Beauty of the East – Making an Indo-Persian binding

Once you have been to Montefiascone, an Italian town in the province of Viterbo north of Rome, it is hard not to wish to go back again. Overlooking Lake Bolsena and perfectly located in Lazio, close to Tuscany and Umbria, Montefiascone is home to the Montefiascone Conservation Project. Set in the Seminario Barbarigo, the project was founded over 25 years ago by Cheryl Porter, who is now director of the Project. each year conservators, curators, art historians, bookbinders and enthusiasts from all over the world gather to take part in four courses related to the history of the book.

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View from the Seminary in Montefiascone.

This year I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a five-day course about Indo-Persian bindings, taught by Kristine Rose-Beers, with the assistance of Julia Poirier. Pursuing my wish to develop my career and gain more knowledge about non-Western bindings, the class was based on a  model of Chester Beatty manuscript Is 1550, a 17th century Indian Qur’an.

CBL Is 1550

Chester Beatty Is 1550

This year I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a five-day course about Indo-Persian bindings, taught by Kristine Rose-Beers, with the assistance of Julia Poirier. Pursuing my wish to develop my career and gain more knowledge about non-Western bindings, the class was based on a  model of Chester Beatty manuscript Is 1550, a 17th century Indian Qur’an.

The course was introduced by a lecture given by Dr Alison Ohta, Director of the Royal Asiatic Society in London. Alison guided us through a journey in bookbinding history, starting from Persia and moving to India, placing our manuscript in its historical context. Afterwards, Kristine took the lead and presented CBL Is 1550, to outline the specific characteristics of books bound on the Indian Subcontinent between 1500-1700. The study of these bindings is still in its initial stages, but Kristine shared her on-going research with us.

The practical part of the course focused on making a reconstruction of a traditional Indo-Persian binding structure, based on CBL Is 1550. Starting with a prepared textblock of 20 quires, the book was first sewn using silk coloured thread, following an all-along sewing pattern over leather thongs.

The spine was then reinforced with a textile lining, covering the full length of the spine.  Islamic-style endbands were sewn over thin leather cores, using metallic threads for the decorative secondary endband alongside silk coloured thread. 

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The prepared boards, flap and foredge pieces were then cut to size, perfectly matching the textblock. Traditionally, pasteboards were often made from reused manuscript materials, layered until reaching the desired thickness. Leather for the cover was then prepared. We covered our boards in two pieces: one for the upper board, and a second for the lower board, the foredge piece and the envelope flap.

Indo-Persian binding-09-laminated boards in pressHowever, before attaching the boards to the textblock, the leather needed to be tooled.  The tools used for this model are an exact replica of the tooling used on CBL Is 1550, and were beautifully crafted by Kevin Noakes. Taking advantage of the moisture in the leather immediately after covering, one square tool is repeatedly pressed in to the leather covers and envelope flap, creating delicate arabesques and almond shaped medallions. The foredge piece was decorated using a separate rectangular tool with a flower pattern.

Once tooled, our leather could then be pared, turned-in, and the covers attached to the textblock. When the boards are attached to the book an overlap is created on the spine where the two layers of leather are adhered, one on top of the other.

Precision is key to achieving a perfect and functional binding. Traditionally, the leather used for these books was worked until it was paper-thin; turn-ins and overlaps were made invisible thanks to the bookbinder’s craftsmanship.

Indo-Persian binding-34-final decoration-KRBThe board attachment was completed by adhering the spine lining and sewing supports to the inner part of the boards. After preparing and adhering colourful doublures, the last and perhaps best part of the binding could be carried out: covering our books with gold! Unfortunately, we had to resign ourselves to using fake gold, for ease and financial reasons. Nevertheless, combining painting and stippling techniques, the precious “metal” was not spared on our bindings. “Make it shine” seemed to be the only rule!

Montefiascone has again reached its goal: I learnt a lot about Indo-Persian bindings; I met professionals from abroad and caught up with old friends; all whilst enjoying wonderful discussions about bookbinding and practicing my skills. What else is left to say? Only see you again soon I hope, Montefiascone!

I wish to thank Cheryl Porter, Kristine Rose-Beers, Julia Poirier and Dr Alison Ohta for making this course come to life. I am grateful to the Institute of Conservator-Restorers in Ireland ICRI for their contribution to the funding of this course, which made my attendance possible.

