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  1. Conservation Conversations // Adhesives for Paper Mends

    August 28, 2015 by Becky Koch

    Adhesives are an essential part of book and paper conservation. If you want to repair a paper tear you have to use some sort of adhesive, and it’s important to choose an archival adhesive. Archival adhesives won’t turn yellow or become brittle over time, and most importantly they’re reversible. Reversibility is a big factor so future conservators can remove your mends if they need to – maybe to see what’s under it, or it could be interfering with a treatment they want to do, or maybe they just know a way to repair the same tear with a better technique.

    There are two main adhesives I use to make archival paper mends – wheat starch paste and methylcellulose. There are lots of different archival adhesives out there and this is by no means an extensive list, but these are the adhesives that I always reach for and use the most often.

    Wheat Starch Paste
    It’s a paste, that’s made from wheat starch.

    Paste in its dry powder form, before cooking

    Wheat starch is widely used because it’s easy to make, easy to store, relatively inexpensive, archival, and strong. It’s also very versatile – you can make paste that is extremely dry and thick, but you can still make viable repairs when it’s watered down to the consistency of skim milk (paste consistencies are always measured via a dairy scale for some reason. It can get kind of gross).

    Paste, after cooking, ready to be strained

    There are loads of different ways to make paste out of wheat starch and which one of these ways is the best way is a fierce topic of debate between conservators and bookbinders. Some choose to cook theirs on the stove while others in the microwave. Some leave their starch to soak overnight in cold water before they cook it, some strain it with only a horse hair strainer, etc etc etc… No matter what exact recipe you choose to follow the process basically calls for adding water to dry wheat starch and applying heat. The starch will gel and become sticky, and that’s your paste. After the paste is made it needs to be pushed through a strainer of some sort to make it smooth, and then water is added to create the right consistency.

    The benefits of paste: versatile, easy to make.

    The drawbacks of paste: cooked paste doesn’t keep well and it won’t be long before you need to make more.

    The other adhesive I reach for during paper mending is methylcellulose, which in it’s dry state is a white powder made from vegetable cellulose. You may have heard of methylcellulose before – it’s used as an emulsifier and thickener in processed foods and cosmetics, and I was also surprised to discover that it’s also used as a laxative.

    Methylcellulose adhesive typically creates a much weaker bond than wheat starch paste. Sometimes this is a good thing – if you’re working with a very weak object you don’t want to make a very strong mend. But I rarely find a paper that is so weak I can’t use some dilution of wheat starch on it, so I typically use methylcellulose in water as a poultice to rehydrate dried glue on spine linings or whatnot and I use methylcellulose in ethanol to make mends on papers that are prone to tide lines. Diluted methylcellulose can also be used as a paper size.

    Jars of methylcellulose

    To cook methylcellulose in water you first need to dissolve it in cold water and apply heat to make it gel up (once again, there are a number of ways to accomplish this). With alcohol, I mix the powder with the appropriate amount of ethanol and let it sit overnight. Also like wheat starch paste the viscosity can be modified depending on how much water/alcohol you use, but unlike with paste the correct amount of liquid should be measured out before cooking rather than diluting the finished product.

    Benefits of methylcellulose: you can make it in water or alcohol, keeps longer than paste.

    Drawbacks of methylcellulose: not very strong, can leave a “sheen” when dry.

    What I’ve chosen to highlight here are the two of the perhaps most commonly used adhesives in a book and paper lab, but there are lots of choices out there. Wheat starch and methylcellulose are versatile but they don’t address every situation, so if you have a problem that these adhesives don’t solve do some research and ask around, there is an adhesive out there to meet your needs.

  2. Artist: Devin Rutz

    August 26, 2015 by Erin Fletcher


    These illustrations from Devin Rutz are indeed illustrations and shouldn’t be mistaken for marbled paintings. Through these collaged ink drawings, Devin creates such a likeness to marbling. He even captures the dreamy, ethereal quality typically seen in marbling.

    Untitled3-DevinRutz Candy-DevinRutz Untitled2-DevinRutz Pluto-DevinRutz Untitled1-DevinRutz Raphael-DevinRutz

  3. Artist: Jeanne Gaigher

    August 25, 2015 by Erin Fletcher


    Jeanne Gaigher is an emerging artist out of Cape Town, South Africa. Her expressive brush strokes and moody color palette are captivating. Her paintings remind me of the lacunose technique or perhaps a Philip Smith binding.





  4. Conservation Conversations // Choosing the Right Repair Paper

    August 7, 2015 by Becky Koch

    In my last post I talked about how many papers are out there for conservators to choose from. It’s great to have so many options, but picking the right one for your situation can be a challenge, the options are often overwhelming.

