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  When the book was originally made, large paper sheets were folded and trimmed into pages.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!

#AskAConservator Day: 11/4

November 4th is #AskAConservator day! TSLAC Conservator Sarah Norris will be available to answer your conservation and collections care questions.  Tweet us @TSLAC to learn more about conservation and how to care for your family history.

November 4 commemorates the catastrophic 1966 flood in Florence, Italy that damaged priceless cultural heritage.  The international response to this disaster marked the beginning of the modern era in conservation practice.

Have questions about preserving family photos?  Worried about newspaper clippings?  Curious about how we save books and documents here at TSLAC?  Tweet us @TSLAC #AskAConservator on 11/4 for answers!

Our Summer Intern at Work!

As summer closes, we say farewell to conservation intern Fenna Engelke.  Fenna has returned to the University of Amsterdam to continue her conservation studies.  She worked on some great projects at TSLAC.

Fenna at work in the lab.
Fenna at work in the lab.

Serial Set 461 offered a challenge in oversize paper treatment.  The fold-out map inside the volume had been previously re-folded incorrectly.  This was causing the book to bulge out of square, placing unnecessary stress on the sewing and joints.  The treatment goal was to mend the map and return the book to square. 

Before treatment, the book shows a large gap where the map was inserted.
Before treatment, the book shows a large gap where the map was inserted.

We had initially hoped we might separate the map and store it flat.  However, we soon learned that the map was too large for even our largest oversize drawers.  This meant the best plan was to re-fold the map and continue to store it in the book.  Fenna completed robust mends to withstand folded storage.  She showed flexibility in her treatment approach given changing parameters and real-world project constraints.

Reattaching the map in the book with the portable light table.
Reattaching the map in the book with the portable light table.

Fenna also worked on Civil War-era family correspondence from TSLAC’s Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, TX.  The letters were severely mold- and water-damaged.  They required spot mends for stabilization and rehousing in Mylar sleeves to improve handling. 

During treatment, mold-damaged leaves are carefully separated.
During treatment, mold-damaged leaves are carefully separated.

Fenna worked very carefully with the soft, damaged paper, separating leaves that had long been stuck together.  While no treatment can undo the damage left by the mold, these leaves are now stabilized and accessible to researchers for the first time in many years.

We thank Fenna for her great work over the summer and wish her the best in the new school year!

Welcome to Conservation Intern, Fenna Engelke

In July, TSLAC is excited to welcome our first summer conservation intern, Fenna Engelke.  Fenna is pursuing her master’s degree in conservation at the University of Amsterdam, and she brings to TSLAC her previous experience at the Harry Ransom Center and the Bullock Texas State History Museum.  Fenna has jumped right into our conservation workflow, mending torn leaves in an 1874 Texas Adjutant General’s report; and repairing an oversize map from an 1844 Congressional Serial Set volume.  Fenna will also be conducting a preservation survey on scrapbooks to help us better understand the condition of this challenging part of our collection.  Welcome, Fenna!

Fenna spot-tests media for water solubility on TSLAC’s Frontier Battalion muster rolls.
Fenna spot-tests media for water solubility on TSLAC’s Frontier Battalion muster rolls.

Conservation of Confederate Muster Rolls

In February, TSLAC Conservation observed a significant milestone: the completion of our long-running treatment project on our oversize Confederate Muster Rolls.

TSLAC’s Confederate Muster Roll collection documents vital information about Texans who enlisted to serve in the Civil War.  These documents hold great research interest for historians and genealogists.  They state the soldiers’ name, age, rank, and place of origin; sometimes they list items the soldiers brought into service, like guns and horses; and sometimes they include payroll information. 

At some time in the early-to-mid 20th century, these documents underwent a popular treatment called “silking.”  A thin piece of silk was adhered to both sides of each sheet to hold brittle, fragile pieces together.  Unfortunately, we now know that silk is acidic, and acid causes paper to turn even more brittle and brown than it might have originally.

Starting in 2010, we have taken approximately 15 muster roll sheets per month into the lab to remove the silking and deacidify the paper.  We also stabilize iron gall ink with a calcium phytate treatment.  Tears are mended and the sheets are sleeved for storage and handling.  This treatment prepares the documents for scanning and enables in-person access in the reading room, which was previously restricted due to the documents’ fragile condition.

As we move on to work on other materials, we commemorate the close of this major project!

A de-silked muster roll awaits mending.
A de-silked muster roll awaits mending.

