Natural Dyes for Paper Repairs

A full spectrum of dyed papers is enough to make all the conservators swoon. Susan Catcher has been using natural dyes to repair objects colored with natural dyes—so they match the subtle tones better and fade alongside the original. (Imagine the markered super black beady eyes on faded photographs, because the touch-up ink doesn't fade.) One of the workshops as part of the Icon Adapt & Evolve conference.

Visit to Kew

As part of the Icon Adapt & Evolve 2015 conference, I went on a visit to the conservation lab at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Timely! I got all kinds of ideas for ways to attach the plants. One made little paper straps over the very bottoms of the stems, wide enough to put the names of the plants on them (top row, right). 

We also saw one of the store rooms; we were supposed to be looking at pith paper & Japanese papers from the Parkes collection, which were fantastic, but also there were so many jars of things. 

Mark Nesbitt gave a lovely tour of all the treasures, and we got to see Kew's collection of tools for making pith paper, as well as the set of original 19th c.  drawings attempting to depict its making. The pith sort of glows from behind the pigments; it's fantastic. The flowers on the left below were conserved by a Camberwell student the first year I was teaching there, and she did a great job. There were a lot of old Camberwell conservation projects there, actually; it's like looking through a college yearbook.

We saw some botanical drawings on pith upstairs in the conservation lab as well, and talked through the conservation issues. It's really brittle when dry and tended to be mounted (in this context—export art for the European market) with ribbons around the edge, gluing it down to a rigid support. The tension makes the pith unable to contract, so it splits.

And finally... the nice store room next to the reading room deserves a mention. They built it with windows in the walls, so you can see books that are restricted access but nice to look at, and also with this little exhibition space, like a shop window. I would imagine it also does something for security as well. A treat for readers, because it feels like looking at something secret!

Source: about:blank

The Making of an Herbarium, Part III

It's been colorful on my desk the last few days: all the flowers came out of blotters livened up the paper-covered case I made for the book. Even normal vellum is a little transparent, and must be backed with paper—this skin is so transparent you can read writing on the back of a piece of paper through it. And so the case had to be covered in paper first, to make it all white, then the flowers were pasted to that, then the vellum pasted on top. A ton of pressure in the press first, to sink the flowers into the boards, then I pasted them into their shallow beds. In the end I thought it would be best not to lay flowers over the joints, although it looked really satisfying, because I doubt they'll stand up to the stress of folding as the book opens.

I think the pale blue iris is the best; it grows no taller than the stem it has here, and is the first to come out. All the veins in the petals and stem came out in such detail. The big poppy on the front board is another favorite—poppies already look like tissue paper when they're alive, and it retained all of that character pressed. Also present (amongst some long-forgotten ones): crocus, primrose, winter aconite, anemone, nasturtium, nigella, forget-me-not, viola, ceropegia woodii, campanula, passion flower, lewisia, heuchera, osteospermum, bleeding heart.

Some small pictures, to tide over until I get the "real" ones off the camera:

The Making of an Herbarium, Part II

My herbarium is coming along between treatment proposals and lecture writing: I chose really beautiful handmade paper made by Chris Petrone of the Womens' Studio Workshop, with nonpareil marbled endpapers from Payhembury. I dyed Pergamena vellum green for the tapes. I've worked on a few green vellum account bindings and the color is really satisfying. And then I took a last look at the deckle edges—lovely but uneven & difficult to turn—and plowed them right off. I found immense satisfaction in putting the trimmings in my vermicomposting bin, though! The worms will eat them, which enrich the soil, which will grow new plants, which will become pressed specimens for the herbarium. It's too perfect.

I wasn't sure what to do with the head edge, and colored it yellow with gamboge first, but on second thought rubbed some Prussian blue in and made them the same green as the vellum supports. More or less exactly the same green. That was pretty satisfying, and with a little wax & burnishing they're super shiny. Endbands are green, blue-green, & a pale blue over alum taw & vellum cores. I made the vellum long to lace it into the case with the sewing support slips. 