Indo-Persian binding-35-completed binding-KRBCécilia Mathieu, former Heritage Council Intern in Conservation (2016-17)



La Dolce Vita

Continued professional development (CPD) is very important when you are working as a book conservator, because there is always something to learn! Whether it’s a type of binding, a technique that you haven’t come across at an earlier date, or the chance to meet fellow conservators. If you are an accredited conservator working in Ireland, CPD is a significant activity used to maintain your accredited status. This summer both Julia Poirier and Dorothea Müller had the opportunity to undertake training at the Montefiascone Conservation Project in Italy, as part of their CPD. The Project was originally conceived in order to raise money to save the virtually derelict late medieval library of Cardinal Barbarigo and, thanks to the tireless work of Project Director Cheryl Porter, it has now been running for over 25 years.

31st July- 4th August, Dorothea’s experience:

In the first week of August I attended the course titled An Italian fifteenth century binding. The course tutors were Jim Bloxam and Shaun Thompson from the Conservation and Collection Care Department at Cambridge University Library and Dr. Alison Ohta, director of the Royal Asiatic Society in London.


The upper board (left), and lower board (right) of the finished model.

During the course we recreated the binding of Manuscript CUL Add. 8445, a copy of Cicero’s Topica (circa 1480) from the collection of Cambridge University Library. It has a contemporary binding with interesting structural features, including a covering of leather over beech boards. The binding has the addition of intricate blind and gold tooling, showing the influence of Near and Middle Eastern bindings.

Working in the beautiful Montefiascone Seminary we sewed our textblock on split alum-tawed calfskin supports with a packed straight sewing. Next we created our endbands with a core also made of tawed calfskin. The wooden boards were shaped into a cushion form and recesses were made for the sewing supports and the strap attachment. We attached the boards by gluing the sewing and endband supports down and fastening them with brass nails.


Sewing of the textblock on a travel sewing frame made with two clamps and a metal rod; and the sewn textblock with attached beech boards.

The book was fully covered in leather goatskin, with a strap made out of the same leather but with a parchment centre. The leather above the headband was tucked in to form an endcap and the spine was left hollow.

To save time on this busy course, the tooling for the central decoration was done with a single brass plate rather than individual tools so that we could instead concentrate on painting it with lapis lazuli and shell gold diluted in gum Arabic and water in equal parts. We then added the border, which was cold tooled using two hand tools, a bar and an arc. The border was framed with double lines made using a small bone folder. For the spine we used a fillet with double lines in a geometric pattern. The foredge clasp was made of brass and was trimmed to shape and rolled by hand before finally being fitted to the book once the tooling was complete.


Polishing the brass clasp; and tooling the leather using a template and two hand tools- one arc, and one bar.

The workshop further developed my skills in bookbinding, as the complex binding combined so many different techniques, including wood and metal work, hot and cold tooling, and painting on leather.  Apart from the practical work, the presentations given during the theoretical part of the course also provided participants with a lot of background information about this particular kind of binding which will certainly be of use as I return to the studio.

2017 Montefiascone Week II Italian 15th-c. Binding Ohta Bloxam Thompson class photo copy 2

Participants and teachers at the end of a successful week.

The Montefiascone Conservation Project provides an excellent place to learn more about historic bindings, while also helping to preserve a local book collection. I am grateful to ICRI for the funding which made my attendance possible. It was a brilliant experience and I would love to come back to the Summer School in the following years!

14th– 18th August, Julia’s experience:

I was extremely lucky to attend the final week of the 2017 Montefiascone Conservation Project, and took part in the workshop taught by Marco di Bella and Nikolas Sarris, on the Ethiopic binding structure and a conservation variation, which they devised.


The finished Ethiopian conservation structure, and parchment satchel.

While working in Ethiopia on the Ethio-SPaRe project with Hamburg University, Marco and Nikolas have observed and recorded many characteristics of the Ethiopian binding structure, some of which they adapted and re-used for the conservation of a large Ethiopian manuscript from the church of ʿrom Qirqos (UM-018). They have found these adaptations to be historically accurate and yet structurally suitable for the conservation of this material.

During the week-long workshop we made two book models. One was a historical model, using known and characteristic features of Ethiopian bindings and the second one was an adapted conservation structure. We also got to make a traditional parchment satchel for one of the models.


