Washing & Mounting the Trajan Column

After surface cleaning the massive Piranesi (see here if you missed it) with cosmetic sponges, the next thing was to attempt to wash it. Like other large prints, it had once been mounted on textile, as evidenced by marks in the animal glue spread across the back and the occasional stray thread left behind. The glue was causing staining and distortions that I wanted to try to remove. There were also dramatic tidelines from previous water damage sustained while it was rolled—the stains repeat like stamps along the edges—that probably wouldn’t come out but might be reduced in appearance somewhat, as well as the significantly discoloured bottom edge that had been on the outside when it was rolled. Although it was printed on 6 reasonable-sized sheets of paper glued together, I didn’t want to separate the joins in the papers if at all possible because it’s hard to get them lined up again and it seemed like an unnecessary intervention. 

So: how to wash a nine foot print, and how to handle it when wet so that it doesn’t tear?

I toyed with the idea of washing it on some kind of rigid support like Perspex on a slight incline, but the logistics seemed hard to imagine in my small studio. What I settled on was rolling it over a wide diameter tube and washing it while it was rolled up. The idea was that this way it could fit in a tub for washing, and it could be carried around rolled up, then unrolled onto an appropriate support for drying. If someone else has already done this, don’t tell me; I want to think I invented it myself.

Piranesi 2.jpg

A friend of ours was discarding a wide & long plastic tube, so we sawed it in half. I got a long strip of capillary matting, to help water to flow between the layers of the print when rolled, and I cut it longer than the print. Then I sewed together some large sheets of Hollytex: I could have cut this from a roll but I had a few sheets that were already just about the right size once joined and I didn’t want to cut into the roll if I didn’t have to! The Hollytex was also about one tube diameter longer than the print and would protect against any glue that got soft and tacky again. 


I started by rolling the capillary matting once around the tube, then added the print and Hollytex as shown here. When all rolled up, the excess Hollytex made the outer layer. I did a few dry runs (haha!) and then when I was satisfied it would work, I humidified the print first by spraying with water and then rolled it up. I filled up a big storage tub with water and slowly immersed the print roll. As normal with washing, I changed the water a few times until no more discolouration came out.

Piranesi 3.jpg

Once any soluble degradation products had been washed out, I tried to remove as much adhesive as I could: some came off, but unfortunately most of it had to stay in place because the thick paper had very little cohesiveness when wet and there was too much risk of disturbing the paper fibres. However, my set-up for this worked and I'd be happy with it in future. I rolled one end of the print onto the other tube, exposing part of the print at a time as I rolled more and more of it onto the second tube like a scroll. In this way I could work on each part of the print without having it unrolled. 

Once the wet work was finished, I drained it as much as possible (it's amazing how much water the capillary matting holds), then rolled it out to dry. For that I laid my huge pressing boards onto the floor in a row, then rolled out a few long strips of Tek wipes, my new favourite blotting material (doesn't cockle!), then the Hollytex/print, then more Tek wipes & boards & weights on top. All the rest is normal paper repair.... which I also did with part of the print rolled up, loosely over an even bigger roll, for ease of working, then humidified and flattened again at the end for framing.


The moral of the mounting & framing story is basically not to make anything bigger than the standard sizes mounting & framing materials come in. We just barely managed to get wood for the frame long enough, but mount board doesn't come anywhere close so we had to piece together sheets for the support, glued to the backing board for stability, and after a lot of debate over float mounting vs an aperture we settled on an aperture—again dictated in width by wanting to cover as much of the damaged edges as possible while still being able to fit in the maximum dimensions enforced by the frame size. I wanted to cover the mount board in paper, so it would look like it was all one piece, but in the end this was cost-prohibitive as paper that is big enough would have to be bought on a much bigger roll than we needed. So we cut the aperture out in four pieces as shown above, and butted them up against each other as cleanly as possible, attaching them to the support board with Japanese paper strips from the edges. The join is not massively noticeable given the scale of the whole piece. A few braces on the back held the whole thing together, necessitated by the immense length.

The client very nicely sent these photos of the finished thing on the only wall in his house big enough to hold it!

Bookbinding According to Diderot

On Thursday I made my usual pilgrimage north, only this time to Dartmouth College for a class on 18th century French binding before going to Women's Studio, and this time with two little babies the size of lemons inside. We wound our way up and tried not to be homesick. It's hard to put a finger on it but the road is different, the signs are different, the trees are different, the temperature is definitely different. It smells like summer and it smells like New England. Dartmouth looks like what my child self thought college would look like, before I went to MICA and Columbia and West Dean. 

In two days, ten of us (three from Yale, three from Dartmouth, three independent binders, & I) made models of mid- to late-18th century French trade bindings like the ones below. The style is recognizable from a mile away:  mid-brown calf, sponged or sprinkled, at least five raised bands, a characteristically-tooled spine, red edges, French curl marbling in yellow, red, and blue. Not that there aren't variations but one so often sees exactly this pattern. Structural features include a double comb lining, at least in theory; a particular lacing pattern; rounding, backing, and cutting in boards; sewing down the gutter of the marbled pastedown/flyleaf. "Always," I say, opening one of the example books and not finding any sewing. "Always," I say, reaching for another, shutting it just as fast. "Always!" I say, finally finding one that followed the rules. 

(I took a few pictures in the beginning, before I got too distracted and forgot to take more, so the rest of the "during" images will have to wait until someone else passes some on.)

For textblocks, I adapted an 1827 binding manual helpfully digitized by Google. Most of us have enough blank bindings to last a lifetime of thoughtful journaling and it really looks the part when the insides match the outsides, even if on bright white machine-made paper. I opted for the shorter and fatter of the 1820s options, Manuel Complet du Relieur, but there is also an amazing one in the form of a "didactic poem" if anyone wants to practice their 19th c. French binding rhymes. A few colleagues wanted copies to bind on their own, not being able to make it to the workshop, so I had some extras printed and will offer them here for sale soon along with notes on how to put it all together.

The marbling is the most beautiful marbling, from The Marbler's Apprentice—hand-ground pigments, lovely colors that don't sit heavy on the surface like acrylics. Pergamena sent the leather, which they managed to split to super super thin. I always think when covering of the first skin I ever bound with, which I picked out based on color and grain without Maureen around—turned out it was, according to her, the thickest, toughest goat that ever did live, and I spent the better part of a day paring it. It was a revelation when I learned about splitting machines. 

Somehow in only two days we sewed on raised cords; laced on boards; rounded and backed; scraped, burnished, and lined the spines; plowed; edge-colored; endbanded; pared; covered; and sprinkled. The only thing left is to put down the ends, which needed open drying time so had to be done at home in order for people to travel efficiently. (Bonus points for titling, tooling, and polishing at home, which I have all intention to do and probably won't.) And we still had time for bagels & ice cream.

New (top) and old (bottom). Don't mind the generous sprinkles on mine! 

Binding club

Some recent West Dean graduates & I started a binding club: we take turns researching a binding and showing the structure to the others. DIY professional development. First meeting: a trial run of the 18th century French model we'll be making at Dartmouth at the end of this week. We also managed to fit the three of us in my little studio and still have room to make a mess!