The next step is done, making the case Bradel-style, to be covered in white vellum. I was planning on making it go transparent by soaking it in potassium carbonate & pressing hard, à la Edwards of Halifax, but no matter how I've tried to do it, I haven't managed to affect any change in the skin. Plan B has just come to me in writing this, though, so stay tuned for covering & lacing in. 

Now, if only the sun would stay out a little longer, & get my plants growing faster...

The Making of an Herbarium

One of the last things I did when I worked at Columbia was mounting sheets from an herbarium. I love these old specimens, taped flat to support sheets, especially when labels are handwritten. I didn't know until recently that herbaria are still made, although it makes sense to preserve primary source material for future research.  

I've been pressing flowers and foliage in my book press for months now, between blotter and Bondina (nonwoven polyester), under whatever conservation or binding work is in there. And recently I thought about a ream of nice paper I have, and my pile of pressed plant bits from my rooftop garden & window boxes, and decided I should make my own herbarium. 

It's kind of amazing which plants keep their color—canary creeper leaves still look beautiful with mottled yellow & green; heuchera kept the rainbow of autumn colors. The bright purple campanula flowers have almost no color left. The fluorescent magenta delosperma flower turned sort of faded orange. And the red poppy, the reddest red there is, is still a rich color but more of a crimson. I think the poppy is my favorite whisper-thin specimen so far, but there are always new ones waiting in the press:

Sharpening Day

We got out all the sharpening things yesterday, and all the tools. Tristram's chisels and my paring & lifting knives. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but eight hours and sore fingertips later I wished I had found fewer knives that needed tuning up... some of which I made myself a few years ago and never really finished making. Tristram's were in better shape, except the chisel he used to dig out tiles when we were renovating the bathroom. Luckily, the cat helped out.

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A little tool sharpening 101 with our friend Simon, who then got really familiar with how not-quite-flat his new paring knife was.

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An Early 17th Century Bible

This book from 1616 is the first folio (smaller) edition of the King James Bible, and it's had a rough last couple of centuries. It's one of my upcoming treatments once funding is secured: clean it, everywhere; solve the problem of the unstable left board, badly eaten by furniture beetle; flatten and repair the leaves that give a new meaning to "false folds;" stabilize what's left of the metal furniture, and make a safe box to store it in. 

Tools of the Trade, Part II: Weights

Starting the new year out right with some new tools: these are blocks of Monotype type metal, left over from my letterpress days. They're just the right size and weight for paper repairs, with a few modifications: a coating of Paraloid B-72 in acetone to prevent the soft lead rubbing off on hands or objects, and a thick felt pad on the bottom to cushion the object and absorb moisture. (The felt is also recycled, an old etching cushion from my printmaking days that I knew would come in handy... seven years later.) When I worked at Columbia we all had really nice sets of thick glass rectangles, slightly bigger than this, with rounded edges and corresponding felts—but apparently the glass guy vastly underestimated what a pain it would be to round all those edges, and said he would never make them again. 

These join my small collection of type weights, which are little boxes filled with damaged lead type that can't be used anymore for printing. The white one was the first one I made, and has a thin foam base (stupid, once I thought of using felt, but I've never gotten around to changing it), and the grey ones have thin felt (old sizing catchers!). For these thin was okay, because the box is flat, but it needed to be thicker for the Monotype weights, which are pretty uneven on the bottom.

There are some much bigger versions of these, made with old sash weights in them, but they're in use now so I can't move them to get a photo. Same idea, but bigger, and in purple buckram! Finally some thick Perspex strips, useful for light weight. These are about a foot long; smaller is useful as well.

Collapsible Integral Cradle

A discussion of collapsible cradles recently reminded me of this, which I made years and years ago. A simple adaption of the folding boxboard cradles that were our standard for exhibition, this one is pieces of binder's board with the right amount of space in the joints to fold, and a strip of linen tape around the spine area to hold it in shape (for a stab-sewn book). The drop-spine box was measured for the cradle collapsed around the book, so they're stored together, and the cradle stands in the box for safe viewing of the book. 

Sorry for the image quality; they're really old!

