The rolls of linen I use come pre-primed in five or seven foot rolls. To make them more manageable, I cut them down to smaller widths.
Ready to stretch
From the smaller rolls of linen, a length is cut about two inches bigger than the stretcher bars being used.
What goes into the frames: Carving
After chopping the framing molding to length, I carve most of the designs before assembling the frames. Once assembled, any corner carving is reworked to match the pieces that meet.
When the frames are built, carved, and sanded, warm rabbit skin glue is applied as a sizing, or primer.
After the sizing, a small piece of silk is glued (more rabbit skin) onto the corners of frames where the corners are to be "hidden". This makes the miter joint disappear.
Preparing the bole
Rabbit skin glue is added to the clay for the base that the gold will adhere to during the gold gilding. Before this step, the frames are coated with at least four coats of gesso. The gesso is the main ground that is sanded between coats. It is made from the same rabbit skin glue formula as the bole, but mixed with marble dust rather than clay. This builds a thick layer between the wood and the bole, hiding any grain and imperfections in the wood. The sanding is a nightmare of tedium.
Once the bole is sanded the gold leaf is applied using "gilder's liquor", a mixture of distilled water with a bit of alcohol. This is liberally brushed onto the area being worked. The mixture reactivates the glue from the bole, and the thin squares of gold leaf adhere to the bole.
When the gold is laid onto the frame, the result is a nice dull gold finish. When a mirror shine is desired, as in this example, the high points of the carving are burnished using a fine smooth agate stone called a dog's tooth, for its shape.
Here are some examples of the different styles and finish achieved. After this stage, they are coated with a protective coat of varnish, then waxed. Finally, patina can be done to dull down the shine and give an aged look.