Covering a model of a traditional Ethiopian binding; and the class at work in the Seminary.

Needless to say, we were kept busy and many an afternoon was spent in the lovely, high ceiling room at the Seminary, overlooking the Italian hills on one side and the old crumbling village on the other. Both the teachers were very knowledgeable and keen to share and demonstrate each step of the process; the overall atmosphere in the classroom was serene and this made for a very pleasant experience.

I particularly loved preparing the leather endbands and sewing them onto the textblock. The blind tooling we added was done using real Ethiopian tools. The tutors bought them in a market in Ethiopia dedicated to all things book related. What a wonderful sight it must have been!


Attaching endbands; and tooling the model using real Ethiopian hand tools.

Although a lovely and fun experience, this workshop was a prime example of how re-creating and understanding the functionality of a traditional book structure has a direct link to contemporary conservation practices which informs our work on historical bindings.


Sewing the conservation structure with four needles!

I learned a great deal in those five days and could not recommend attending the Montefiascone summer school enough. The Chester Beatty Library is the custodian of a large number of Ethiopian manuscripts and, whilst the large majority of them are in stable condition, being more familiar with their structure will help us to assess their preservation needs more sensitively in the future.

Dorothea Müller & Julia Poirier


Reflections on links between Conservation in Dublin and Tokyo

While preparing for the current exhibition on display in our temporary gallery, The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints (3 March– 27 August 2017), and the supporting gallery rotation in our permanent galleries, I was drawn back to my experience as a participant at the ICCROM Japanese Paper Conservation programme in 2015.

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CBL J 1154 on display in the Arts of the Book gallery

One of the painted handscrolls, Poetry Contest of the Zodiac Animals (Junirui uta awase emaki) CBL J 1154, was selected for display and installed in the permanent galleries to support the current print exhibition which focuses on Japan’s poetry circles. Between 1994 and 1995, the mid-17th century scroll was conserved at the Handa Kyūseidō Studio, Tokyo National Museum, courtesy of the Hirayama Art Research Foundation. Although having been conserved nearly 20 years ago, the scroll is still in perfect condition.


CBL J 1154 before (left) and after conservation (centre & right) by the Handa Kyūseidō Studio.

As I was installing this beautiful scroll, I remembered with great delight my extra curricula visit to the Handa Kyūseidō conservation studio in September 2015. Set in a peaceful neighbourhood of Tokyo, I was given a comprehensive tour of the traditional conservation studio by Ikuko Handa, the head of conservation at the studio, and Makoto Kawabata, senior calligraphy and archive conservator at the studio and my course tutor.


Makoto Kawabata, senior calligraphy and archive conservator and IICROM course tutor, demonstrating use of the karibari.

The visit was organised thanks to Keiko Furumoto. Keiko was the first Heritage Council conservation intern at the National Library of Ireland in 2007 and she has been working at the Handa Kyūseidō studio since returning to Japan. Since completing her internship, she has regularly returned to Ireland and made one of these visits in early April 2015 – around the same time I found out I had been accepted for the JPC course- so we kept in touch regarding a possible visit to her workplace in Tokyo.

The Handa Kyūseidō studio is set-up across 3 separate floors. The ground floor is a reception and digitisation area, the first floor is dedicated to the conservation of painted hanging scrolls, hand-scrolls and folding screens and the second floor to archive (historical documents), calligraphy and book conservation. Although it is located in a modern building, the studio is everything one would expect from a traditional Japanese conservation studio: low work tables, tatami mats, paste bowls and sieves, drawers full of Japanese repair papers and of course, karibari boards of all sizes lining the walls!


Julia preparing a handscroll at the ICCROM JPC course (left), and a traditional paste bowl and brushes (right).

It was a wonderful opportunity for the Chester Beatty to reconnect with the prestigious studio, as during the 1990’s the Handa Kyūseidō Studio was also responsible for the restoration of one of the great treasures of the Library, a pair of Japanese picture scrolls entitled Illustrated Scroll of the Song of Everlasting Sorrow (Chōgonka gakan) CBL J 1158 and the beautiful hanging scroll on silk Portrait of the Bodhisattva Jizō (Jizō zō) CBL J 1214.

