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.