Preserving Texas’ WWI History

As we approach the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I, April 6, 1917, TSLAC Conservation has worked with several WWI items.  The two WWI Memorial Posters for Sgt. James Young (1918) are part of the collection at the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, TX.  These halftone lithographic prints on machine-made, clay-coated paper appear to have been commercially produced with customizable text to honor a departed loved one.  The posters had significant tears previously repaired with pressure-sensitive tape.  During treatment, the tape was removed mechanically and with heat.  The acrylic-based adhesive was further reduced with a crepe eraser.  The exposed tears were then mended with thin strips of Japanese tissue and reversible wheat starch paste.  Light inpainting conceals abrasion at the tear site.

One of the WWI Memorial Posters for Sgt. James Young (1918,) after treatment. The center circle was likely left blank for attachment of a photograph.

One of the WWI Memorial Posters for Sgt. James Young (1918,) after treatment. The center circle was likely left blank for attachment of a photograph.

Reeducing adhesive from pressure-sensitive tape.

Reducing adhesive from pressure-sensitive tape.

Further preparation has taken place as part of TSLAC’s exhibit Texans Take to the Trenches: The Lone Star State and the Great War, opening April 3, 2017.  “A Message Calling for War with the Imperial German Government” (1917) is an oversize broadside declaring America’s entry into the war.  Measuring 61 x 47 cm, the broadside features black, red, and metallic gold ink on machine-made paper.  The primary challenge for this item was to support it during vertical display.  To achieve this, the item was fully encapsulated in archival plastic.  Stabilizer bars of acid-free, corrugated board were then attached at the head and tail of the packet.  The item will hang from nylon monofilament attached to the stabilizer bar.  Encapsulation is a fully reversible, archives-safe process that seals a plastic packet around a document on all sides.  It differs from lamination, a non-archival and often irreversible process, in which plastic is melted into a document.

“A Message Calling for War with the Imperial German Government” (1917,) encapsulated for exhibit.

“A Message Calling for War with the Imperial German Government” (1917,) encapsulated for exhibit.

Detail

Detail

The public is invited to TSLAC’s exhibit opening event on April 6, 2017.  The event will feature the reading of messages and stories from WWI soldiers and their families.  For more information: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/news/2017/trenches

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.

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.

Treating a 1950s TSLAC Scrapbook

Scrapbooks pose unique challenges in conservation. They often feature a wide variety of rapidly deteriorating modern materials and adhesives. Full treatment is typically difficult to justify among other priorities, so strategies of stabilization, digitization, and reformatting are often pursued.

TSLAC’s recent conservation work included an exceptional scrapbook, a 1950s-era volume that documents our own agency. This handmade book features correspondence and handouts of the era, along with special pages that highlight institutional departments and functions with photographs and whimsical construction paper cut-outs. The rubber cement used to adhere many of these attachments had failed. Fortunately, these pages had been previously stabilized in archival plastic sleeves to keep the pieces together.

This scrapbook was an unusually strong candidate for conservation for two reasons. First, a limited number of leaves involving a limited number of materials required intensive intervention. Second, the handmade item’s unique documentation of agency operations made it a rare artifact of special value to TSLAC.

During treatment, detached photographs and paper cut-outs were re-adhered with wheat starch paste. Placement was determined according to existing adhesive staining. Reconstructed pages were returned to their sleeves, and the full binding was housed in a new, oversize phase box for flat storage. Before and after photos offer a window into 1950s TSLAC operations and period design aesthetics.

Before: Legislative Reference

Before: Legislative Reference

After: Legislative Reference

After: Legislative Reference

Before: Reading Room

Before: Reading Room

After: Reading Room

After: Reading Room

Before: Archives

Before: Archives

After: Archives

After: Archives (note “Repair and Restoration,” lower right)

Before: Processing

Before: Processing

After: Processing

After: Processing

Senate Journal, 1789

A unique item came to the lab for treatment in April: The Journal of the First Session of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789.   Though federal documents are not uncommon in our collection, this book stands out for its age and historical significance.  The Senate’s first item of business is of special note:

Senate Journal 1789

“Whereby it appears, that GEORGE WASHINGTON, ESQ. Was unanimously elected PRESIDENT, – And JOHN ADAMS, ESQ. Was duly elected VICE PRESIDENT, OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”

This book had a common condition problem.  Its hinges were broken where they had been repeatedly flexed with use.  Rather than apply repair tissue over the top of the hinge, as is a common, quick working method, a more delicate approach was chosen.  The leather that covered the spine and boards was carefully lifted and repair tissue was adhered underneath.  This created a mend that was less visually intrusive.  A drop-spine box was also created.  This type of box is typical of special collections materials and helps signify the item’s stature to users.

Since much of TSLAC’s conservation work focuses on 19th century Texas materials, this early American item was a surprise and a treat.

Senate Journal 1789

The Senate Journal of 1789 and its drop-spine box, after treatment.