Sewing a Book

When visitors at TSLAC’s Summerlee Conservation Lab learn about conservation treatment, they often ask questions about sewing books.  Does sewing really hold a book together?  (Yes!)  Do you actually sew books by hand?  (Yes!)  The following is a quick introduction to sewing a book in a conservation treatment.

In many of the 19th- and 20th-century books at TSLAC, sewing is the primary way the pages are bound.  When the book was originally made, large paper sheets were folded and trimmed into pages.  The pages usually nest together in bundles, which bookbinders call sections.  The bookbinder used a needle and thread to sew through the folds in the sections, securing all the pages together in the right order.  After sewing, linings of paper, textile, or leather were adhered over the sewing to further strengthen the book’s spine.

Sewing is fundamental to a book, so today’s conservators leave it in place whenever possible.  But sometimes, a book is so damaged that it must be re-sewn.  When this happens, the first step is to remove the original sewing to separate the leaves.

Removing sewing thread from a book.
Removing sewing thread from a book.

It’s likely that some of the paper folds are damaged, so the conservator mends them with thin, flexible Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste.

Japanese tissue was adhered outside every fold to prepare this book for sewing.
Japanese tissue was adhered outside every fold to prepare this book for sewing.

Then, the conservator follows the original sewing pattern to re-sew the volume.  In the 19th century, binders began taking shortcuts to reduce time and materials in their work.  Today’s conservator will follow those original shortcuts, often sewing two or three sections at a time. 

Sewing a book.
Sewing a book.

Conservators use thread and other components that have a similar weight and thickness as the original sewing.  This helps the repaired volume to flex and move as intended.  It also helps the repaired volume to fit back into its original cover.

After lining, spine shaping, and covering, this book is ready to read.

After treatment.
After treatment.

P.S. – It’s been a wonderful 10 years writing this blog.  As I transition to a new position at the University of Texas School of Information, I look forward to reading new posts here in the future.  Stay tuned!

Tape Removal and the Archives War

TSLAC Conservation recently completed a challenging treatment on the House Journals of the Republic of Texas, 1842.  This volume features a rare, contemporaneous account of the Archives War, a colorful incident in Texas history with special significance to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

The volume’s pages have become unusually brown and fragile over time, likely a result of the materials used to make the paper.  Tape has been extensively applied on the many resulting cracks and tears.  This tape has caused further staining. Institutional goals for this treatment were to reduce tape staining only in the Archives War section, leaving other stains and paper issues for another day.  This established three major treatment challenges: 1) removing tape from very fragile paper; 2) working in situ, inside the bound volume; 3) avoiding tidelines and paper discoloration that would create a mismatch with the rest of the book.

Tape and staining on pp 262-263 before treatment.

Tape and staining on pp 262-263 before treatment.

Extensive testing was undertaken to devise a treatment method.  Testing focused on a variety of solvents, solvent mixtures, and application methods.  The final strategy for most of the tape was:

  1. Remove the plastic carrier by applying ethyl acetate with Tek Wipe fabric through the non-taped side of the paper;
  2. Soften the adhesive by applying ethyl acetate with cotton swabs, then gently remove it with a microspatula;
  3. Reduce the staining with ethyl acetate applied with a Fuller’s earth poultice, which slowly wicks discoloration out of the paper; 
  4. Mend with heat-set tissue.

Reducing staining with a Fuller’s earth poultice. Seen here, half the leaf detached after tape removal and had to be mended back in place.

Reducing staining with a Fuller’s earth poultice. Seen here, half the leaf detached after tape removal and had to be mended back in place.

Tek Wipe is a non-woven blend of cellulose and polyester used for cleaning, washing, and drying in conservation treatments.  It is more flexible than traditional blotter, so it follows the contours of the book’s pages and reduces the risk of tears.  Working with solvent in small areas over Tek Wipe minimized tidelines.  Other treatment strategies for occasionally-used tapes included applying water-based gel, heat, and mechanical action.

