Paper repairs are a common conservation treatment and in the case of The Attributes of Christ several varieties of paper repair methods were used.
First, if there is any ‘scarfing’ on the tears – where the tear has formed an overlap between paper layers – the scarfing is joined back together with wheat starch paste. Wheat starch paste is regularly used in book and paper conservation – it provides a strong, flexible repair, and is ‘reversible’. Reversibility (or re-treatability) is a key factor to consider when repairing objects. A reversible treatment means that the repair can be removed safely in the future without any damage to object. This may happen if the repair is deemed unsuitable for an object and a better one can take its place or when a repair fails. As wheat starch paste is soluble in water, it can be easily removed. Originally used in Japan for scroll mounting, wheat starch paste is a strong adhesive that is cooked with water then sieved and diluted. It is transparent when dry, and provides a stable repair for a variety of materials in book and paper conservation.
To create stronger paper repairs, patches made from thin Japanese tissue are needled out in the rough size and shape of the repair, and brushed with diluted wheat starch. The repair is then placed onto the tear and rubbed down with a Teflon folder, left under non-woven polyester and blotter, and then weighed down to dry. On large tears, where the tension of a large patch of tissue may be problematic, tiny strips of tissue are cut to bridge the tear. This distributes the tension of the tissue on the tear as well as providing a strong repair.
The most obvious problem with these pages were the large missing areas – due to the fragility of the paper, a lot of it has fallen away and is lost. They were vulnerable to further damage so it was important these gaps were filled in.
As with paper repair, there are a few techniques for filling in holes in documents. I was introduced to a variation of the Schweidler ‘facsimile repair’ technique. Schweidler was a German restorer of prints and drawings in the 1940s/ 50s who would remove material from both the original and the repair paper along the edges so as to create an even surface when stuck together. We use a variation in conservation; it is important that we do not make our repairs completely invisible as this would be untruthful and deceptive, and removing original material is not considered ethical in modern practices. So while the basic principles of the Schweidler technique were used – matching the repair paper with the original by weight, colour and texture –only the edges of the repair paper were thinned down before being applied: chain and laid lines of the repair paper (ribbed lines from the wire mesh paper-mold in paper making) are matched up as closely as possible to the original with the aid of a light box. The area of loss is traced onto the repair paper and the shape cut out and edges thinned with a scalpel.
The back of the edges are then brushed with wheat starch paste and, using the trace lines, are aligned with the original repair and left under weights to dry. The repair is then trimmed. I am really happy with how the repairs look and they provide a strong repair that makes the pages safe to handle.
Despite missing a lot of the paper, I had managed to save a few fragments to puzzle back into the book. It is important to retain as much of the original as possible so I had to work hard to reunite the fragments.
As the fragments were damaged and had lost their original shape, this wasn’t a simple case of trying out different fragments until they fit, so I had to think of another solution. During previous research, I’d encountered a digitised version of The Attributes of Christ on Google Books from a collection in Madrid, which is in a more stable condition. I printed out screen grabs of some of the pages and was able to use them to match up fragments with their component parts.
Because of the extent of damage that The Attributes of Christ has suffered, paper repairs have taken around 50 hours (and counting!) to complete during the book’s full conservation.
Stay tuned for more updates in the future!
Natalie Ivicek ‘Fixing Torn Paper: Making Paste’ [Online] https://www.paperandbookrepair.com/single-post/Fixing-Torn-Paper-Making-Paste
Becky Koch ‘Conservation Conversations: Adhesives for Paper Mends’ [Online] http://www.herringbonebindery.com/blog/2015/08/28/adhesives-for-paper-mends-conservation-conversations/ 2015
Lee Meadowcroft ‘Is reversibility a valid conservation principle?’ [Online] http://www.leemeadowcroft.com/2015/03/is-reversibility-valid-conservation.html
Northeast Document Conservation Center ‘Conservation Procedures: 7.3 Repairing Paper Artifacts’ [Online] https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/7.-conservation-procedures/7.3-repairing-paper-artifacts
Katherine Sanderson ‘Making it Stick: Paste on Paper’, The Book and Paper Group Annual 26 (2007)
Max Schweidler (trans. Roy Perkinson) The Restoration of Engravings, Drawings, Books, and Other Works on Paper 2006 Getty Publications Los Angeles
The Attributes of Christ digitised by Google Books https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YceGiKgQPg0C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false