Islamic bindings – instructions part 1

Islamic Headband Feature

These instructions are to coincide with the Islamic binding lessons that we have been having with Kristine Rose from the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Sewing and spine preparation

The two sewing stations must be prepared in advance of sewing as the paper is not good enough quality to work blind on the book, this can be done by piercing the paper or by scoring the stations with a knife. Commonly sewing was in yellow silk.

Islamic Binding Sewing two stations
Sewing two stations

Sew the first two sections twice as it is not initially sewn off, then continue to sew using link stitches. For sewing off, make the final stitch a kettle stitch, so that it is secured.

Knock sections up between boards and put into a laying press.

Stipple a small amount of paste into the sections to stick initially, then repaste with stippling and put spine lining on and bone folder down. The spine lining should be an evenweave linen, commonly mauve was used.

Islamic Binding Pasting up the spine
Pasting up the spine

Excess linen is to be trimmed and pasted to the book block. This will be hidden by the board attachments. The linen should only be a couple of millimetres either side of the spine.

Islamic Binding lining the spine
Lining the spine

Endbands:

End band cores should be the same material as covering, cut 3mm and just wider than the text block, these are to be glued up on the flesh side of the leather and moulded so that no fibres stick out. The cores should then be stuck onto the spine, adjacent to the spine and just hanging over either side.

Each section centre should then be marked.

Islamic Binding The end band core
The end band core

Sewing of the endbands is done using three threads:

Primary thread – this should be a bright colour, often a gold, so that it can be seen in contrast to the other two. This is sewn through every section and over the cores, which creates the basis for the second two threads.

Islamic Binding Working the primary
Working the primary
Islamic Binding working the first two rows
working the first two rows

Secondary thread – this is woven over and under the primary thread at the middle of the core and left at the other end

Islamic Binding Locking the secondary with the tertiary
Locking the secondary with the tertiary

Tertiary thread – this follows the secondary thread on each row, going ‘under the overs’ and ‘over the unders’ meaning that every time a secondary thread goes over the primary, the tertiary will go under both, and when a secondary thread goes under a primary, the tertiary goes over both.

Islamic Binding Starting the tertiary
Starting the tertiary

The tertiary then anchors the secondary at the other end, allowing the secondary to weave back through the primaries to the starting point. Once the tertiary has come back and two rows are complete, there should be a chevron pattern starting. These two rows are then shuffled along the primaries to sit on the text block, before the next row is started.

Islamic Binding Chevron
Shuffling the chevron down the primary
Islamic Headband The finished end bands
The finished end bands

To finish text block:

Tie down end band knots within the text block.

Trim decorative end papers just smaller than first sheet and wet before pasting. Paste just over the fabric on the spine and press. Once pressed, trim any excess decorative papers.

Pair endband cores very slightly and paste down onto book cover.

Paste and fan out text block threads onto spine.

Boards:

Three boards are used per cover, which should be lightly wetted prior to pasting.

Boards are exactly the same size of text block in height, though not in width – Square up one corner of board and measure against cover of book, leaving a joint space at the spine, about the same size as the endbands, trim the boards to this size once pasted.

Islamic Binding trimming boards
Measuring up the board for trimming

Leave boards sharp without back cornering them.

The foredge flap will only be the thickness of one board not three, and will be done when covering the book.

The foredge envelope will be as the covers and three board thicknesses. It should be the same height for the boards and measured to exactly half the width of the boards. The point is central and the depth of the angle is half the width of the envelope.

A conservator’s visit to Tate Britain

We were given an introduction into the conservation department at the Tate Britain by Charity Fox who is part of the conservation team and heavily involved in both conservation of works of art on paper and working with other galleries so items can go on exhibition and on loan.

The latter seemed like quite a long complex process of meetings and careful planning, but this really is only natural when you are talking about a Turner watercolour being loaned out. The department has a tally showing exactly how many days a piece has been on show that year, and how many are left before it has to go into a rest period, so it all seemed extremely organised. We were lucky enough to be shown a small Turner that was in for conservation as the iron gall ink used on part of the painting was burning through the paper – Amazing!