The funding for this conservation treatment was provided by the Joint Council for the Conservation and Restoration of Ancient Japanese Art Works in Foreign Collections, a council made up of The Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, the Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties and the Art Research Foundation and supported by the Tokyo National Museum.


Participants of the ICCROM JPC 2015 course in Kyoto.

I am very grateful to Head of Conservation, Ikuko Handa for her kindness and generosity in facilitating my visit, and my tutor Makoto Kawabata for showing me his work outside of the ICCROM JPC course setting. I am also grateful to Keiko Furumoto for acting as a wonderful tour guide and translator during my visit.

Julia Poirier,  Book and Paper Conservator

Shared experiences in Copenhagen

In April, I had the chance to fly to Denmark to be part of the 16th International Seminar on the Care and conservation of manuscripts, which was held in Copenhagen from the 13th to the 15th of April, 2016. It took place in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Copenhagen. During the three days of the conference various topics were debated, from preservation and conservation case studies, to digital imaging and bookbinding history.


The Faculty of Humanities, Copenhagen University.

The quality of presentations was very high, and it was difficult to choose a favourite. Going through my notes, I selected the ones that particularly raised my interest; Michaelle Biddle’s talk about her work in Nigeria, and Marco di Bella and Nikolas Sarris’ presentation about the conservation challenges they faced in Ethiopia were both fascinating. Their creativity carrying out conservation treatments in a less than ideal environment was admirable.

Bookbinding history was well illustrated by Frederick Bearman’s talk on laced overband bindings, and Abigail Quandt’s research on purple-dyed parchment manuscripts. I also learned a lot about digitisation and its possibilities for conservation purposes through, Alberto Campagnolo’s presentation. He demonstrated his PhD research in creating a digital model of the collation of bookbindings. Multi-spectral imaging was also discussed in Michael Toth’s presentation and demonstration.

Care and Conservation of Ms Copenhagen-April2016-05

Marco di Bella and Nikolas Sarris’ presentation,“The conservation of a 15th-century large parchment ms of Gädlä säma ‘tat from the monastery of Ura Mäsqäl: Further conservation experiences from Easty Tigray, Ethiopia.”

Finally, I greatly enjoyed Matthew Collins talk about the York biomolecular study of parchment. Using a non-invasive rubbing technique, the York laboratories have managed to extract DNA from old parchment, therefore enabling the study of the animals (such as their species, age, size, etc.) used to create writing supports.

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Presenting my paper with prof. Lieve Watteeuw, “Sewing threads in hand-made West European bookbinding: Historical sources, imaging and analytical assessment (12th– 19th century).”

On the final day of the conference, I also had the privilege to present my MA research project in collaboration with Professor Lieve Watteeuw (KU Leuven, Faculty of Arts, Illuminare – Centre for the Study of Medieval Art). Our presentation, “Sewing threads in hand-made Western European bookbinding: Historical sources, imaging and analytical assessment (12th -19th century)”. It was a wonderful experience and I was delighted to be able to share the results of my MA research with the audience, a subject you can read more about in my previous blog post here).

Attending the conference was also an amazing opportunity to meet other professionals in the field and to discuss conservation! Finally, on the last day of my trip, I even had a few hours to discover how beautiful Copenhagen is.copenhagenThe conference was a huge success, with approximately 220 participants from all around the world. I hope I will have the chance to go back to Copenhagen soon, and attend the next “Care and conservation of manuscripts” conference in April 2018.

Cécilia Duminuco, Heritage Council Intern.

Julia’s journey to Japan

In March this year I applied for the ICCROM and NRICPT Japanese Paper Conservation course, which has been held for the past 20 years. I was overjoyed when I found I had been selected as one of the ten students from around the world to attend the course in Tokyo. Reading the accounts of past participants online including Elizabeth Hepher and Emma LeCornu, I was intrigued by how useful and practical their experiences had been. The amazing programme is relevant to anyone preserving and caring for a collection such as the Chester Beatty Library.


Participants watching a demonstration, and Julia enjoying the first days of the course.

The Japanese Paper Conservation course is known amongst paper conservators internationally as one of the best opportunities available to learn traditional Japanese conservation techniques and the proper use of Japanese tools and papers. It is exceptionally well organised and has been refined over the years to give participants a truly amazing learning experience.The main practical component of the course was the opportunity to make a hand scroll (makimono) from start to finish. Each step of the process was carefully demonstrated by the teachers (Senior Conservator Makoto Kawabata, Chief Conservators Atsushi Ogasawara and Keigo Hotta).