Tools of the Trade

There must've been an old clause in airline travel that let you take otherwise contraband items through, as long as they were "tools of the trade," because those are the words my bookbinding instructor, Maureen Duke, always uses when she talks about bringing paring knives through airport security. It stuck with me because of the smirk she used when she said the term, like it was the magic phrase that would suddenly defeat the intimidating security guys. "Tools of the trade, boys!" and she saunters through with her knives. I can picture it.

The tools within reach at my desk

The tools within reach at my desk

With the new academic year started, and students starting to build up their own collections of tools, I gathered my favorites.

Tweezers, largely "borrowed" from my dad, who used to be a doctor. The pale green one is the best; pointy but not too pointy, flexible but not too flexible, sleek. Regine, epoxy-coated stainless steel.

Tweezers, largely "borrowed" from my dad, who used to be a doctor. The pale green one is the best; pointy but not too pointy, flexible but not too flexible, sleek. Regine, epoxy-coated stainless steel.

Tiny scissors also borrowed from Dad. The big ones from Maureen, and the middle-sized ones from another bookbinder. 

Tiny scissors also borrowed from Dad. The big ones from Maureen, and the middle-sized ones from another bookbinder. 

More bone folders than I need: I only ever use the one to the left of the PTFE (white) one, and the tiny one. Tiny one came from a manicure set, and has a little curve at the tip. The wooden one is a replica 18th c. French folder that Tristram made me.

More bone folders than I need: I only ever use the one to the left of the PTFE (white) one, and the tiny one. Tiny one came from a manicure set, and has a little curve at the tip. The wooden one is a replica 18th c. French folder that Tristram made me.

The thin spatula is the one I can't live without, and use daily. The large one is nice for scraping spines. The wooden-handled ones are feeler guages so nicely adapted into little spatulas for me by Tomoyuki Uemori.

The thin spatula is the one I can't live without, and use daily. The large one is nice for scraping spines. The wooden-handled ones are feeler guages so nicely adapted into little spatulas for me by Tomoyuki Uemori.

The essential dividers, mostly inherited and the top two purchased, a little loose to be so useful as the others, but too beautiful to leave behind.

The essential dividers, mostly inherited and the top two purchased, a little loose to be so useful as the others, but too beautiful to leave behind.

The middle one a gift from Tomo, and my favorite. 

The middle one a gift from Tomo, and my favorite. 

Not anywhere close to all of the brushes accumulated between conservation and the old art school days, but an assortment of paste brushes, paint brushes, cleaning brushes, consolidation brushes, glaire brushes. I've had the big glue brush since I was 16, if that excuses the rust. The only one I ever had, until I was gifted the tiny one (more useful that you might guess) and inherited a massive one about four times its size, that doesn't even fit on my desk.

Not anywhere close to all of the brushes accumulated between conservation and the old art school days, but an assortment of paste brushes, paint brushes, cleaning brushes, consolidation brushes, glaire brushes. I've had the big glue brush since I was 16, if that excuses the rust. The only one I ever had, until I was gifted the tiny one (more useful that you might guess) and inherited a massive one about four times its size, that doesn't even fit on my desk.

Maybe bookbinding tools next time.

La Gerusalemme Liberata di Torquato Tasso

A little volume from 1822 that we picked up for £1.50 in Lyme Regis last weekend. It was sewn on two small sawn-in cords, laced into boards lined with printer's waste: what caught my eye was the advertisement for the Encyclopedia Britannica on the back board, published between 1820 and 1823. Trying now to work out a good way to replace the missing front board and stabilize the back board attachment without obscuring the now visible printed matter.

Conservation Manual Published

This spring I worked with colleagues Youjin Min & Hyoyun Kim in Korea on a translation of the National Research Institute of Maritime Cultural Heritage (NRIMCH)'s Conservation Manual of Maritime Archaeological Objects in Korea. It describes the work done by NRIMCH, which was the sole body in charge of recovering objects from Korea's shipwrecks, with case studies and recommendations. I just got my copies in the mail! So satisfying to put hours of hard work on a shelf.