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  1. Conservation Conversations // Su-Su

    July 29, 2014 by Lauren Schott

    Everyone who washes paper is familiar with the dramatic color transformation that takes place on the page after it is removed from its final bath. The evidence is left in the washing tanks; the water turns an unsavory yellowed color, and the paper is, to a degree, returned to its former glory.


    The concept of su-su is to harvest this colorant and use it to dull the often glaring white of repair tissues. It helps the eye transition over repairs to appreciate the elements of the original object, rather than the work that’s been done.

    My first introduction to su-su was a brief mention during a paper repair workshop. My instructor, while addressing a question concerning blending and color matching to make repairs less obvious, told the class about this paper color extract. “Dirt paint,” she casually called it. It sounded like something slightly magical and a little counterproductive, though she assured us it was effective and safe for the paper. (For more information on the science behind su-su, check out the article by Peirs Townsend titled “Toning with ‘Paper Extract’” in The Paper Conservator, Vol. 26 (2002) 21-26.)

    The concept of su-su lingered in my mind. It came up in conversation at my bindery every once in a while, so it seemed it was on everyone else’s minds, too. “Hey, you remember that su-su coloring? How does that work again?” and “Have you tried to make it yet?” But for one reason or another, it wasn’t until a few years later that I actually got to produce it myself.

    The first step in creating su-su is to gather acidic papers that won’t be missed. Scour what your library is discarding for those telltale brittle yellow pages. The conservation department where I was working when I made my su-su had been saving discarded covers, endpapers and other scraps for years just for this occasion.


    We filled a half gallon pot with acidic paper, breaking it up into small pieces as we went to increase surface area. After the pot was about three quarters full, we added water.


    We set the concoction on high heat over our small stove until it came to a boil. Once it was hot enough, we turned it down to a low simmer and let it cook for several hours, stirring occasionally. The water took on first that yellow color, then started to darken as it concentrated.


    After a few hours, we used tongs to remove the large pieces of pulp, and poured it through a strainer to remove the smaller particles. Then it was back to the stove for more simmering.


    The dark brown liquid soon cooked off to create a viscous syrup, which we stirred regularly to prevent burning, just as you would while cooking chocolate.


    We siphoned off the syrup into various shallow containers so the last bit of moisture would evaporate quickly. We mostly used the lids of small mason jars and some watercolor trays.


    Since several of our containers were made of plastic, we couldn’t put them back over the stove at this point. By this time, making the su-su had taken several hours of work, though often with on-and-off attention. We elected to allow nature to take its course and let the small cakes dehydrate on their own while we worked on other projects, although we did occasionally take a moment to help them along with the assistance of a hairdryer.

    This is the result.


    Though Townsend’s article claims that the resulting colorant is non-acidic, it’s always best to be sure of your medium before you use it on actual repairs. Test out the acidity of your result by painting the tint over a pH strip, and then take appropriate measures to balance out the pH of the tint before applying it to tissue. This batch was fairly neutral when tested, so I can use it without alteration.

    Su-su has become a regular part of my repairs. Whenever I pack a tool roll for conservational trips, it’s one of the first things to go in, right alongside my favorite bone folders and lifting knives. From my experience, a little goes a long way, and I anticipate this batch lasting me for quite a while.

  2. Preparing the La Couleur du Vent Exhibit + Opening Reception

    July 24, 2014 by Erin Fletcher

    Last week, North Bennet Street School opened their first bookbinding exhibit in the Windgate Gallery. During the set-up, along with Jeff Altepeter and Katie Barber, I had the pleasure in handling the design bindings for ARA-Canada‘s La Couleur du Vent exhibit. To start off, I unpacked all of the books, unraveling them from their protective layering while keeping everything organized.


    Jeff and I then went to task in laying out the books in their respective spots, doing our best to arrange the cases in a complimentary fashion. The school recently built new wooden bases for the exhibit with sawhorse-style legs. In order to have an adequate base, we decided to hide the wood by making some custom wrapped boards in a suitable and subtle bookcloth. After the wooden bases were installed we put the bindings in their final place, making minor adjustments by adding risers and wedges for the books lying flat.

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    In addition to the bindings, a table was set up with a facsimile of the printed text. This gave real insight to the inspiration many of the binders saw within the illustrations, many of the graphics were replicated or abstracted on several of the bindings.


    The night of the reception was attended by quite a crowd of binders coming from as far as France and Canada. Odile Douet of École Estienne in Paris was accompanied by Jonathan Tremblay, president of ARA-Canada (both with beautiful bindings in the show). Odile gave a heartwarming talk about the transformation of this simple idea and how it flourished into an international traveling exhibit. If you haven’t had a chance to view the exhibit, you can do so until it closes on September 14th.

