Introduction: Gift : Locked Book of Mystery, Blazons and Fleur De Lys

Hey instructablers !

I'm going to show you the gift I made for my girlfriend for her 24th birthday, and break it down in a step-by-step guide so that you'll be able to replicate any part or the whole of the process.

(Please excuse in advance my english, which may be inaccurate, since, well, I'm french.)

Listening to Renaissance music while browsing may improve your experience of this instructable.
By the way please excuse the pompous name, but I tried to include everything in it.

The gift consisted of a one-object enigma , containing the following :
- an enigma
- an old book
- an ambigram with both of our names
- a scattered-through-the-pages poem/enigma to piece together again
- two blazons, at the very center of the book
- a silver chain used as a shackle, a fleur-de-lys pendant, a padlock and a hidden key.

Quick overview of the enigma :
The ambigram has a number on it which corresponds to a page, which contains a small phrase or verse, and a number pointing to another page, etc. until all the verses are found and make up the poem. The poem contains clues about where the key is hidden in the book. The key, found in the cover, unlocks the padlock, which closes down the two center pages (containing the drawn blazons) with the silver chain. Between the pages, in a small paper pocket, lies the fleur-de-lys pendant, through which the chain must be threaded. Along the pages of the book remain all the explanations about the symbols drawn on the blazons.

Everything was made especially for the occasion, this is a project made from scratch : you can follow me, and pick whatever you please from these independent elements.

Let's start !

Step 1: Hardware Parts

I needed an old book , the kind with a beautiful binding and cover. My gf is an actress and she's fond of medieval history. When I stumbled upon "Le Théâtre Français au Moyen-Age" (French Theatre from the Middle-Ages), I knew I had found the grail. And it was from the Lycée de Versailles... perfect.

The padlock gave me a lot of trouble. It had to be small, if possible look a bit old and used (vintage-style), and have a small – if possible flat – key. That was a hell to find. I searched on ebay and in half the antique stores of my town before finding the right one. And it still wasn't perfect, since the key was round and not flat. I knew that would give me a little more trouble later, but it was still small enough to be fixable.

The gift itself was a hard choice too. I wanted a piece a jewellery with a fleur-de-lys. I had thought of a ring, but I would have been forced to cut into the paper itself to hide it. Like a secret book that is not a book but a box in which you hide your stuff. And I didn't want to hurt the book. So I found a pendant with a fleur-de-lys, and that was perfect for what I had finally in mind. And I could use the chain as a shackle. Perfect.

You'll have to spend :

- Book : 20€-65€ (depending on the age of the book, its condition, its material, whether it's full leather or not... etc. Actually there is no upper limit to the price of the book.)
- Padlock : 5€-15€ (depending on the age, condition, material and possibly shipping price)
- Necklace : chain 10€-25€ & pendant 20-45€ (depending on the material and crafting quality)
That's a total of 55€ to 150€ depending on your bargain skill. My budget was somewhere in the middle.

Tools I used :

- Indian ink and a quill. You can get various nibs and a pot of ink for less than 10€.
- white sheet of paper
- a cigarette lighter
- a small hole puncher
- scissors
- glue
- a small pair of cutting pliers (you can see them later on at step 5).

Step 2: Ambigram

An ambigram is a word written in a way that it can be read upside-down as another (or the same) word. This is my workflow to making an ambigram.

First , pick up the two words that you want to "compress" in your ambigram.
They should be about the same length. If they don't exactly match, don't worry, you may be able to tweak that (it was my case).
The letters should be more or less compatible. It means you should have a very rough idea of the way you will transform your letter into another when it's upside-down. You may combine the letters any way you want to tweak your words into each another.

In my case, I had to match "Nicolas" with "Faustine", which gave me some trouble :
NICOLAS is 7-letters long, FAUSTINE is 8.
Some letters were fine, like F into S, but I had some trouble turning the L into a U, or even the A into another A.


NI  S∩∀

(some letters are not supported upside-down on Instructables, hence the missing ones)

Next step is choosing your font type. You can use whatever you want, even multiple fonts, to make your ambigram more beautiful and/or your life easier. I chose to use a gothic-like font, to remain in the medieval spirit of the whole thing, and because I find them beautiful.

Now to search for examples. Browse sites like, You can preview your words in any font they have, which makes your life easier : you don't have to download anything. Gather material, write down the letterings that you like, try to match them together already. Those that work, fine, you'll tweak them later. But if some letters are giving you real trouble...

We're going to use ambigram generators. Go to (non-gothic), or (gothic-like) and try, letter by letter, to find matching symmetries or correspondences.

Once you're done with all that, put all your letters together and check your ambigram. Tweak the letters by adjusting the length, size, etc. of the lettering or a part of it. As you can see on the photograph, I had written small (+) and (-) and <--->. Which means that before inking the ambigram I tried to get the shapes right by mentally noting which lines to draw and how, for the final stage.

I did'nt take any photo of the final ambigram, so I colored it quickly in Photoshop to show you the final result, as it was presented in the book. It was a piece of paper about 10*3,5cm (3.9*1.4in), one side skewed. On its back was written the number of the page 595, starting the enigma. It was hidden as shown on the photo (see further for the different hiding parts).

Step 3: Poem-enigma

First you should choose the form you will give to your enigma. I chose a literary-poem-play-of-word thing.

I searched my mind for the ideas and words I wanted to put in, like "hiding", "key", etc. Then I searched for all the words that seemed related to these ideas. You may use a dictionary of synonyms. That will give you some kind of "tag cloud" that you should organize the way you would do with a brain map :

Circle the most important words/ideas, or those that please you most, and link them with a line, according to relevance, sound or tone, theme, etc. Cross out the others, but don't erase them, you may want to go back to them later if you're blocked. Use different lengths and thicknesses for your lines, words and circles, to find and create connections. You can also use numbers, or even colors, to differentiate your ideas, mark them as more or less important, more or less related, etc.
Once you've done this, you get a "map" of your thoughts.