Tutors of the course, Atsushi Ogasawara and Makoto Kawabata, with our translator Michiko Matsubara.


Atsushi Ogasawara using a Uchibake pounding brush.

The two honshi (main art works) selected by the organisers to make our model scrolls were printed pages from the famous Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (an anthology of 100 poems by 100 poets). To mount them in a scroll format we attached three different linings to the honshi before joining them together. We did the same on the tail paper which attached to the honshi and later attached to a bamboo roller. An indigo-dyed cover was attached to protect the scroll and tied around it with a silk plaited ribbon. Each step is crucial to making the hand scroll. The use of lining papers with their different properties and different glues (aged paste furu-nori or fresh paste shi-nori) was essential to understanding the construction process of these objects and therefore their deterioration. Furu-nori has a weak adhesion power, however it is commonly used in scroll construction because of the flexibility it imparts to the lined paper. Careful pounding of the paper with uchibake is required after using the furu-nori to help the bond between the papers.

Having spent a week at the Restorient studio in Leiden in August 2013, I was familiar with the low tables Japanese conservators work on, the lining technique using the hikkake bamboo stick and some of the tools that we used during the practical work in Tokyo such as the karibari drying board. However, watching the elegance, the grace and most importantly the precision that went into the tutors’ every movement at each step of the process helped consolidate and deepen my knowledge of the Japanese approach to conservation. It was really special being able to enjoy all the demonstrations executed before us and have each of the processes broken down and explained in detail by masters in the field. I now have a far better understanding of the construction of these complex structures.


Preparing to attach the indigo-dyed cover, and the finished scroll.

The respect the Japanese have for their material is obvious and I have also learned a great deal about caring for the tools that surround us daily. Cleaning and taking care of brushes (bake) and paste bowls (noribon), using the spatula against the sieve the correct way to avoid widening the fine horse hair structure when sieving the paste, cooking paste and sharpening knives, all need great care and patience.


A nadebake brush and roll of the coarse hemp bristles it is made from.

On the penultimate day of the course the Tanaka brush makers gave us an in-depth lecture on Japanese hake brushes used in conservation, the specifics of each type of hair (goat, deer, horse, badger and many others!) and how to take care of them properly.

It takes ten years of training to become a conservator in Japan so I am far from being an expert after my three weeks on this course, but it will certainly help with my conservation choices regarding Japanese objects and when applying Japanese techniques.

It was also a real treat to visit the town of Mino during our study tour, which is widely known as one of the best paper producing towns in Japan. Japanese paper is used daily in most conservation studios around the world and has been for some time. Mino paper has recently been added to Unesco’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.


A beautiful demonstration at Minotakekami Kobo papermakers.

The visit to Minotakekami Kobo papermakers gave me great insight into the art of papermaking. I had seen a number of short films on Japanese papermaking over the years but watching the process live in front of my eyes was really special. The papermakers discussed bamboo screen fabrication, the traditional preparation of the kozo bark into paper pulp and the sheet formation (movement of the pulp on the screen) and finally demonstrated the drying process on wooden boards.


A freshly formed sheet of paper, and sorting the finished sheets by quality and weight.

I was particularly interested in the upstairs room where the paper was stored on shelves in batches and the quality and weight checked before it was sold. Sadly we could not see more of Mino because a typhoon was threatening to come our way and it was decided to leave for Kyoto sooner than we had previously planned.Kyoto is a beautiful and fascinating city and spending more time there was not a problem. There are more temples in this city than you can imagine and they are all worth a visit. The Kinkaku-ji temple, or Golden Pavilion, was absolutely breathtaking in the bright autumnal light.


During our organised tour I particularly enjoyed the visit to the knife shop. Kanetaka Hamono Shinise’s knives are handmade in their workshop at the rear of the shop. The business and craftsmanship has been passed down through a number of generations and I could not resist buying a handmade marubocho knife. We had perfected the use of this knife to cut lengths of paper during the course and I brought one back to our studio in Dublin.


In the workshop of Kanetaka Hamono Shinise.

