While some traditional bone reading styles call for reading on the earth, this is not practical for me. My postage stamp yard is concrete and grass with no bare areas to read. I went through several reading surfaces before I found one that I found both workable and attractive to me. I started reading on a black cloth that I had painted a cross on and added the adinkra symbols for wisdom and knowledge.
I read things on the left of the center-line as past, the right as future, above as conscious, below as subconscious. Tarot readers will recognize this as an excerpt of a variation of the Celtic Cross Spread. At this point in time I had more bones than I could interpret comfortably at one time so I would reach into the box and pull out a handful, throw them and read whatever landed within the crossroads. Pieces that fell outside an imaginary circle around the crossroads and the pieces left behind in the box were considered to have nothing to say for that reading. This method worked for me and allowed me to gain some confidence in my reading skills without overwhelming me with too much information.
Unfortunately I did not find this cloth aesthetically pleasing so I started looking for something more interesting to look at.
I found this goat skin on eBay and I thought it was perfect as it had a natural center-line and I planned to use the small white area as an area of special interest should a piece fall there. I alternated between this and the cloth depending on my mood and I was happy with this for a while.
After a while I learned to read with all of my pieces at once which made the goat skin too small. I stopped using a crossroad outline as well so the crossroad became distracting rather than helpful.
My penultimate cloth was a simple piece of suede from Tandy Leather and Suede. I decided to go with black because the tan and beige shades were close in color to some of my bones making them harder to see and because I didn’t want to get a bright, unnatural color that would change the mood. It was perfect. It folded easily, didn’t wrinkle when unfolded, and I could put my bones away by picking up two ends and pouring them back into the box using the cloth like a chute. After a while the imperfection of its shape started to bother me so I went back to Tandy and bought a new piece of suede big enough to cut into a better rectangle. I still use this badly shaped piece when I am travelling because it folds up smaller than the newer one.
Along the way I experimented with grass beach mats. These are inexpensive and they supply a degree of padding, but they are rather long requiring you to fold them over several times. I tried to solve the problem by cutting it down to a size I liked and sewing a new border on to keep the grass from falling apart. I ended up going back to my suede pieces as they are more portable.
My current cloth is really two cloths. I have a padded under cloth that I lay a piece of suede over. This is a new suede with a shape closer to rectangular. I have hard wood floors and my set has a lot of shells, which are prone to chipping and breaking when they hit a hard surface. This combination minimizes the chance of breakage. The under cloth is a piece of cotton sewn to a piece of padded quilting fabric. It is a simple pillowcase design sewn up on all four sides instead of three. I have a sewing machine, but it could be done by hand fairly easily as well. Once I had sewn the front to the back I ironed it flat then added a second row of stitching to help it stay flat. It is larger than the suede and provides a nice contrast that I find visually pleasing, but not distracting. It also attracts cats.
I have seen other readers use different surfaces and they all looked good. I have seen small rugs, cotton kerchiefs, and spectacular art work. I am an artist so the aesthetics are an important issue for me, but a plain piece of cloth or a circle on the ground works fine too. Hopefully you won’t have to go through as many iterations as I did before you find the right one. If you are dissatisfied with your current cloth I hope this gives you some ideas for various ways you can create a reading surface.
Happy Bone Reading!