Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Paper Marbling

 In the studio we see lots of beautiful marbled and decorative papers used as endpapers and book covers, and so this week we decided to try out some paper marbling ourselves for fun and research, and also to make some festive gifts!

 There are many different techniques and materials that you can use to create a marbled style paper, for instance ‘oil marbling’ with oil paints and turpentine requires much less preparation, but we were keen for a fairly traditional result and so we used carrageen moss with acrylic paints.

 The moss acts as a size to help the colours float on the surface and to keep them from mixing together. We bought it in a powdered form for ease. It needs to be made up in advance in a blender and then left to sit for several hours, preferably overnight. The mixture requires one flat tablespoon of powdered moss to two litres of water, which is whizzed together bit by bit in the blender to produce a smooth, gloopy consistency. This is then poured into the tray to be used for marbling and left to sit to reduce the bubbles on the surface.

 Unfortunately we did not use alum, which acts as a mordant to set the paints to the paper. We had read that you don’t need to use it when working with acrylic paints, but this is definitely not the case. Alum is usually aluminium sulphate, which is mixed with water and sponged onto the papers before they are used. We have already ordered some in preparation for our next marbling session!


 We mixed the acrylic paints with water about 1:5, or until a good runny consistency was formed. Different colours were found to react in different ways, with some becoming far more dilute than others. These were then dropped onto the surface of the bath using pipettes or paint brushes to flick the paints, and then patterns were created using an awl and a ‘comb’ that we made with four nails protruding through a thick piece of board.

 Once happy with the pattern, the paper is placed down evenly on the surface of the water, being sure not to trap any air as this is prevents the paper from picking up the paints. The paper is removed from the bath, and if you have used alum to set the marbling to the paper, then the carrageen moss solution is washed off in a second tray of water or with a hose. Since we hadn’t used alum, we couldn’t follow this step as it completely washed off the paints! So the papers, complete with gloopy moss, were left to dry on blotting paper. The colours did bleed a bit, which was a shame, but we still managed to produce some lovely patterns.

 The surface needs to be cleared of remaining paint between each marbling session, for which we used a piece of board just narrower than the width of the tray to scrape the surface clean. It’s really handy to have tissues around as it can get a bit messy!

 Using coloured papers create a great background colour for patterns, and change the appearance of the acrylic colours in surprising ways. We had a metallic bronze paint which became a firm favourite, featuring in nearly all of the attempts, and looked particularly great with black paper for a base.

 It was a great first attempt, and next time alum will definitely be used to save us from watching the colours of our fine creations bleed between each other! The papers made were put to good use, and have now become festive notebooks and bookmarks.

To marble paper in this way you will need:

Carrageen moss (we used powdered)
Acrylic paints
Alum (aluminium sulphate)
Paper (colourful and white can create great results)
A blender
A sponge to apply the alum
A tray to marble in
A second tray to wash the paper
A comb (or something pointy like an awl or a needle)
Pipettes or brushes
A piece of board to clear the surface of the tray
Newspapers or plastic sheeting to protect surfaces

Friday, 12 December 2014

Conserving the Works of Cicero

 These two large leather bound books from 1534 were part of a collection of four similar bindings from the Royal College of Physicians. The books both have wooden boards with blind tooling and straps with metal clasps to hold the boards firmly around the textblock. The texts have been annotated by hand. They were both in poor condition, having previously been rebound in a weak leather which had failed and left the boards detached and the textblocks exposed to damage.

 The aim of the project was to stabilise the volumes, allowing them to be handled and read, while keeping the 16th Century features in tact. As the two volumes, and their treatment, were very similar I shall write about them together.

 As the reback was of poor quality and of a later date, this leather was removed from the spine and the detached boards, after carefully photographing the tooling to recreate later. The remaining leather was then consolidated using Cellugel.


 The non-original endpapers were removed and the pastedowns were humidified using sympatex and damp blotting paper (being careful to avoid any contact with the leather as this would cause darkening). They were then lifted and discarded, and beneath were revealed the original pastedowns below with indications of graphite inscriptions.