    When making a mend, there are several considerations to take into account. How thick is the paper? How strong is it? Is it very brittle? What color is it? The goal is to create a repair that blends in with the paper, does not obscure any text or image, and successfully stabilizes the piece.

    Different colors of Japanese tissue

    Different colors of Japanese tissue

    A subtle mend can be achieved by using a slightly colored tissue. You can buy pre-toned tissue, or to get the perfect match sometimes you need to tone your own paper with watercolors or acrylic paints. A thinner tissue often does better at blending into its background, and it may also be semi transparent so text can be read through it. Often times color is less important than transparency. A white tissue that is very thin and transparent will usually blend in well with tan or acid-burned papers without any toning whatsoever.

    Toning tissue

    Toning tissue

    Perhaps the most tricky of all of these factors is choosing the correct weight and strength of the tissue. A repair paper should be chosen that is as thin as possible to stabilize the paper – usually something slightly weaker than the paper being repaired. This is so that if the paper is ever put into a situation where it is overly stressed, any future tears will occur at the mend rather than somewhere new on the sheet. If a very strong tissue is used to repair a very weak paper then there is a high likelihood that the paper will crack or tear on either side of the new mend since that area is supported while the rest of the page is not. That is why, in the hopes of creating no further damage, a weaker tissue should be chosen. On occasions where the paper is extremely brittle I sometimes choose to line the entire sheet with a piece of thin tissue to create even support.

    Tengucho paper is very thin and text can still be read through it

    Tengucho paper is very thin and semi transparent

    If a piece of paper has a hole, or loss, the paper chosen to fill in this area will go through different considerations. Typically a paper should be chosen that is the same weight as the paper being mended or something slightly thinner. This is so the original piece will move smoothly and stay supported around the loss. This is especially important in the case of very large losses in a book where pages will be turned and handled regularly.

  5. Artist: Tomma Abts

    August 5, 2015 by Erin Fletcher


    The paintings of artist Tomma Abts are mesmerizing. She creates simple geometric designs that pop from the canvas with her use of flat textures and perfect shading. Another artist would could totally inspire the cover for a binding.

    Wybe-TommaAbts Feke-TommaAbts Teete-TommaAbts Jeles-TommaAbts Bilte-TommaAbts Ihne-TommaAbts

  6. Winner for the Anniversary Giveaway is…

    August 2, 2015 by Erin Fletcher

    anniversay2015winnerI want to thank everyone who entered by signing up for the newsletter or subscribing to the blog or both! I greatly appreciate your support, comments and suggestions. Looking forward to another great year on Flash of the Hand!

  7. My Second Trip to Rare Book School

    August 1, 2015 by Erin Fletcher

    During the week of July 5th, I spent my days walking the grounds at the University of Virginia and its surrounding neighborhoods in Charlottesville as I attended Rare Book School for the second time. This year I was pleasantly surprised by the return of many of my classmates from last year as we had all enrolled to take Jan Storm van Leeuwen’s Advanced Seminar in the History of Bookbinding. You can check out my post from last year here on the Introduction to the History of Bookbinding.

    The class began with Jan laying out the terminology that would be used throughout the course. As many bookbinders and other professionals working the book may know, terms regarding binding anatomy, design and tools vary from country to country. There are even multiple terms describing the same thing. For ease, Jan chose to use typical English binding terms.

    With each lecture, Jan took us through a detailed history of binding styles and design styles beginning mainly with the Middle Ages and moving through to the 19th century surveying several countries throughout Europe and briefly speaking about bindings in the United States. After several hours of lecturing and many pages of handwritten notes, we were invited to view items from Special Collections and tasked with creating detailed descriptions before comparing our own to Jan’s.

    The description process begins with an overview of the binding before narrowing the focus to each little detail. Using Jan’s extensive outline as a guide, I would note the decoration that adorned not only the covers and spine but also along the board edge, turn-in, endcap and raised bands. Attention is also given to the endbands, text block edges and any text that appears on the binding. Once the exterior of the binding is reviewed, I would then survey the endpapers and the book for any annotations and marks of ownership. The reason for such a comprehensive overview is to extract clues in order to pinpoint the binding’s country of origin and time period.


    The first binding I had the pleasure of describing was a beautifully tooled leather bound copy of La siege de Mets by Bertrand de Salignac Fenelon. From my findings I deduced that this binding may have produced sometime during the late Middle Ages in France. The Renaissance saw a Persian influence in binding with much more gold tooling. The most rewarding part of describing this binding was my discovery of very faint lettering on the spine. The lettering was blind and placed over the semé patterning (small repeating background pattern). This faint lettering confused me at first, but then I came to realize that the lettering was a result of the title having been tooled onto a label much later in the life of the binding. The label has since been removed, but proof of its prior existence still remains.

