Paper mending workshop

I was privileged to be able to attend the above workshop run by Lynn Campbell the Paper Conservator at the Christchurch Art Gallery.

Heres an overview of a most enjoyable morning:

IMPORTANT: You must be able to reverse your repair, i.e. don’t use anything that you cannot remove such as pva, cellotape, even book tape apparently.

CLEANERS Commercial draught cleaners used to clean paper are expensive so the alternative is to use a grated rubber (non-abrasive such as Pelican White) which is rubbed, using clean fingers or cotton wool etc., over the area to be mended. Note: don’t rub over pencil, chalk, pastels etc. Please note that papers made in Asia will be damaged by this method due to the fibres.

PAPER TYPES European paper can be easily cleaned by the rubber method, however the method used to make this paper is quick, produces acidic paper, the fibres are shorter and therefore don’t make strong patches.

Japanese paper is made from trees that are cut down then soaked for 6 months in alkaline river-fed waters. Apart from reducing acidity this method also gets rid of lignum which will eventually destroy the paper. This makes it the paper of choice for artists and printers. Therefore strong but flexible papers such as Kozo or Mulberry are ideal to use as repairers.

GLUES An excellent glue is methyl cellulose which is reversible with water. (Never buy the sodium… version). Mix with warm water – add the powder to the water not vice versa. (Don’t use metal spoon – glass cocktail stirrers are ideal, or plastic or wood). Keep refrigerated. When it goes watery or even like a plastic sheet, it has gone off.

(Wheat glue is the best but takes half a day to prepare- about 40 minutes of stirring for a start, if I remember correctly. Incidentally, in Japan the apprenticeship period for a paper repairer is 10 years. The first year is spent stirring and making the glue and the second is tearing paper. At the end of the apprenticeship they are given a large bucket of the glue which means they never have to make it again).

METHOD After cleaning area to be mended, lay item on a “light-box” table if available. Overlay with a mylar and then your mending paper. Using a fine paintbrush dipped in water, paint around the outline of the damaged area onto the mending paper, to make the patch. The mylar will keep the original dry. (Wet paper loses 80% of its strength and hence easier to tear). Tear out the shape of the patch – dont cut it. This means that the fibres will then grab on to the paper better. (There are special water pens you can buy – they look like a pen, have a brush on the end, and you unscrew and pour water in).

Paste the patch, flicking the glue across to draw out the fibres for a better “grab”. Now glue paper together. Note” if there is a long tear, just use small pieces not one long piece.

On top of the mended area lay Mono baking paper (cheapest and best). Run a wooden spatula over the area to flatten, then dry by either running a hot spatula iron over or putting weights (such as bags filled with lead shot) on top and leave for half a day. If repairing a number of items you can pile them up, with baking paper between, and top with the weights.

Sue Julian

Macmillan Brown Library, University of Canterbury


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