At last, the tape is gone!

Pp 262-263 after treatment.

Pp 262-263 after treatment.

From Staple Binding to Sewn Binding

TSLAC Conservation recently completed treatment on the Basic Electrician: Students’ Manual for All Arms.  This 1928 publication by the U.S. War Department introduced American soldiers to the foundations and skills of practical electrical repairs for arms used in the field.

This volume was found staple-bound, with no boards or spine covering, stored in an envelope.  The text was punched for an unknown type of binding device.  The first three leaves, including the title page, had detached and broken into fragments.  Reference staff obtained copies of these leaves from another institution, whose copy of the book was similarly staple-bound with no outer covering.

Book before treatment, staple-bound with damaged leaves.

Book before treatment, staple-bound with damaged leaves.

Top priority for this treatment was to affix the replacement leaves and stabilize the volume for shelf storage.  Since the staples were restricting the opening, risking future leaf breakage, we decided to remove the staples, sew the volume, and create a new case binding.  With no historical example for the sewing or binding style, we were free to choose methods that accommodated the text.

First, we made the copies of the damaged leaves into double-sided replacement pages with proper registration.  A historical look wasn’t possible for these leaves given the low contrast, black-and-white copies provided, but archival-quality Permalife paper was used for long-term stability.  The replacement leaves were hinged together, and the volume was punched and sewn using a supported link stitch on three tapes.  The volume was gently rounded and backed, and then cased into a new case covered with toned Japanese tissue.  The tissue gives a leather-like appearance to blend with other volumes in the collection.

Replacement title page bound into volume.

Replacement title page bound into volume.

This treatment mixes techniques typical of both circulating collections work (the replacement leaves) and special collections work (the rebind and the covering) to create an accessible volume with a historically viable appearance.

Book after treatment

Book after treatment

Repair Considerations for Sheepskin Leather

TSLAC Conservation frequently works on 19th-century federal and state volumes bound in sheepskin leather.  These volumes often develop similar condition issues: detached or damaged spine coverings and detached boards.  Aged sheepskin leather is uniquely prone to discolor when exposed to adhesives, even those that might normally be safe for use with other types of leather.

Conservators typically try to limit intervention as possible, but for these volumes, a fuller intervention offers many advantages.  Here, a fuller intervention involves removing and stabilizing the spine covering and boards, and rebuilding the underlying structure with archival paper and tissue.  This procedure solves a variety of common condition problems and allows losses to be discreetly filled beneath the leather with toned tissue.  Leather discoloration issues are minimized because adhesive need not be applied over the top of most of the leather.

This volume (during treatment) receives a fuller intervention, in which toned tissue can be applied underneath the sensitive leather.

This volume (during treatment) receives a fuller intervention, in which toned tissue can be applied underneath the sensitive leather.

Smaller repairs actually present a larger challenge.  For example, damage at the head or tail of the spine covering doesn’t warrant a fuller intervention, but it does pose many risks for leather discoloration.  TSLAC Conservation has in recent years used a 40-gram weight toned tissue pre-prepared in-house with Lascaux adhesive and applied with heat in order to work over the top of the sensitive sheepskin leather.  Heat application minimizes the leather discoloration that would likely appear with brush application, even though Lascaux is typically safer for leather.  The need for this level of caution demonstrates just how delicate sheepskin leather can become over time.

This volume (during treatment) undergoes fills and repairs over the top of the spine covering.

This volume (during treatment) undergoes fills and repairs over the top of the spine covering.

Conservation of Texas Supreme Court Dockets

TSLAC Conservation has recently been working on a collection of 89 19th century Texas Supreme Court dockets.  These volumes document state Supreme Court proceedings and are frequently accessed by staff and patrons. The large number of items requires a blend of collections conservation and single-item treatment strategies.  Prioritizing collections issues has quickly improved access while freeing subsequent time for single-item treatment.