 The spines were poulticed using 10% sodium carboxymethyl cellulose to remove the old linings and adhesive residue, being careful of the sewing on the double leather thongs as it can be easily damaged. The spines were then lined with Japanese paper.

 Repairs were made to the pages at the front and back of the textblock, with creases being locally humidified and flattened. The sewing supports were extended using frayed out cord and wheat starch paste, and the loose textblock pages and new endpapers of broadsheet 115gsm were sewn in. The endpapers were guarded with Japanese paper to provided extra strength. 

 Two tone endbands were sewn at head and tail using polyester Gutermann threads. Aerocotton was then added to the spine with extensions to reattach the boards. This was added after the endbands were sewn as it is very tough to sew through on such a large book. Two layers of Hahnemuhle paper were then added to the spine and sanded down to create a (roughly!) smooth surface.

 The boards were reattached using the aerocotton extensions with EVA, and the frayed out cord extensions. This provided a strong attachment and a nice movement of the board.

 A strip of museum board was used as a compensation strip and adhered to the board using EVA. The archival calf leather for the reback was toned with Selladerm dyes and fixed with tintofix. The leather was then pared, which took a while as it was quite thick. The books were then rebacked using WSP, wrapped with bandages and left to dry overnight.

 The book straps had pin catch fastenings, and consisted of a strip of parchment, which had been recovered in leather at a later date. The leather had deteriorated, and several had broken in half. The straps were held to the board with tacks (not original) through a metal anchor plate. Using a spatula as a lever, it was possible to ease these and the tacks from the boards, and then work to free the straps from beneath the leather cover. The remaining old leather was scraped off, and a strip of parchment was cut to the same size as the original, beveled at one end in order to slip beneath the clasp. This was then sanded lightly on one side to aid the adhesion with EVA. These were then pressed and left to dry overnight. Toned archival calf leather was then pared thinly and readhered to the straps with WSP, butting up the leather with the edge of the clasp as it was too thick to go beneath the metal fastening. These were again left to dry. Then the clasps were carefully positioned and reattached using new brass tacks hammered through the boards. The tips of the tacks came through the boards, and the tips were knocked over to secure the tacks in place. The pastedowns were then put down above the tack tips.

 Lizzie added blind tooling to the spines, and the bindings were complete. The books were both to be displayed in the library and so bookshoes were made to provide protection and support the heavy textblocks.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A New Job...

 In September I started working at PZ Conservation, a private book conservation studio based by the sea side in Penzance. There will be more to follow of the projects I've been working on, but in the mean time have a look at our work blog for all things Cornish Conservation !

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Archives and Records Association Conference 2014

 This summer I will be speaking at the ARA conference, Survival of the Fittest: Strengths, Skills, and Priorities for 2014 and Beyond. The talk will be an extended version of the presentation I gave for the symposium at Camberwell in June. It will be titled, again, The Conservation of a Scrapbook of 19th Century Fashion Plates and cover the work that did for the final project of my masters. The talk will also look a bit more generally at the issues of keeping scrapbooks of mixed media in archives, and how they can be best cared for and preserved.

 The presentation will be extended to 20 minutes, from the original 7 minutes, and therefore be at least twice as nerve-racking! Hope to see some familiar faces there, it looks as though there will be some really interesting talks over the three days.

 The speakers biographies and abstracts can be found here: http://www.archives.org.uk/ara-conference/speakers-biographies-a-abstracts.html

 The Conference is in Newcastle, and runs from the Wednesday 27th- Friday 29th August. I will be speaking from 11.50am -12.10pm on the Friday morning.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Conserving a Book from Lambeth Palace Library

Over the Easter break I was lucky enough to complete a three week placement in the conservation studio at Lambeth Palace Library. While I was there I worked on a book of military maneuvers, printed in London in 1628, which had a number of fold out engraved plates (one of which had been inserted upside down!). The book was a tight back, full bound in speckled calf leather with blind and gold tooling, and the stubs of four ties. There were five raised bands, two of which were false. The textblock was a fine quality hand made paper, with plenty of deckle edges and charming signs of the making process. 