    Moving into the 18th century, I grabbed a fairly indelicate Cottage-roof style binding. That is to say, the design is quite striking, but not the work of a talented finisher. As a design style only found in England during the late 17th to the early 18th century it wasn’t too difficult to determine its origins. Inside is a calligraphic inscription: “Mary Sharland, Her Book, October 21st, 1766adorned with flourishes. In addition to the inscription were some unusual punched shapes (two dotted outlines of a circle seen faintly on either side of the date in the image below).


    One of the last bindings I had the opportunity to look at was an unusual bespoke binding from the 19th century which incorporates binding and design styles from the Middle Ages Germany to 18th century England. Lyra Germanica was published in 1859 and translated from German into English.


    The spine and joint have been tooled in a way that accentuate the raised cords as was often seen on bindings in the Middle Ages. The boards are heavily sculpted, another unusual feature for the 19th century but typical for bindings from the Middle Ages. The covers were panel stamped with a very modern geometric design. The wide frame with corner compartments is very typical in English bindings beginning in the 19th century.

    Before the course came to an end, we looked at a selection of almanacs from RBS’s collection as well as miniature almanacs from the collection of book collector Pat Pitsner (one of my classmates). Within Pat’s collection, we saw a few embroidered almanacs, one shaped like a ladybug, a silk scroll housed in an enamel case and a late-fanfare style binding with matching leather slipcase. It was a wonderful surprise and with each binding, oohs and aahs rose from the class.


    Finally, we took a look at a large sample of publisher’s binding after receiving a brief lecture from Jan. There were also a few bespoke bindings sprinkled about the table, like the binding on the right in the image below. Gifted to his newly betrothed wife, this binding is tooled over paper onlays in silver leaf that may have been mixed with other metals.


    I once again had a wonderful time at Rare Book School where I gained a deeper understanding of binding styles from around Europe during the late Middle Ages to the 19th century. It was such a treat to sit in on Jan’s class and to be exposed to his vast knowledge on bookbinding history. If you’ve been debating about whether or not to make the trip to Rare Book School, I would highly recommend it. You are guarantee to walk away with an abundance of knowledge on the topic that interests you. Plus you’ll be surrounded by charming book loving folks working in all sorts of fields and backgrounds.

  8. Swell Things No. 25

    July 31, 2015 by Erin Fletcher


    1. The city of Melbourne has assigned email addresses to trees, which allow citizens to report any issues. Instead, the city has been receiving letters addressed directly to the trees from passing admirers. Check them out here.
    2. The British Library recently published Medieval Monsters, a delightful picture book from medieval historian Damien Kempf and art historian Maria L. Gilbert. The book explores the fantastic, grotesque and exuberant world of monsters found in illuminated manuscripts throughout the Middle Ages. Check out a this delightful post from the two authors on the Ten Things to Know About Medieval Monsters.
    3. If you can, make your way to the National Building Museum in Washington DC sometime before September 7th to visit The Beach. Design duo Snarkitecture recently installed a massive wading pool out of 1 million translucent polystyrene balls, basically the largest ball pit ever. At the edge of the wading pool is a carpeted space with deck chairs and beach umbrellas. What a unique and relaxing way to enjoy the summer.
    4. The University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee has a great tumblr showcasing treasures from their Special Collections. My favorite column is Book/Not Book which includes animated gifs of artist books from their collection, giving a real sense of the content and how the book functions.
    5. The work of French artist, Amandine Urruty, is truly strange. Her eerie drawings are highly detailed scenes and portraits of nostalgic icons, like Jabba the Hut, Cookie Monster, Cabbage Patch dolls and many more. Each piece will keep your focus as your pane through the scene looking for the recognizable characters.