Texas Supreme Court dockets (foreground.) The yellow color in these photographs comes from ultraviolet filtering in collections storage.

First, a preliminary survey was conducted to characterize the oversize ledgers and classify them by severity of condition issues.  Then, collections stabilization procedures were streamlined to take place primarily within collections storage.  Once this is complete, severely damaged items will be targeted for full treatment in the conservation lab.  This workflow has enabled efficient treatment of the greatest number of items and flexible accommodation of other ongoing lab projects.

The project has presented several challenges.  The time-intensive demands of conservation documentation must be balanced with the pace of work required in a collections-level project.  This highlights the tension between product and process in an archives setting.  Further, efficiency-minded, single-item treatment techniques must be developed for oversize account books. TSLAC Conservation hopes to discuss the project’s challenges, techniques, and successes at the 2017 American Institute of Conservation annual meeting next year.

Binding with Stubs

Periodically, TSLAC Conservation receives a volume for evaluation that looks something like this:

Executive Documents of the House of Representatives, First Session, 52nd Congress, 1890

Executive Documents of the House of Representatives, First Session, 52nd Congress, 1890

This book presents an example of a binding with stubs. This example is unusually large, but its design serves an important purpose. When a book contains fold-out maps, the maps attach to the binding with a single paper hinge at the spine. However, the folded map creates much more bulk than the hinge. Many bound, folded maps can create a book that is thicker on one side than the other. The resulting book is not square; in storage, uneven pressure will cause the boards to detach and the sewing to break.

To compensate for this problem, a binder can create a series of paper or board stubs between each map hinge to bulk up the spine. These stubs keep the book in square and reduce the risk of future damage. Higher-quality modern scrapbooks also feature similar bulking devices at the spine to accommodate photographs, clippings, and other ephemera.

Stubbed bindings such as the one pictured above are sometimes flagged for conservation treatment simply because of their unusual appearance. Actually, their structure is a promising indication that the binder planned ahead with the book’s longevity in mind. The book pictured above has no major structural issues, despite its size. The visible damage to the spine covering is primarily cosmetic rather than structural.

One possible conservation challenge for this type of book pertains to the maps inside rather than the binding. Repeatedly opening and re-folding these maps will cause tears over time, especially in brittle paper. In a high-use volume, a conservator might consider removing and flattening the maps for safer access. This decision would balance researcher access with the rarity, condition, and artifactual value of the binding.

Our Indian Summer in the Far West

TSLAC Conservation recently completed treatment on a fascinating travelogue, Our Indian Summer in the Far West. Published in 1880, this book chronicles the adventures of a British family on holiday in Texas and the western United States. The volume highlights two central questions in conservation treatment:

  1. How do we justify major treatment?
  2. When is it acceptable to make a major structural change?

Our Indian Summer is visually striking, with the decorative textile and gold-stamped designs typical of a publisher’s binding. It is exceptionally illustrated with 62 original albumen photographs! The original photographs, the item’s unique nature, and researcher interest justified the time required for major treatment.

The volume is illustrated throughout with original albumen photographs.

The volume is illustrated throughout with original albumen photographs.

Unfortunately, the book had serious condition problems, partly resulting from previous rebinding. Many of its pages had cracked and detached. The title page featured a poor-condition Photostat reproduction, and the endsheets were made of acidic, brown kraft paper. It was unclear how much of the book’s original structure remained as a template for the conservation treatment. Accordingly, other copies were studied at the University of Texas Briscoe Center for American History and Baylor University.

Before treatment: restrictive sewing caused pages to crack and detach.

Before treatment: restrictive sewing caused pages to crack and detach.

After treatment: repaired and resewn leaves.

After treatment: repaired and resewn leaves.

From early observations, we presumed that non-original, restrictive side-sewing had caused the pages to crack and detach. However, the same sewing and cracking was observed in the comparison volumes. This indicated that the problematic sewing was likely original. The damaging nature of the original sewing justified making a major structural change: choosing a new sewing pattern.