We were also taken into the framing department who design and build frames for all the works. There are standard frames for different era’s – for example anything after around 1920 goes into a modern ash frame.

Very interesting and I’m now looking forward to going back to see the actual gallery as I haven’t been for years!

A field trip to Parliament

Due to the restrictions on taking photographs at the house of lords, I only have the one picture below, which is unfortunately not great quality – but hey ho, but that than nothing!

We met Caroline Babington and Lara Artemis whilst at the Houses of Lords, who are the Collections Care Managers for Paintings and Archives.

Caroline gave us a tour through some of the key rooms at the House of Lords, which was fascinating. Being a paintings specialist, Caroline gave us an insight into some Englands most prestigious frescos, which is one of the biggest collections in Europe.

Later Lara took us through the conservation and binding studios, which were part of the Queen Victoria Tower and were wonderful. Their approach to conservation has changed over the years concentrating more on preservation management in the last few years as a method to sustain the heritage of the collection as it stands at the moment. We also got a visit to the Act store, which you will often see in TV programmes – again no photographs sadly as it was an absolutely incredible store.

Paper washing and bleaching, vol 2

The second part of my washing and bleaching post is more about the bleaching part. As mentioned in the previous post, this is rarely done in conservation as it is thought to damage the structure of the paper fibres and will continue to disintegrate the object if not denatured properly. As before we were also measuring the experiments as we went to see the difference in paper weights as they were cleaned.

Sodium Dythonite (EDTA), Hydrogen Peroxide, Calcium Hypochlorite

There were three forms of bleaching we used in this session – Sodium Dythonite, Calcium Hypochlorite and Hydrogen Peroxide.

Spot testing the different bleaches

Sodium Dythonite at pH8
Conservators will us Sodium Dythonite to a certain extent, and will often prefer this solution, however it is often not removed totally and can leave a residue in the object. Similarly to this, conservators will often reuse this solution on the same spot many time over in order to remove a stain, however this repetitive use of the solution can be much more damaging than using a stronger one, such as Calcium Hypochlorite, to begin with and ensuring it is removed in full.

20g of Sodium Dythonite into EDTA (unknown amount)
Adjust the pH with Sodium Hydroxide until pH 8 is reached
This required a large amount of Sodium Hydroxide, possibly as the strength of the latter and the amount of EDTA was unknown.

Calcium Hypochlorite at pH9 (bleach of choice)
This solution often has a bad name, though we have been told it does not diserve such a reputation. It is argued that chlorine may be left in the object after de-naturing it (washing through with water). This is chemically suspicious as chlorine is linked to calcium and the molecules are strong and generally stay together. Once the calcium is removed, the chlorine will have nothing to attach to and should come off as a gas.

200ml of 4% Calcium Hypochlorite into 600ml of water
Intial testing of pH showed it at pH10.5
10% Acetic Acid was added to bring the pH down to 9

Hydrogen Peroxide at pH9
When it is used on objects, it will bleach as it drys due to unstable H2O2 molecules, which will release the spare O as a gas, denaturing itself in the process. However a conference in Vienna argued that this did not always occur and peroxide was left in the paper causing continual damage, it is therefore no longer used.

3ml of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide into 23ml of demonised water
The pH is altered using Ammonia to reach pH9
This should bring the amount up to 30ml

We then used each of these bleaches, mostly the Calcium Hypochlorite, and tested methods of cleaning. Everything was done on the vacuum table, having first humidified the object, and thoroughly washing it throughout. We used small amounts on a brush to target small stains such as foxing, and also spraying specific areas by masking the object with melinex.

Calcium Hypochlorite used on a masked out area

Half and half on the same sheet (using bleach of choice)

In the case of immersion, the whole page was put in a bath of Calcium Hypochlorite and then washed in water and left to dry.