    IMG_3958.jpg  IMG_3956.jpg
The 1628 book printed by Robert Norton, and a plate inserted upside down

The book, part of the Returned Books Collection was stolen from the library some time during the 1970s and suffered further damage at the hands of the thief, who worked at the library, and cut out the library stamp on the title page in order to hide the provenance of the object (see link at bottom of page for further information on the collection). An area of abraded paper (presumably also a library stamp which had been erased) on the final page of the textblock had been cut from the book, but had interestingly been adhered to a slip of additional paper and been left with the centre of the textblock - the reason for this was not apparent. Some of the plates had also been cut from the book, and only stubs remained. 

Above: the cut out section from the rear of the book found within the textblock
 Below: the cut out library stamp on the title page

 The book had previously  suffered fire damage when the library was bombed during the Second World War, and had subsequently been rebacked with cheap leather which had led to both front and back boards becoming detached. New pastedowns and end papers had also been added. 

 The plates in the book were frequently poorly folded and becoming damaged, where they were catching or extending beyond the edge of the textblock. Many of the folded plates required local humidification in order to re-fold them to their original positions. 

 The rebacked leather and linings were removed from the spine with a scalpel and a thick wheat starch paste poultice. The non- original endpapers were removed by cutting the whipping stitch, peeling off the mull and adding a little moisture. The added pastedowns were lifted using moisture and a spatula which revealed the beneath the original pastedowns. These showed an original shelfmark from Cambridge, revealing a little more of the history of the book. The pastedowns were then lifted at both spine edges in order to insert the board attachment. 

 The sewing on the textblock was very weak, and what to do was discussed with all conservators, who had all worked on similar books in the collection. It was suggested that a spine lining would hold the textblock together as the adhesive will seep through the first few sections. This was worrying for me, but I was assured that it happened often with these bindings because of their age and as they have already had a lot of work done on them in the past (not necessarily very sympathetically). This proved to the right, and a lining of a medium weight tissue with wheat starch paste held the spine well. 

 The textblock was surface cleaned with a chemical sponge and then the tears and losses in the textblock were repaired using lens tissue 9gsm and kozo-shi 23 gsm, toned with liquid acrylics. The cut out area of the title page (where the library stamp had been) was filled with kozo shi, in keeping with the treatment of the rest of the collection. The section that had been cut from the rear of the textblock and found adhered to a loose piece of paper within the textblock was immersed in a bath of water, to separate the two, and then readhered into the cut out section with a fine Japanese tissue on the verso. 

A Cambridge Shelfmark revealed beneath by lifting the later pastedowns

 The original leather was then consolidated using cellugel and the old leather from the reback was removed from the boards . Leather that was friable and detaching was readhered using toned japanese tissue with a dry wheat starch paste (~ 25% w/v). 

Alum tawed skin replacing piece of lost support

 Aerolinen strips were added to spine with an inch extension front and back with EVA. A 40 gsm handmade Western paper was used to line the spine, and then sanded down to soften any bumps and unevenness on the spine. One of the alum tawed sewing supports was missing and so a layer of Japanese paper was pasted to the area as a barrier, and then a piece of rolled alum tawed skin was adhered with EVA.

Working on the reback

 Japanese paper was toned using liquid acrylics for the leather corners repairs and a piece of calf leather was dyed and speckled with selladerm leather dyes and a toothbrush. The leather spine piece was pared and a manila compensation strip was adhered to the boards. The book was rebacked and left to dry overnight. New endpapers were of folded 55gsm hand made paper  and a window was cut into the new pastedown to allow the Cambridge classmark to remain visible. The board corners were built up with leather parings and EVA, and all four were then repaired with toned Japanese paper. 

 It was great to do some gold and blind tooling on the spine - which I had never had the chance to do before. It went quite well!  Initially glair, lighter fluid and vaseline were used to prepare the area.

Me doing some gold tooling
 The tools and the final gold tooling

For further information about the Returned Books Collection at Lambeth Palace Library: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/apr/29/lambeth-palace-stolen-books-retrieved

Monday, 30 June 2014

The Conservation of a Scrapbook of 19th Century Fashion Plates

Before and after treatment

My final project was a scrapbook from Central St Martins College of Art and Design, containing 191 nineteenth century fashion plates. The book is half bound in red and green book cloth, and was intended for use as a scrapbook as it has compensation guards to accommodate the addition material. It was machine sewn, with a rounded, unlined spine, and machine made marble endpapers with cloth joints.