Before treatment, remaining pages were detached and the volume was scanned for digital access. Then, every page fold in the book was reconstructed with flexible, toned Japanese tissue to allow non-destructive opening. The book was re-sewn through the reconstructed folds on three support cords. Additional steps added bulk to the sewing in order to yield a stable, square book. These steps included using thick thread (12/3), using packed sewing (with extra loops for bulk), and sewing on a thick paper support called a concertina guard.

Sewing on concertina guard.

Sewing on concertina guard

The Photostat title page was replaced with a color image from the University of Texas volume, printed on dove grey endsheet paper. Toned, canary yellow endsheets, as observed in the comparison volumes, replaced the rough kraft paper. Finally, the text was returned to its original case.

After treatment, structural modification has allowed the volume to function as a book again. The original albumen photographs are secured from ongoing damage and will also be available digitally for future researchers.

Volume after treatment.

Volume after treatment.

Thanks: Amie Oliver, Librarian/Curator of Print Materials, Texas Collection, Baylor University; Suzanne Holman, TSLAC Graphics Designer (title page reproduction.)

 

A Historical Book-like Box

The phase box is a standard conservation housing that provides physical and environmental protection. In June, TSLAC Conservation modified a phase box to approximate an original protective structure.

House Documents v.112, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903-04 is a collection of soil maps published by the US Government Printing Office (GPO.) Rather than bind the maps into an atlas structure, GPO chose instead to box them as loose, folded leaves. Unique care was then taken to make the box look like a book:

House Documents v 112, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903-1904

The box’s outer wrapper was covered in brown sheep leather. Spine labels are consistent with the look of GPO bindings.

House Documents v 112, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903-1904

The box’s inner wrapper featured textile hinges and a printed map list.

It seems likely that this unusual structure originally protected the folded maps on its top and bottom, but these components are now missing. The back, covered board is missing, as well.

These maps receive relatively light patron use, so it was acceptable to leave them folded and boxed rather than flattened in a folder. Though the quickest treatment would be simply creating a new box, a bit of extra planning and time allowed preservation of the original housing’s careful aesthetic design.

First, a new inner wrapper was constructed of lightweight cardstock. The list of maps was lifted from the original inner wrapper and adhered in the same position in the new structure. Then, an outer phase box was constructed and the covering boards adhered. A new back board was made and covered in toned Japanese tissue.

House Documents v 112, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903-1904

Existing and new boards are adhered to the flattened phase box. Here, the replacement board has not yet been toned to match the leather.

The result is a more robustly protective structure that retains the look and labeling of the original. This box better protects the maps inside and retains its unusual, carefully-designed appearance.

House Documents v 112, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, 1903-1904

New phase box with covering boards.

Conservation Treatment of an Oversize Ledger Binding with Canvas Cover

Canvas covers protect many oversize ledger bindings in TSLAC’s collection. Like modern paper covers for children’s textbooks, canvas covers were meant to safeguard government records through years of heavy use. Unlike modern paper covers, canvas covers are original to their bindings. They feature leather corners and decorative paper doublures (seen when the book opens) that match the volume.

General Index to Court of Criminal Appeals, 1919-1947 (19 3/4” x 16” x 4”) with damaged canvas cover.

General Index to Court of Criminal Appeals, 1919-1947 (19 3/4” x 16” x 4”) with damaged canvas cover.

Inside the book, the canvas cover is backed with stiff card. Leather corners, decorative paper, and manufacturer’s labels on the cover match the original binding.

Inside the book, the canvas cover is backed with stiff card. Leather corners, decorative paper, and manufacturer’s labels on the cover match the original binding.

Today, tattered canvas covers present a conservation conundrum. Is the cover simply a disposable protective layer at the end of its useful life? Or is it an inherent part of the binding that should be preserved? Given the abundance of government ledger bindings, can full treatment be justified and time-efficient?

