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  • Naomi Kent

Bending the rules

Ever since I learnt about the artistic printers of the 19th century bending brass rules, I was obsessed, their rule work was bonkers crazy and I loved it! Back then in the USA there was a piece of equipment called the Earhart wrinkler to wrinkle your rules and the Bartholomew twister to twist your rules. See examples of brass rule work below!

Artistic printing quickly fell out of fashion lasting from 1860’s into the 1890’s. I doubt there were many Earhart wrinklers and Bartholomew twisters around in that short period, let alone any in the UK and being able to get my hands on one now! So instead I found another way that i’d like to share with you.

I’m very fortunate that working for Birmingham City University means that I can gain access to all the campuses, including the school of jewellery, where there would be expert technicians to help me in what I was trying to achieve!

So that I didn’t have to be precious with my own brass rules, we cut down some strips of brass to type height. We then annealed the brass – a heat process which alters the chemical properties of the material to reduce its hardness to make it more workable.

Annealing the brass


The brass was heated until it was glowing. It was then dipped in water and then placed in acid pickle for a few minutes.

I then used a pumice powder as an abrasive to clean any chemicals off the brass

Then we were ready for the fun! I explained to the technician about the Earhart wrinkler and that I wanted to produce a crinkled effect on the brass. To which he then produced ‘The Crinkler’. You just feed a piece of thin metal through, turn the handle, and it wrinkles it! It literally couldn’t have been more perfect!

The crinkler


After being put through the crinkler


To bend the rules in a spiral shape we used a brass pole and sawed a slot in the middle of it. The brass rule then slotted into this and I was able to bend the rule around the pole.

My first few test pieces


It was really important when bending the rule to keep it all in line. Any movement up or down when bending it around would mean that the brass wouldn’t print!

A week later, after some thinking time about my design I went back to the jewellery workshop. I pre cut all my brass rules to the same size and used a narrower brass pole to bend my rules around as I wanted a tighter curve. After a bit of practice I began to get them all identical!

Just for fun. I wanted some crinkling to be more organic that the crinkler equipment could give me. It turns out that there are the most wonderful pair of pliers for jewellery made for the job! 


My design for the book cover


The great thing about this process is that I was able to anneal lots of brass rules and bring them back to the studio and bend them as and when I needed to when the time arises! Only when the brass has been bent again, it hardens.

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