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  3. My Time at Rare Book School

    July 24, 2014 by Erin Fletcher

    Rare Book School uses the term rare not to refer to objects that are expensive and uncommon, but in regards to the object’s uniqueness and unusual excellence in artistic quality and craftsmanship. I would describe my experience at RBS as the latter sense of the word. The carefully crafted instruction that was delivered in my course by Jan Storm van Leeuwen was impeccable. His passion for bookbinding and decades-long research produced a rather intensive look through the long history of bookbinding.

    Each day began with a stroll across the grounds of the University of Virginia as I made my way from the Brown College dorms to Alderman Library where the classes were held on the 4th floor. Which can be accessed by either going down three flights of stairs or taking the elevator down. Trust me.


    Once inside, we were greeted with a complimentary breakfast, complete with the necessary cup of tea to start off my day. These breaks between lectures became a frenzy of chatter as introductions were made and curiosity ensued. Any chance to mingle amongst fellow book lovers and discuss bookbinding for a week straight can only be viewed as no less than phenomenal. Amongst the sea of book nerds, were librarians, archivists, catalogers, graduate students, conservators, book dealers and, a few like myself, bookbinders.

    I wish that I would have taken more pictures of the day’s events, but I found myself deeply occupied by either furious note-taking or mingling with the other students. Jan took us on a journey through bookbinding history beginning with the most earliest known bound examples up through the late 20th century. Each lecture was paired with show and tell a specimens from the massive collection held by Rare Book School.


    We ended the week with an introduction to Publishers’ Bindings, discussing the styles seen in France, England, United States, Germany and Holland. Below are some fine examples of French Publishers’ Bindings. The image on the right is referred to by Jan as a ‘Chocolate Box’ binding. The paper covers are printed and embossed before covering. A window is also cut out to showcase a small color-litho print. These prints were attached to several different titles and were not necessarily representative of the content.


    This rather small embroidered binding was one of the highlights of my week. The binding was so fragile and weak. The silk/satin had deteriorated at the board edge and had popped away from the upper (front) cover. This was quite exciting for me. For the first, time I had the opportunity to get a look at the construction of the binding and covering material. It was wonderful to see how the stitches were somewhat haphazardly applied.


    In addition to our lectures and show and tell sessions, we were tasked at deciphering leathers based on their follicle patterns and characteristics. It proved to be quite difficult at times to decide between goatskin and sheepskin. But as it wants, the sheepskin tends to turn fluffy and brittle, usually popping away from the boards

    Jan also gave us a brief hands-on demonstration of his strategy for taking rubbings, which is something that should be done properly and with care so as not to abrade the surface of the binding. Using a thin sheet of custom-made paper for the The Dutch Royal Library in the Hague, we lightly brushed a soft, pure graphite stick over the surface in various patterns. The design of the bindings slowly began to emerge and as I worked the graphite stick from side to side, then diagonally and finally in circular motions, the finest details were picked up. Jan also demonstrated how to properly rub the spine of a binding and the proper way to label your rubbings.


    Now that I’m filled to the brim with bookbinding knowledge, I hope to take another trip to Rare Book School next year. If you have the opportunity to attend RBS, I highly recommend it, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in the slightest.

  4. Giveaway – Flash of the Hand Turns 2!!

    July 11, 2014 by Erin Fletcher


    Flash of the Hand turns 2 today! Working on this blog has brought me close to so many wonderful and talented bookbinders and artists. The comments and compliments I receive have been so thoughtful and encouraging. To show my appreciation to all of you wonderful supporters, I’m giving away 2 mini notebooks to 2 lucky winners.


    To be eligible to enter, all you need to do is comment on this post saying you did the following:
    - Like Herringbone Bindery on Facebook
    - Write a comment on any post in the blog (make sure to include the link to the post you commented on)
    - Subscribe to the blog

    Giveaway ends on July 18th (12:00am EST). Winners will be contacted via email, so don’t forget to include your email address.

    Thanks everyone! I’m looking forward to the next year of blogging.

  5. Rare Book School – Here I Come

    July 4, 2014 by Erin Fletcher


    After reading through 1,275 pages of content detailing the history of bookbinding, I’m ready for my week-long course at the Rare Book School. For the following week, I’ll be spending my days at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville filling my brain with even more detailed information on the history of bookbinding! RBS was founded by Terry Belanger in 1983 at Columbia University as an institute to support the study of the history of books and printing and related topics for scholars and professionals working in these fields. RBS was moved to the University of Virginia in 1992.

    I’ll be taking Introduction to the History of Bookbinding, which is a course that has been taught by Jan Storm van Leeuwen for over ten years. He is the retired Keeper of the Binding Collection at the Dutch Royal Library in The Hague. In his retired years, he continues to publish and lecture widely on the history of bookbinding. 

    While I’m in Virginia, the blog will be a bit quiet. Once I return to Boston, filled with greater bookbinding knowledge, you can look forward to a post about my experience at RBS.

  6. Artist: Lydia Hardwick

    July 3, 2014 by Erin Fletcher


    Lydia Hardwick is a ceramic artist sculpting objects that look very little like ceramic (which is my favorite type of ceramic work). She studied at the Royal College of London and has completed two residencies in Scotland and Germany. The former leading to a show later this year at the An Tobar Gallery.

