Last thursday, after spending the last few weeks organising the exhibition (still up untill the 19th of December!) I finally could go back to my bench and do some practical conservation work! I was pretty much ready to re-back a 1636 book, a full leather binding with broken joints.
The work I have carried out on that book mainly consisted of repairs to the sewing structure by excavating the old tanned supports (with scalpel blades, tweezers and magnifier) and inserting new seaming twines to pack the existing sewing and replace the old broken supports. Once that was done I had to consolidate the original sewing thread with gelatine adhesive. I pulled through the new supports underneath the original supports still laced into the boards so that the repair was not visible.
The text-book spine was lined with japanese paper and the new leather spine was paired around the head, tail, along the edges and the joints (just a little not to weaken the new repair)! I wanted to try a new technique, something different to the re-backs I had done before using a band-nippers. I saw some of my colleagues in the studio using this old technique (Nicholas Pickwood introduced it to the Derry studio) which consists in placing the book spine up on a board and using a thin cord (seaming twine) tied around the bands to define them as the leather and the adhesive dries.
First thing to do was to humidify the new leather before the adhesive could be pasted down, let it soak and then paste it again with Canadian wheat starch. My book was placed in a finishing press and my new leather placed on the spine. At this stage I needed to work the leather very well to make sure it would adhere all over the spine, avoiding any air bubbles, and giving good definition to the bands. Once that was done, the book could be removed to allow work on the caps and give it the shape I wanted, always using a teflon folder and teflon spatula to avoid marking the leather.
Once the caps where to desired shape I had to wrap the textbook in bandage to keep it firmly closed. I then placed the book, spine up, with addition of a support for the foredge, on the specially designed board, ready for the final touches! The book was then tied up with twine going around the bands to create a recess and shape the leather. Always keep in mind that if the twine needs to be tightened, small pieces of boards can be twisted around to cords.
The following day, the twine could be untwisted and the binding opened careful, with application of water on the joints to prevent any cracks in the leather.