During a recent visit to my favorite used book store, the Brattle Book Shop, I stumbled across a book that I thought would make a great gift for a friend of mine, who will soon be moving out to Chicago to start work on a Ph.D. in astrophysics. In light of the skills I’ve learned this summer, I decided to offer my services in repairing the dust jacket. (The book itself was actually in good condition—it doesn’t even have loose hinges.) I only had a few scraps of Japanese tissue on hand (left over from what I didn’t use in class), and since there were a few other things on my wishlist, I placed an order with Talas.
There were several problems with the dust jacket, not the least of which was the paper itself. It was becoming brittle, and it had been taped in several locations by a previous owner.
I attempted removal of one of the pieces of tape with a microspatula (losing a bit of paper in the process), and it quickly became clear that it would not be a good idea to attempt this on the others. Two of the three pieces were on the blank side of the dust jacket, but there was one on the outer spine portion, and without using a solvent, I doubt there’s any way to remove this without also removing all of the information it’s covering. Since I have no knowledge of working with solvents and probably couldn’t use them safely at home anyway, I decided to focus on repairing the other torn portions and strengthening some weakened areas along the folds and edges.
The first task was making paste. I’d seen this demonstrated (with a microwave) in class, but that’s still not quite the same as doing it yourself. Talas sells pre-cooked wheat starch for only cents more than the uncooked variety, but I decided that having the practice making paste was worth my time, even if it might seem silly. It does make me wonder, though, why uncooked wheat starch is even sold, when the price difference is negligible. Is there a difference in the final product’s texture, hold, longevity, or reversibility? Do you have to use a lot more of it to get the same amount of paste? There has to be some difference, I’d think, otherwise why would anyone take the extra time? (Experienced bookbinders, conservators, and preservationists, please feel free to chime in.)
To cook the paste, I used these instructions from the NEDCC, except that I didn’t strain it (which we didn’t do in class either), and I only made a half batch, adjusting the cooking time to about 15 seconds per round:
Place one tablespoon of wheat starch in a microwave-safe container, add five tablespoons of distilled or deionized water, and place in a microwave oven. Microwave on a high setting for 20 to 30 seconds. Remove the paste and stir. Place back in the oven and microwave another 20 to 30 seconds. Remove and stir again. Continue this process several times until the paste is stiff and translucent. If larger quantities are made in the microwave oven, increase the cooking time between stirrings. Cool the paste before straining.
Once the paste was cooled, diluted, and worked (i.e., with a brush), I got started with the repairs. I’d purchased two sheets of white Japanese tissue from Talas, one heavy weight, one medium (tengujo [18 GSM] and sekishu [30 GSM], respectively). White wasn’t the ideal color for this project, but it seemed like the smartest purchase given my overall needs. I used the medium-weight tissue for a few of the repairs, but for those places where I was using the tissue in part to fill in gaps and where I thought the paper needed extra reinforcement, I used the heavy-weight tissue. We didn’t do anything exactly like this in my class, but logically that seemed like the best choice to me, since this is something that will be handled a lot and therefore needs to be pretty sturdy. I set each repair in a blotter paper and Reemay sandwich, and once they were dry I trimmed the edges with an Olfa knife.
This was my first time performing legitimate repairs on an item—i.e., on something that (1) belongs to someone else and (2) was not specifically damaged for the purpose of practicing repairs. The repairs would definitely look better with off-white tissue, but they’re functional, and it’s a nice feeling to be able to hand this off to my friend in better condition than it was before.