Inserted material adhered with pressure sensitive tape

Fashion plates were published in magazines from the late 18th century and throughout the 1900s, and were a popular way for people to stay up to date with the latest high class fashions. They were rather prescriptive, with titles reading ‘morning dresses for July 1800’ and ‘evening promenade dress in May 1809’!
The beautiful plates are predominantly hand coloured engravings, and depict society women’s dress from 1800 to 1890, offering a fascinating impression of culture throughout the century. They are are taken from many different publications, including Lady’s Magazine and La Belle Assemble, and are in both English and French.

The other scrapbooks in the collection at Central St Martins Museum and Study Collection

It is not known when the book was compiled, or by whom, but was probably created in the 20th Century as a source of reference and inspiration for students in the costume department who required accurate depictions of that types of dress that fashionable people were wearing in a given year. The scrapbook is part of a small collection of two other books, compiled in similar styles, and possibly by the same hand. One covers mostly male fashions, and the other is a mixture of accessories and ephemera, and dates from the late 18th century.
The front board and endpaper before and after treatment

The condition of the book was poor, and prior to treatment it was inaccessible to handling, display and research. The front board and endpaper were detached, and the textblock was damaged. The plates were distributed in an very unbalanced way, with some pages overcrowded with up to 13 plates, and others left blank. Upon discussion with the curator, it was decided that some plates could be moved in order to make the book functional again. The plates were to be kept in the same order as they were originally placed, and within the same time ranges as assigned by the dated tabs. As time was limited, a list of treatment priorities was drawn up for the plates, which included : pages with too many plates, those where the plate was extending beyond the foredge, and plates which were detached or detaching - due to failing tape. The aim of the project was to keep the integrity of the scrapbook while working to make the book accessible for handling and research.

An overcrowded page: thirteen plates adhered between two pages

 The most common tape in the book was a rubber based adhesive with a clear, though discoloured plastic carrier- which when tested was cellophane. Several methods of tape removal were trialled (including the solvents acetone and petroleum spirits) and the most effective was found to be a heat spatula for the carrier, and cellulose powder used with a spatula to remove the sticky adhesive. Stain removal was not considered essential and so was not attempted. The plates were then repaired as required using 9 gsm maruishi and 20% w/v wheat starch paste.

 As the plates had originally been hinged to the page using tape, it was considered important to create a sympathetic method of attachment. Hinges were made from 23 gsm kozo shi Japanese tissue, and were re-adhered to the textblock using wheat starch paste. It worked best when the plates were adhered to the right hand page, with hinges on the left side of the plate, as this allowed them to follow the motion of the page as it turned. This was not always possible, as some had to be placed on the left hand page, and have right hand hinges, or be tucked into the gutter in order not to catch when the page was turned. The plates were staggered on the page where appropriate to avoid the central buildup of material that had been causing the binding to bow in the middle.

The plates after treatment

 In total, 100 of the 191 plates were successfully treated in this way. The front endpaper was reattached using 23 gsm kozo shi toned to match the pattern of the marbled paper, and the tears within the textblock were repaired with 9 gsm maruishi. The textblock split in one section during treatment, and so three additional linen tape supports were added and sewn in. The bookcloth spine cover was removed, the spine somewhat reshaped using a poultice of 3% solution of methylcellulose, and a lining of kozo shi was added. The front board was split and reattached with an aerocotton spine extension. A manilla hollow was then created to add strength to the weak structure, the original cloth was lifted and a toned buckram bookcloth was used to reback the scrapbook.

 The project met all of the aims set out, and the book is now fully functional as a scrapbook and available to be accessed. It was never anticipated that the book could be treated in its entirety during the time frame of the project, and so there is still work that could be further carried out to treat the plates and remove the remaining tape, and this can hopefully be carried out in the future.

 Done! The scrapbook on display at the MA Conservation Final Show at Camberwell College of the Arts June 2014