    As another artist I discovered through Buy Some Damn Art, I wanted to feature her on my blog because her pieces inspire me to make some wild lacunose onlays. Her color choices are brilliant and the abstract shapes she creates are captivating in their organic and sometimes sickly qualities.

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  7. Artist: Megan Herwig

    July 1, 2014 by Erin Fletcher


    Megan Herwig is a graduate of the Montserrat College of Art, in addition to receiving a Master’s in Fine Art from the School of the Museum Fine Arts in Boston. I recently came upon her work on Buy Some Damn Art. Her magnificent buildings are made from various materials layered on top of screen prints. She uses paper, tape and fabric to build these architectural wonders.

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  8. Conservation Conversations // BEVA 371 film

    June 28, 2014 by Becky Koch

    One product we’ve started using in the studio on a regular basis is BEVA 371 film. BEVA is a type of liquid adhesive used mostly in paintings conservation, but it can also be purchased as a thin sheet of film used to back items to paper or board. BEVA is heat activated, is completely reversible with heat or solvents, and creates a strong, archival bond between papers.

    BEVA film comes as a sheet of Mylar, which the BEVA film itself is adhered to, and a sheet of release paper over that. The backing process occurs in two steps – first the release paper is removed and the object to be backed is placed on top of the thin layer of BEVA (which is still adhered to the Mylar at this point). Heat is then applied to activate the BEVA, you can use a tacking iron or if you’re lucky to have a heat/vacuum press like we do, that works ever better!

    These photos have been attached to the BEVA film but the Mylar backing hasn't been removed yet.

    These photos have been attached to the BEVA film but the Mylar backing hasn’t been removed yet.

    When the piece has cooled down you will have your object attached to a piece of Mylar. Now is the time to trim the BEVA so it is flush with the object – remember to cut out any interior areas where there are holes or losses. The Mylar can then be peeled away and the back of your object is covered with a thin layer of BEVA, like a sort of heat activated sticker. Place your BEVA-coated object on your backing paper or board and apply heat. And now you have a perfectly backed object!

    Removing the Mylar backing

    Removing the Mylar backing


    Now this couple is backed to acid free board

    I like BEVA a lot because it’s great for low-stress, no-mess backing. When backing things with Lascaux the adhesive gets a bit “gooey” with heat and things can shift slightly. When backing with paste you need to move quickly before it dries and even while using the most care a bubble can sneak in every once and awhile, not to mention that some objects can’t handle the moisture involved with a paste backing. BEVA isn’t time sensitive (you can start the backing process one day and finish it a week later), I haven’t noticed any “shifting” as of yet, and since it is a dry process there is no mess whatsoever.

    If you’re interested in learning more about how to use BEVA film, I recommend this page by Talas: Basic Instructions for using BEVA 371 Film

  9. Moving Images: Tharsis Sleeps

    June 27, 2014 by Erin Fletcher

    After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the british duo Throne, were given the funding to develop an embroidered music video for the song, Tharsis Sleeps. Taking inspiration from embroidered heavy metal patches, Nicos Livesey, imaged the possibility of animating them. A total of 3,000 embroidered scenes were assembled to create the video. If you missed the chance to purchase a frame from the Kickstarter campaign, you still have the opportunity here.

  10. My Hand // Amazing Dremel Workshop

    June 24, 2014 by Erin Fletcher


    In early May, I add the opportunity to take the Amazing Dremel Workshop with Jill Timm. I had seen her workshop being offered across the nation by various Guild chapters. Due to its popularity and my position as the Program Co-chair for the New England Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers, I brought Jill to teach her workshop at the Northeast Document Conservation Center.

    My interest in the class began when I received my Dzia’s old Dremel tool along with his collection of bits. I had never used a Dremel and wanted to get acquainted with its uses. As part of our material fee, we received a collection of bits neatly packed inside a wooden box. Jill introduced each type of bit by the material it was designed to carve into. We began by carving into glass using a series of diamond bits.


    After adding a flex-shaft to our Dremel, we continued working through our wooden box of new bits by carving out designs in wood, mirror, copper and steel plates. The flex-shaft screws onto the hand tool; it’s much easier to handle because the design is similar to a pencil or stylus.

    As Jill handed out the copper plates, she gave a demo on cutting the plate to create rounded corners using a cutting disc.


    On our second day, we began to experiment with polymer clay, ceramic and plexiglass. In addition to experimenting with the various Dremel bits, we learned how to clean our tools and keep them in good shape. Jill also introduced us to the many attachments for the Dremel tool, such as a router attachment or the drill stand giving one the ability to drill through glass and other materials.

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    Overall, the workshop was fantastic. I understand my Dremel tool better and feel comfortable working with it in the future. Perhaps I’ll be making a binding with etched glass covers or carved wooden boards, only time will tell.