I'm packing it up this weekend to send to a bookbinding competition, so I took some pictures before it goes. The insides are a journal through pressed flowers, & occasional leaves, mostly from my garden. Color swatches on the left show the original color(s) for when the flower eventually fades. It's been interesting to see what happens to them in the press, actually—most flowers keep their color or get pale/turn brown right away, but occasionally, like a delphinium I took out today, the color is deeper and nicer than in real life.
We recently brought the X-ray fluorescence spectrometer up from West Dean, for lessons with first-year students and research for second-year students at Camberwell, and two ICON workshops that I held at the V&A museum. In the evenings I used it on my 18th French book collection to further my research into pigments used in the marbling and edge decoration at that time. More spectroscopy than I've ever packed into a week; it was exciting when we got interesting results, and we opened up a few puzzles as well.
In my French books, where areas of color are large enough, I'm systematically going through to collect spectra from each color in the marbling, or paste paper in those few cases, as well as the colored edges, to look for patterns and also to compare to contemporary accounts of what colors were used where. Spoiler alert: in the Diderot Encyclopédie, brazilwood is prescribed for red edges, but I have found only vermillion. In this case the identification is very easy; if mercury is present, it's vermillion; if not, brazilwood, carmine, or red ochre are possible. In the spectrum below, which is Kim's English book from the photo above, a mix of red ochre or bole and vermillion is indicated, which is consistent with the strong red-brown color.
In our two quick ICON workshops, I talked briefly about the principles of XRF spectroscopy and how to interpret spectra, then we had a chance to use the spectrometer on all kinds of material, including brass furniture mounts, chrome-tanned leather, tooling on leather, green-dyed parchment, a painted Indian sitar, decoration on Japanned French furniture, foxing on paper, and pigments on a globe. XRF spectroscopy is non-destructive and our instrument is portable, which does have some disadvantages but in the case of this furniture at the V&A, had a benefit over their benchtop model, which though more precise in sampling area, can't get inside the nooks and crannies of the objects.
It's almost done—just needs an inset panel for the label, but I'm waiting for the right small flower(s).
A small thud in the hall this morning turned out to be a little envelope from Dennis Ruud with two Teflon (polytetrafluoroethylene) folders inside: the small spatula and microspatula offered here. I think I'd been given one of Dennis' microspatulas by my first supervisor in conservation, and had left it behind by accident when I left New York, never to be seen again. I didn't know where it came from originally and never got around to tracking another one down so it was such a delight to see it appear, with another one to boot. I've been working on the box for my herbarium this morning, and the package came just in time for laying down the inset vellum panel. Lovely tools, highly recommended.
Finally got our paper copy of the Journal of Conservation in the mail! My article on the nondestructive analysis of selective paper discoloration is in it, after a year of writing and editing. You can read it here.
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.
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!
F I N I S H E D. A labor of love is still a labor. And when your covering material is so pricey, you don't exactly breathe easily while it's tight in the press, and you have no idea if it's going to work. But it did!
I only just made the connection but I had a flower press when I was a kid, a simple one with a wooden top and bottom, connected with four bolts & wingnuts in the corners, with cardboard and papers between. The lid had pressed flowers embedded in varnish—now this book reminds me of that.
I suspect that the color in the flowers will not last forever, but hopefully longer than it would if they were exposed freely to the air and in direct sunlight. The purple in the anemone on the front board immediately turned a little brown in places just in the covering, though the one on the back hasn't. A little color leached out of one of the crocuses onto the paper behind it—I was expecting more of that, actually, since so much color comes off onto the blotters in the initial pressing.
The boards and endpapers have relaxed a lot since the casing in was finished, but not entirely yet, so forgive them that for now, & sniff at it later if they haven't gone down!
Some last photos from making it:
About the skin, because I anticipate questions: a technique for making transparent vellum was patented by Edwards of Halifax in 1785, though others had done it before in other ways. Halifax apparently soaked the skin in potassium carbonate (pearl ash), then dried it under tension/pressure. We learn to be careful of too much pressure on damp vellum, as well as heat, because of the risk of making it transparent. Well, when I tried the Halifax method, I got that skin wet, wet and warm, wet and hot, pressed tight, stretched tight, rubbed, rubbed harder, all to no avail. It was just as opaque as the day it was made, and no worse for wear either. Plan B was to make inset panels in a full vellum binding, for a snake's head fritillary on one side and the poppy used here on the other, but in the end I was set on my original idea, so I shelled out for a full transparent skin from Cowley. It was worth it.
Aside from a few spots where it is still opaque, this vellum is completely transparent. I could see the scratches in my cutting mat through it. I could see my fingerprints through it. Just a little on the yellow side, so I used a bright white paper to cover the case—the result is a slight creamy color that works well with the flowers. I decided to include the little bit shown above right, where the veins weren't completely drained. A reminder that the skin on the book used to be the skin on an animal.
Handmade flax & abaca paper: Chris Petrone, Women's Studio Workshop (US)
Marbled paper: Kate Bret, Payhembury (UK)
Normal vellum for sewing supports: Pergamena (US)
Transparent vellum for covering, alum taw for endbands: Cowley (UK)
Vellum over boards instructions: Peter Verheyen, Philobiblon
Pressed flowers: mostly from my roof & window boxes
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:
I've been going through the bible for a more thorough condition report, and have found loads of pressed flowers and leaves in the gutters. A bible is great for pressing, of course, usually being the biggest and heaviest book around, so it's not uncommon but nicely timely. The last one is my favorite.
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...
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:
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.
A little tool sharpening 101 with our friend Simon, who then got really familiar with how not-quite-flat his new paring knife was.
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.
A sneak peak of one of Tristram's recent projects. He spent days covered in tiny bits of gold. This overmantle used to be missing a lot of carving, & was covered in dark brown, peeling paint. More soon.
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.
In the November 2014 issue of ICON News, a review of the sold-out course Tristram ran on varnishes:
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!
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.
With the new academic year started, and students starting to build up their own collections of tools, I gathered my favorites.
Maybe bookbinding tools next time.
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.