    6. As part of the Sculpture By the Sea Festival in Denmark, Gjøde & Povlsgaard Arkitekter installed a breathtaking circular bridge off the Danish Coast.
    7. Gretchen Röehrs has been playing with her food in the most haute couture way. Her Instagram is full of creative fashion drawings where the garments are constructed with actual food. Oysters and leafy greens make for gorgeous silhouettes and offering intriguing textures.
    8. Iranian artist Shirin Abedinirad created a dual installation of mirrors placed outside in Italy and Iran. Seen above is Heaven on Earth, in which mirrors were installed on the steps at Fabrica, a communication research center in Treviso, Italy. The installation offers a striking juxtaposition between the hard concrete and brilliant blue sky. The second installation, Evocation, includes round mirrors placed on the desert dunes of Iran.
    9. The Thomas J. Watson Library at the Met in New York recently acquired a group of Czech Publishers’ bindings which demonstrate the rise of importance of the Czech language and the skill of artists and designers working at the time. The designs range from the early 1900s to about 1930. Quite a striking and little seen collection of Publishers’ bindings, read more about it here.
    10. Singapore-based photographer Gabriel Kang has a beautiful Instagram of found triangles. Gabriel crops his images in order to create a triangle with a right angle at the bottom of the frame. Truly beautiful pieces.

  9. Conservation Conversations // Japanese Papers and Tissues

    July 28, 2015 by Becky Koch

    Japanese papers and tissues are used extensively in book and paper conservation; they are used to mend tears, fill losses, back or line weak or brittle papers, line spines and perform innumerable other conservation repairs. These papers originated in Japan (as I’m sure you’ve guessed) and are mostly made from kozo fibers from the paper mulberry tree. They come in a variety of thicknesses for different needs, and some are thin enough to be translucent and are ideal for mending over text or images. Japanese papers are soft and flexible and do not become brittle or discolored over time so they are especially appropriate for conservation. But the most important trait of Japanese tissue is its strength – due to the long kozo fibers these papers are very strong. Deceptively strong. Even the thinnest tissues are useful for mending tears and lining brittle pages, often times creating almost invisible repairs.

    I was introduced to Japanese papers at my first conservation internship during college. I spent the summer repairing larger-than-life stained glass window templates by Rudolf Buenz at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. The sketches had been kept rolled up in a garage since the 1960s and their edges were crushed and tattered.

    We used a lot of tissue that summer. A LOT.

    My internship advisor, knowing that if we kept on the conservation track Japanese tissue would become our lifeblood, had us make a sample book of all of the lab’s tissues. Being a very well stocked lab, there are 15 papers in my original sample book. This may sound like a nothing task and at the time it didn’t feel that I was doing something very important, but in all honesty I still consult this book today.

    As a side note, this was the first book I ever made


    I think all conservators have their favorite go-to tissues, two or three different weights that we use for different tasks. But sometimes when you’re faced with a different type of challenge it’s good to have all of your options at hand, right in front of you in a little booklet, where you can feel the weight, texture and color of each and choose the one that’s best for your task. Whenever I encounter a new tissue I take a small sample and label it (seriously, don’t forget to label it, otherwise it’s useless) and add it to my collection – it’s one of the best tips I can give to any new conservation student.

  10. Bookbinder of the Month: Ben Elbel

    July 26, 2015 by Erin Fletcher


    I am wrapping up this month’s interview with Ben Elbel by showcasing his recent binding of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Read on to discover the technique behind the decorative covers and what secrets lay within the binding.

    Breakfast at Tiffany’s is covered in beautifully decorated leather, which caught me by surprise. Having only seen this binding online, my initial guess is that the boards are covered in paper. Can you describe how you manipulated the leather to achieve such a wonderful range of color and texture?
    Indeed it is leather, not paper. The technique consists essentially of glueing thin paper to suede leather and then sanding away the paper. I have never actually tried replacing leather with paper but I imagine that paper would probably tear during the process.


    A few years back I was terrified about doing anything to a material. I used materials as they came from the suppliers and found it increasingly frustrating because bookbinding materials only come in a limited range of colours.

    I was working at Shepherds Bookbinders at the time and because we had a splitting machine there were bags full of beautiful suede that would go straight to the bin. So one evening after work I started messing around with suede, glue, leather dyes, papers, etc, having absolutely no idea what I was doing.

    There were a couple of ‘happy accidents’ and after some time, I had identified what had lead to those happy accidents and found that I had a process, so simple that I was even able to teach it. I have a nice collection of these pieces and they are a great starting point for a design binding.

    In this binding, you’ve included a hidden component. The front cover opens up to reveal two panels of text, can you elaborate on your concept for this part of the binding? Does it have a magnetic closure?
    The latest version of my dos rapporté binding has boards made of two layers, hinged at the fore-edge. The two layers are glued together with a flange from the textblock in between. The aim is to provide a very strong cover to text attachment, but of course it is very tempting to see a design opportunity; why not include something in there, and shut the boards with magnets rather than glue.


    The opportunity came with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the set book from Designer Bookbinders 2014 Competition. At the time we were also producing menus for a hotel in London, and this is how a breakfast menu ended up between the two layers of the front board.