April 25th

Back again, carefully removing the spun polyester and blotting papers from my last visit two weeks ago. Things look good! Now to trim off some tabs like this one:

20130516-155857.jpgShowing a Japanese tissue tab on a finished repair – ready to be trimmed.

When preparing a piece of tissue for the repair, the wheat paste is applied with a paint brush. I leave a small, unpasted tab at the end of the piece so that I can easily grab it with my tweezers and place it precisely on the area to be mended. Also and maybe more importantly, it allows the tweezers to let go of the tissue more easily once I place it – no gooey stuff to deal with in that area!

In trimming the dry Japanese tissue used to make mends on paper, there are several things I remember about wielding a scalpel and ruler. A very sharp blade should be used to get the most precise cut. My father taught me how to hold a blade efficiently (he is an artist and also has done his share of mounting art, so he is familiar). One should hold the blade like a pencil – this way the blade meets the paper at a correct angle. Another technique, when making a first pass on a cut, is to not press down on the blade, but rather focus on the line you are making and that you are just skimming the surface. The next pass will be slightly deeper and so on. With the thinness of this paper, it is many times important not to put pressure on the cut you are making our the paper will drag with the blade and rip (especially if the blade is not sharp enough). Also the ruler should be steel – if you use an aluminum or wood ruler, your very sharp blade will cut into the soft metal or wood and misguide your cut and also ruin your ruler!

So here is the map with the final trim:

20130516-160625.jpgA finished repair of an edge on a fold out map.


Coming in and removing the spun polyester and blotting paper after repairs have been done is kind of like Christmas! 🙂 You get to see your work all neatly pressed and dry, and sometimes trim a tab or two if needed.

Today I’m dampening and pressing the first pages of the first volume of these books. A point to consider was that they have writing on them, and putting water on ink could blur it, so a small test in an inconspicuous place was needed. Here is an example of the writing and a close up of some of the text (I can’t help it! I love my macro lens!)



The ink in question is likely oak gall ink, given it’s brown color and the time in which the book was published. A brief but really interesting article about oak gall is here. The ink seems to be fairly stable and the water didn’t smear it, but just to be safe I used as little water as possible around the areas with the ink. This tool is really handy – it’s got a brush head and you fill the body with distilled water and you can really control where the water is going and how much.


After coming back from lunch, I’m reminded of another important aspect in preserving these books – clean hands! Hands should be free of lotions and perfumes and also nail polish. All of these things can come off onto whatever you are working on!

In the preservation lab at Southwestern, I have secured a small space behind the door to have my project resting. I need to keep the other working surfaces free so that students can come in and make boxes or work on other projects. This takes a bit of coordination on my part as I fit as many books as I can on the top of this space like puzzle pieces!


So I’m back at Southwestern University, only this time not as an employee but as a volunteer. I decided to focus on finding out what I could do with myself regarding conservation/preservation, so after a brief hiatus, I’m back in the lab working on these four volumes of Geography books.

Today I will to some small tissue mends on pages that have already been flattened, and then of course dampen and press other pages for work next time.

Also, this time I have a very small camera lens to take some super close pictures of the work I’m doing today – they will probably come out more “artsy” than technical, but it might help others see things like a beveled edge on a tear etc. We will see how this pans out!

This photo shows a tear in a foldout map – but as you can see, it looks more like the paper has deteriorated and crumbled away from repeated use and folding. The paper around it looks soft and dusty.


Another important component in working on books you are preserving is to prop them up/open while you are working! The spine of this type of book is carefully preserved by not allowing it to open fully – you wouldn’t want, for example, to lay it flat on the table. Given that books of this age are constructed by sewing the signatures in with thread, that thread has become brittle over time and will break if stressed. Here I have propped a volume open using some lead weights covered in felt – I need to prevent the front cover from opening all the way. Now I can work more on the first few pages.


Another thing that just came to mind – Southwestern University’s Special Collections, like most Special Collections, keeps a close eye on their collections. Careful notes are made about when a book is used, especially if the item is removed and placed on exhibit, or in this instance, removed for repair.

Making wheat paste is fairly simple for these tiny repairs. Powdered wheat paste and distilled water are combined, being careful there are no lumps in the mixture. Once the wheat paste is mixed, it needs to be refrigerated to be used again. I make a very small amount to I don’t have to worry about a large amount going bad in the fridge.

More next week!