I then began to form whole sentences, trying to keep a beautiful flow, a verse-like rythm, and of course the sequence of ideas. In the end I got a poem-like enigma which I was quite satisfied with. Then I picked keywords from the phrases and found them in the book. On each page where a keyword was underlined, I wrote the associated verse in the margin, plus a number pointing to the next page-keyword-verse. To facilitate this step, you may check up if a version is not available in ebook or google book. If all you get is an image-based pdf, then get it through OCR (optical character recognition, google docs offers one for free) and fasten your research.

Troubleshooting & improvements :

- Check your enigma before writing it down. Does it work ? Can someone else understand it ?
- When blocked in your thought process, double check every word, every link, to see if it makes you think of something else. Ask friends or family for feedback. Look for other enigmas for inspiration.

Step 4: Blazons

Heraldry is the ancient art of making blazons, or coats-of-arms.

A blazon , depending on the epoch and its quality (personal, corporate...), can contain different things. What I wanted to appear on mine (top to bottom) :
- a crest (see the potos)
- supported by a "tortil" (french word, didn't find the translation), a sort of rolled strip
- resting on a helmet
- standing on the shield (blazon)
- over a banner.
The "meubles" (furniture ?), or "symbols", are drawn on the shield and the banner. I also used flags for the other furniture I wanted to include.

These blazons are a total mashup of different periods, symbols, etc. that probably wouldn't have existed together. I just searched on the web for reference pictures according to my symbolic system.

Symbolic system :
Each furniture has a specific meaning, I won't list them here (but you can find some of them on the internet). They all depict personality traits of me and my gf. The global layout makes these balzons an alliance blazon. The woman is on the right, the man on the left, turned towards his fiancée as a mark of courtesy. His blazon is symmetrically reversed. Different status in society means different helmet. I "wear" a classic knight helmet, while hers is more sophisticated. So she's estimated higher in society. Courtly romance.

I listed all the traits, then all the symbols. I then crossed the results and made my choice between them, since I couldn't include them all by lack of place. I chose all the different parts according to their meaning, located them accordingly, and drew them. First rough photoshop, then pencil, then ink.

For the inking part, be careful how you hold your pen. Don't use it like a pencil or a ballpoint pen, rather like a fountain pen. The angle (generally 30°-60°) and the pressure are very important. For more on how to do this, just quickly check any calligraphy website. Also be careful about the paper ; mine was quite old and crumbling. Hence (partly) the bad inking of the letters.

Troubleshooting & improvements :

- I strongly advise that you first make a rough draft of your layout on photoshop (or else :, gimp) before drawing it. That way you can troubleshoot and preview it before. Also, you won't have to wipe the pencil off the crumbling pages.
- For the inking part, keep your Indian ink container closed and far away from your work. You don't want it spilled all over your desk. Also keep kitchen paper and/or a piece of tissue near. Clean your quills after using them.

Step 5: Hiding Places

I had to hide 3 different things in a single book :
- the ambigram
- the key
- the fleur-de-lys
The ambigram was quite easy to hide. You may have already seen where I hid it from step 1.
I had spotted this place between the binding and the pages, that you can see on the second photo. I have not taken any good photograph of it because I'm stupid, but because you're not you'll perfectly understand that the skewed paper was hidden there, and slightly sticking out. When one would open the book, the space between the binding and the pages would increase, revealing a bit more of the paper.

I knew from the start where I wanted to hide the key . Thinking about a flat key, I imagined I could just place it between the cover and the first page, which was white, and stick them together. The key would be invisible but you would feel it when stroking the page with your hand.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find a flat key. So I had to carve in the binding (see photo) to place the key discreetly. Invisible but tangible.

The fleur-de-lys was the more obvious of the hiding places, in fact it was meant to be. I just took a sheet of blank-yellowish paper, tried to make it look older by hovering a flame near it (and quite failed), quickly drew/cut/glue a pocket pattern and pinned it to the right page (hers). I had previously removed the pin with the pair of pliers.

To close the pages together, I had to check the place of the points according to both the length of the chain and the shutting of the pages. When it was done, I used my small hole puncher to make the holes through about 20 pages. That way they formed a sort of cover for the gift. Then I threaded the chain through the holes and closed it with two small spare silver rings. The whole thing was closed down by the padlock.

Troubleshooting & improvements :

- Choose the thinnest gift and chain possible, that way you won't have any trouble closing the book.
- Avoid making useless holes. My hole puncher punches holes two by two, a detail I had totally forgotten. Hence the extra hole on the top right.
- A longer chain gives you more flexibility to close the pages. Try to close them down really, the chain shouldn't be loose.
- You should "burn" the pocket to make it look older after having actually glued it (but without the pendant).
- I should have pinned the pocket to the left page, since I was the giver (and my blazon was on the left page).

Step 6: Conclusion

There is probably a whole lot of ways my book could have been improved.
I thought later about :
- wrapping it tight with a small, old-looking brown leather belt, to add even more mystery and charm.
- Maybe wrapping the whole thing in a blue wrapping paper with yellow fleurs-de-lys (found it in silk, but not in paper), to add a step in the discovering process.
- Carefully chose the moment of the gift, so that the enigma can be enjoyed the most and for the longest time possible.
- Here is a photograph of the cover after being opened with a knife. I had to encourage her to do it, since that was quite counter-intuitive.

If you have any question or remark, any critics and comments are welcome !

Thank you for reading.

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