Immersion into a bath of 4% Calcium Hypochlorite

Before immersion

After immersion


Tuesday’s at St Brides

This week was my second at St Brides, and I was glad to get started on some conservation. Thankfully Nigel has been putting aside books that urgently need some help and has made a pile of about eight books. These aren’t necessarily the oldest or the most valuable books in the collection, and indeed in this case they are relatively modern, most being perfect bound – but they are ones that, in their current state, are not useable by the general public.

It is important to remember the reason that we conserve books, which is different in each case. At the V&A, it is often because a book is going on display – in a library it is almost always because a book cannot be used. In each case a different approach is required. A book going on display is likely to have more time given to it for conservation, and possibly more funds. It will almost always be a special book, or one a value of some kind or another, possibly it’s pictures, or the binding itself. A book in the library may have none of these attributes, it is unlikely to be of any other value except for the written content, it will almost never have funds associated with it for conservation, and generally no time allowed to it for repair. The latter has various consequences for library books – they fall apart, they get badly mended by people who (although despite having good intentions) are likely in most cases not to have experience in conservation, and they get damaged further. There are, of course, exceptions in every case and Libraries that purely exist to house prestigious collection.

However, this is, generally speaking, the sad life of a library book in my opinion. So I am more than happy to be helping at St Brides, and bring some of their less prestitigious books back into the publics hands. As I say, quite a few of them are perfect bound, and being a very modern form of binding, I am not sure yet how to conserve these in a time efficient. I have grout this issue up with my tutor at college and we may look into good methods of repair. I will also research and come back on this issue.

So with my lack of knowledge in repairing perfect bindings fully intact, I went about beginning on a binding I was more familiar with. This particular book is a reference for type faces, and as such, is printed on good quality paper. It has had a relative amount of previous repairs, using a very white paper to adhere loose pages back into the book. I had primarily thought that with one loose sheet that needed repairing, I would remove the previous repair, both on the sheet and on the book and repair it with a Japanese tissue. However, on finding that several other sheets have also come loose and also have previous repairs on them, I may not do this on every page. This is not preferable to me, though as mentioned above, time and resources for these books are not fruitful! And having removed the paper from the initial loose sheet, taking me most of the afternoon, I am not convinced it is worth it for the book.

 

Pulp papers with Alan Buchanon

We have recently had a fascinating day with Alan Buchanon on making and using pulp papers for paper repairs as an alternative to japanese and western paper repairs. This is a technique that Alan has honed to a great art and precise formula that allows any conservator to give it a go an come out with a good and useable result.

To start with we made and dyed paper at the same time, this was done using shreds of a high grade of cotton rag paper to make the pulp and a precise mixture of dyes to get the colour. The percentage of the colour is essential a the lower the percentage, the lighter the colour. There were about six colour charts using a different percentage of dye for each chart, these can be seen in the photographs below.

Once the paper was made, we then moved on to making the pulp. By take the object and comparing it to the charts, it was possible to see what colour match the object best. Once found, the chart then gave grammages of how much paper was needed from each colour in that percentage, these could be weighed out and blended together like a recipe!

At this point a pulp was ready, and after making small samples and adding any colours if necessary, we were ready to repair. This was done using a powerful suction table, on which the object sat with the area to be repair masked out of melinex in order to prevent any damage to the surrounding area. Using a pippet, the pulp was then squirted into the area the be mended and built up gradually to the required amount. Once this was reached, the use of a hair fryer would dry out the final parts of the repair, and it was done!

I was unsure how strong these repairs would be as there is no adhesive involved. Alan assured me that the combination of the suction of the table and the hair dryer meant thy the cotton fibres would form a very strong covalent bond with the cotton fibres in the paper. This was not necessarily the same with wood pulp papers, which might need a small amount of adhesive mixed into the pulp to ensure it adheres enough.

Amazing!