These questions shaped treatment of the General Index to Court of Criminal Appeals, 1919-1947. Frequent use of this 40 lb+ book had left its canvas cover frayed and torn, with large losses at its edges and all along its spine. An ideal treatment would preserve legibility of labeling on the canvas cover and the exposed book’s spine for the use of reading room staff.

A treatment was designed to retain and stabilize the canvas cover. First, losses were filled with toned muslin. In order to achieve reversibility and prevent adhesive strike-through, heat-set tissue was applied beneath the torn edges of the canvas. Shaped, toned muslin patches were then adhered with PVA to bridge canvas losses.

Inserting toned muslin fills beneath canvas backed with heat-set tissue.

IInserting toned muslin fills beneath canvas backed with heat-set tissue.

Repairs to the spine leather were completed with linen-backed toned tissue. Then, the remaining segments of canvas cover were secured to the binding using a modified reback treatment. A reback is a common spine repair method in circulating collections. Since our canvas spine cover was missing, the remaining canvas cover was rebacked to the book’s original spine covering. This involved lifting material in the book’s hinges, adhering the loose canvas on the board’s inner edge with reversible Lascaux, and reattaching the original covering material.

Preparing hinge region to “reback” the remaining canvas cover to the book’s exposed spine covering.

Preparing hinge region to “reback” the remaining canvas cover to the book’s exposed spine covering.

In creating a hybrid structure of canvas cover and original binding, this treatment acknowledges both elements as integral parts of the volume. The treatment is aesthetically tidy, stabilizes the volume for ongoing use, and remains reversible with heat and solvent. The treatment required approximately 10 hours to complete, which is not unrealistic for other, prioritized volumes with similar condition issues.

Future versions of this treatment might revisit the use of heat-set tissue, which may prove to be somewhat too reversible in this application. In place of heat-set, inconspicuous sewing could improve durability while maintaining reversibility and aesthetic compatibility. However, sewing would be complicated by the inability to turn the cover inside out. TSLAC Conservation welcomes thoughts and discussion about this treatment.

Before treatment

Before treatment

After treatment

Before treatment

Before treatment

After treatment

Conservation Treatment of the Travis Bible

In preparation for our upcoming exhibit of treasured Texas icons, TSLAC Conservation completed treatment on the Travis Bible. This 1823 Bible may have been with Commander William Travis during the siege on the Alamo. At some past time, the Travis Bible sustained significant water damage, which caused its pages to swell. Major components of the outer binding had broken to accommodate the extra thickness of the paper.

One treatment goal was to stabilize the Bible’s spine and broken hinges with new leather. This process requires significant preparation, as the repair leather must first be dyed, burnished, and pared to match the binding. The leather was then shaped to the spine and adhered under the original leather on the boards, or covers. Stylistic elements of the headcaps and joints were fashioned according to typical 19th century binding aesthetics. Finally, the original spine covering was re-adhered.

Dyeing repair leather

Dyeing repair leather

Reattaching boards

Reattaching boards

A second goal was to stabilize eight silked leaves. Silking is a previous preservation strategy that reinforced fragile paper with a thin silk lining. Today, we know that silk’s acidity hastens paper’s degradation, and modern conservators instead work with pH-neutral Japanese tissue. During this treatment, the silk was removed and the leaves were mended with tissue as needed. However, three leaves of hand-written family history were especially brittle. Their ongoing use in the binding risked further chipping and loss. These leaves were removed, washed, desilked, deacidified, and housed in window mats. A custom enclosure was then created for the Bible and its removed components.

 

Silked leaves removed from binding

Silked leaves removed from binding

De-silked leaf in window mat

De-silked leaf in window mat

The Travis Bible and other treasures will be on exhibit beginning January 27. Travis’ famous “Victory or Death” letter from the Alamo joins the exhibit February 23. A few before and after images summarize the Bible’s conservation treatment:

Before

After

Before

After