tiny crimps in the threads; it’s right off the cocoon.
First thing to do is boil it for 15 minutes. This degums it.
After it comes out of the water, rinse it off to get any residual gum down the drain.
Then, spread it out on paper towels. The threads will be sticking together to form big ropes. Pull those apart by streching and pulling the wet silk. You want it to dry quickly and evenly, so any clumping should be gradually worked out.
Turn it over every few hours, pulling and streching it apart as you do. You’ll be able to feel the areas of dampness, you want to air those out and turn them face up. The point of drying it all out is that if we put it in bags or jars damp, it will mold and mildew. You could just put it in the inkwell and put ink on it right away, but if you have an entire skein’s worth (or in my case, 4) that isn’t practical.
After a day it will be puffy and dry.
Section it out into individual inkwell sized portions, but carefully. When you cut the likka, you want to try and cut as few threads as possible, because loose thread shards end up on your pen and that’s a pain in the ass. So tease out a section and try to divide it as best you can so that when you finally cut it from the rest, you’re only cutting a thin section of threads. Then, shake it out a bit to get the fragments out as best you can. This will help down the road.
Then put it into your inkwell and soak it with ink until there’s just the right amount in there. You can test this by writing a bit and seeing how much ink you get on your pen. If there’s too much, just hold the inkwell back over the ink jar and press the likka a bit and the excess will run out.
If you need Likka but don’t want to go through this process (or buy an entire skein) you can get individual likkas at http://www.arabiccalligraphysupplies.com/accessories.html