After 4 years of working on an Ikea hunk of particleboard I finally have an amazing desk to work on, designed for calligraphy from the ground up. The desktop slab was built from tiger curly walnut. It has a built in light table which makes fitting calligraphy into the form of a bird or a star or whatever easy.
Ive been extremely lucky to have been introduced to a remarkable group of educators and parents that make up the the Next Wave Muslim Initiative. Together we have put together an Islamic Arts summer camp for kids 12-18, focusing on traditional Islamic art and practical craftsmanship. This is the first of its kind in the country, and the long term goal is to bring practical Islamic arts back into the lives of young people across the country. To that end the kids will be learning bookbinding, calligraphy, marbling, leatherwork, illumination, and papermaking, all as part of a project-based curriculum that culminates in a piece of work they will have created from beginning to end.
We did a one-week pilot project last Ramadan, in which they created a hand-bound book with their own calligraphy on the cover, and every day learned a new skill: they dyed paper on Monday, cut their own pens from bamboo on Tuesday, learned to write a nun (they were working on reciting surah al-qalam, which starts with Nun) and then wrote a final good copy on the paper they dyed on wednesday, then did an illuminated border on the piece thursday, and friday they folded their papers into booklets, sewed them together with linen thread, and ended up with a book that they bound, on paper they dyed, with calligraphy they wrote surrounded by their own illuminations. It was super fun and every kid got to take away an object they had made from start to finish.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to conduct a three session course in woodworking and Islamic geometric wood inlay. Taught at an after-school Islamic center in Manassas, the kids learned how to make an inlaid wood box with an Islamic geometric pattern and marbled paper interior, which they cut and assembled.
The design is centered around a jig:
It uses a piece of 1/2″ brass flat stock to cut diamond-shaped inlay pieces from wood veneers. There are many color and pattern options available:
Once the pieces are cut and an edge banding has been chosen, we assemble the inlay on a piece of 1/8″ plywood with an adhesive backing on which the tiles are stuck.
A mitered walnut box is glued with rubber bands, and the interior bottom is covered with hand-marbled papers.
And there you have it!
I’ve been interested in campaign furniture lately. Basically, the officer class during the days of the empires wanted nice furniture to take on campaign tours with them, so they created these beautiful boxes that would pack up into luggage and then unpack into a dresser, a desk, a bar, etc. So I made some as presents this year. One for drinks, one for tea.
Here are some photos of what I came up with.
For the tea box, we chose a nice assortment of teas, some from Yekta, our local Persian grocery, some from the Misir Carsisi in Istabul, and some from Capitol Teas, here in DC.
The tea box has 7 types of loose tea, two drawers for tea bags and one for tea tools (sachets, tea strainer, etc) and a teapot-mug combo that sits compact together.
Brass hardware and figured cherry and walnut.
For the bar box, we decided to make 6 types of bitters, so we went to the local potion store on Georgia ave – Blue Nile Botanicals, which is packed floor to ceiling with every kind of root and bark and spice you can imagine. Bitters traditionally are formed from three components: a bark or root (the bitter), a spice, and a fruit. So we infused a variety of spices, roots, and flavors. We mixed them into 6 different flavor profiles, from lime-ancho chile-hibiscus, to ginger-orange.
It opened out to have room on the doors for the bitters and a pouring area up front.
The box was three 4-way bookmatched Bastogne walnut, with inlaid edge banding.
All packed. The bitters came both with droppers and atomizers, so you could mist the glass or spray on top of the cocktail, if wanted.
The contents were: Hendricks Gin, Bulleit Bourbon, sweet and dry vermouth, Ransom Aged Gin, simple syrup, the bitters, a shaker, a shot glass, 5 small vials of single flavor infusion, and two extra bottles for whatever other liquor was required.
I’ve been working on handmaking paper lately, and I wanted to experiment with the idea of inlaying flowers into the border of the paper to create a built-in border for wedding contracts, home blessings, or other such calligraphy projects. The fiber I used was abaca and flax. I did it at Pyramid Atlantic, which is the most amazing arts center I’ve ever seen. Basically, I pull one sheet and lay it down, then arrange the flowers, then couch another sheet on top. The flowers are embedded between them, and then it’s put into a hydraulic press, and dryed under moderate pressure over a week.
When they come out, they’re nice, though I was expecting more shine through. I can either leave it as relief, or watercolor it at this point.
In Tajikistan I once talked with a spry and wiry old man at length about the importance of bread, its sacredness and importance in the history of human society, how disrespectful it is to let bread hit the floor. When I was making this, I was thinking of you, Aka-jan.
This is the result of a few weeks of experimenting with my first sourdough starter. I followed the method set forth by Chad Robertson in his book Tartine. In my new house we have a second kitchen in the basement that I’m using for all kinds of these sorts of experiments: bread, cheese, beer, mushrooms etc.
On baking day, you’re working on the dough all day. Only for about 30 seconds or a minute per hour, but you do have to be there all day to tend to various stages of the rise and fermentation of the dough.
Once the dough has been thoroughly mixed and has rested for half an hour, it starts its first of two rise periods. For the first 3 or 4 hours of the rise, bulk fermentation, you have to periodically ‘turn’ the dough.
That involves digging your hand into the dough, pulling out one side, and then folding it down to trap gases inside the dough, and allow the gluten to be stretched and resettled.
Then, for the second rise you split the dough into two (this recipe makes two loaves) and shape it. It rises in a proofing basket and then is turned upside down into a cast iron dutch oven that has been preheating inside a 500-degree oven. This allows steam to be trapped in with the dough to form a micro-climate that approximates a wood-fired stone oven.
There is a craftsmanship at work in baking bread. The differences between good bread and ok bread are subtle, just as the differences between ok calligraphy and good calligraphy are subtle. But to the craftsman who is immersed within it, they are glaringly obvious. This bread was ok. My technique has not yet been perfected and still needs some experimentation. I also don’t feel like I am at the stage where I can say “Oh, x happened because of y. I need to adjust how I do that in future attempts.” Right now I’m still trying to understand the relationship between rise temperature, shaping technique, and baking time, and how they all come together to make a good loaf of bread.