On my very last day in Japan I spend a few hours in the Tokyo National Museum before dashing off to the airport. As I reflected on my three weeks in Japan I realised how privileged I had been to be involved in this prestigious curriculum. I have learned so much that I can re-use in my work, met incredible people (both organisers and students) and hopefully will visit Japan again in the near future. Someone from the course said that if you see Mount Fuji once, you will return to Japan seven times. I didn’t see Mount Fuji during my travels but I would happily return seven times!

Julia Poirier, book and paper conservator

If you would like to learn more about Japanese conservation techniques, join Sydney Thomson from the Restorient Studio who will give a lunchtime lecture on Thursday 15th October at 1.10pm in the lecture theatre at the Chester Beatty Library on the conservation of the Tale of Oeyama.

Recreating the Medieval Palette: a workshop in Montefiascone

In July this year I had the opportunity to attend the Recreating the Medieval Palette workshop taught by Cheryl Porter in the picturesque town of Montefiascone, Italy. The five-day workshop consisted of lectures during the morning, followed by practical sessions of paint and ink making in the afternoon. The workshop allowed the members of the group to gain a deeper understanding of the history, chemistry and use of pigments that were produced during the medieval era, with a focus on European and Islamic manuscript art.


Left: Cheryl Porter lecturing. Right: A view of Lake Bolsena from outside the classroom.

During the workshop we studied two groups of pigments; organics such as indigo and madder, and inorganics such as gold and lapis lazuli. Inorganic pigments are further separated into natural or synthetic. Some synthetic pigments include vermillion, lead white, red lead and lead tin yellow.  We also had the opportunity to study inks including iron gall ink and carbon ink.


Left: Participants preparing the wonderful blue pigment lapis lazuli. Right: Experimenting with different inks, using a quill of course!

To create a colour for painting, the chosen ground pigment was firstly mixed with a small amount of water using circular motions in the shape of a figure-of-eight, to create a thick paste. At this stage the pigments were ground to the required particle size; some pigments need to be finely ground while others lose their colour if they are ground too much. Following this, a binding agent was added to the paste, to bind the pigment particles together and to help the pigment stick to the painting surface. In the workshop we tested a variety of different binding agents including egg white, egg yolk, and tree gums.


Left: mixing egg yolk with Vermillion to produce a beautiful red colour. Right: the binding agent Gum Arabic.

For the medieval artist, understanding materials was a huge part of their knowledge and learning; they needed to know where to buy materials, how to make paint, how to apply their paints to specific supports such as plastered walls or parchment, and learn the skills necessary to determine their quality. For conservators it is useful to have an understanding of pigments and their chemistry to be able to make informed decisions when treating pigmented works of art.

I found it particularly useful to learn about the binding agents used in pigments. At the Chester Beatty Library I have been conserving a collection of Indian miniature paintings, which have particular problems with the lead white pigment flaking. Lead white was one of the most important pigments in the history of painting as it has wonderful density and whiteness; it was the best pigment for creating highlights. Chalk and bone were other options for white but they were often used as mixers only and their opacity was nowhere near as good as that of lead white.

lead_white slide

Left: Experiments using lead white. Centre: Adding water to ground malachite before the binding agent. Right: Grinding prepared pigment using a muller.

During the workshop I had the chance to prepare lead white and immediately I could see some of the difficulties in working with it. Firstly, most pigments are mixed with a small amount of water to create a smooth consistency before adding the chosen binder. However, as lead white is insoluble in water, this proved to be rather challenging- mixing it with a binding agent was more successful in creating a thick paste. Due to the density of the lead white pigment, large amounts of gum were added to create a smooth texture to paint with. The heavy lead and the large amount of gum Arabic binder added to the pigment often result in the flaking of lead white pigments on manuscripts. A new awareness of the historical and chemical problems with lead white has informed my understanding of the manuscripts I have been treating at the CBL. I now understand that many other pigments used in manuscripts were likely to have been mixed with lead white to create lighter colours, one of the reasons there are often problems with other colours flaking.

Lac slide

Top: Seed Lac. Bottom: Stick lac.

Learning more about insect colours was really interesting for me too (I am fascinated with bugs). One example is red lac, which is an organic pigment made from a secretion of the Kerria lacca or Coccus lacca insects that live on the ficus tree  and are native to India and South-East Asia. The word lac comes from the Sanskrit word meaning 100,000 due to the number of insects that live together. The insects secrete a waxy resin which can be harvested from the branches of the tree. This is referred to as stick lac.

Lac was an expensive dye used in ancient India, China and Syria, and then used in Western Europe by the Romans. It was often used as a lake and recipes are found extensively in the 14th century. The same material was also used for shellac and varnishes. Conservators must consider several factors when dealing with lac in manuscripts; the colour is very sensitive to pH as well as moisture. Additionally the red lac colour reacts to changes in temperature.

Unfortunately, very few organic colour keep their brightness as they tend to fade; also, they could only be used in season. Artists solved some of these problems by making clothlets. The process involved squashing the insects or plants until a juice was produced and then soaking up as much colour as possible with small pieces of cloth that were dipped into the extract. The cloth was left to dry and the process was repeated many times to get a saturated colour. When ready to use, a small piece can be cut off the clothlet and soaked in warm gum, which bleeds out the colour. Clothlets were fine for the manuscript painter’s needs, however they were not so good for an easel painter or someone who needed more bulk or covering power.

By the 14th century there was a technological leap and the most common way to preserve colours was to create a powder pigment from the colour juice or dye, which is called an organic lake pigment. The juice produced from the plant or insect could be poured onto chalk and then stored as a powder.

Lac prep slide

Left: Preparing a lac lake. Right: a small bottle of lac lake pigment.

The opportunity to attend this workshop in a beautiful part of Italy has been a fantastic learning experience for me. I was able to develop my knowledge of pigments to a much higher level and Cheryl’s lectures and instructions for making pigments and inks were not only informative but also a great deal of fun. As a variety of professionals attended the course including artists, conservators, students and historians, I felt I was able to exchange knowledge with other participants and learn more about the way in which this workshop was going to aid their work. By the end of the week, I had created samples on Islamic paper, European cotton paper and sheep parchment, which I will use as a reference guide when looking at pigments in manuscripts in the future.

I would like to thank the Zibby Garnett Travel Fellowship and the York Foundation for Conservation and Craftsmanship for generously providing funding to attend this workshop.

Puneeta Sharma, Heritage Council Intern in Paper Conservation

Traditions of Papermaking in the Islamic World

The Islamic Manuscript Association’s inaugural course and symposium on the materials and techniques of Islamic manuscript production was held at the British Library from 23rd- 27th March this year. Julia and I were lucky enough to attend.

This fascinating class was taught by Cathleen Baker, conservation librarian at the University of Michigan Library; Tim Barrett, director of the University of Iowa Center for the Book; Evyn Kropf, librarian for Near Eastern and religious studies and curator of the Islamic manuscript collection at the University of Michigan Library; and Katharina Siedler, papermaker and historian. The thirteen participants had travelled from around the globe to attend and included the authors of several pre-eminent scholarly publications on Islamic paper.

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The intensive four-day course focused on the practical techniques of Islamic papermaking based on the methods used by hand papermakers in parts of India today. Our daily papermaking sessions considered mould construction, fibre preparation, sheet formation, pressing and drying, as well as sheet finishing techniques of sizing and burnishing. You can read Ann Tomalak’s lovely account of the processes here.

Whilst this was a wonderful opportunity to gain first hand-experience in an alternative (to European) technique of papermaking, for me it was the discussion that surrounded the class that proved invaluable. The varied experience of the participants meant that an active and lively discussion was soon underway, and the problems of discussing ‘Islamic papermaking’ were soon at the forefront of our minds.

One of the first discussion points was about terminology. The word Islamic is the commonly accepted term used to describe the cultures of the vast and diverse regions which have been ruled or inhabited by predominantly Islamic populations. This makes it a rather open-ended term, and we soon realised that rather than a generic Islamic form of papermaking, we were looking at a far more regionally specific variation of the craft. In particular, the living practitioners our tutors had studied and learnt from were working in regions of India. Our terminology reflected this, and we used the Indian word chapri to describe the characteristic flexible mould screen.

© The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin. CBL Per 196 f.135b

© The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin. CBL Per 196 f.135b

One of the key texts we reviewed in relation to the observations of papermaking in the field, was ibn Badis. This text was written in 11th Century northeast Algeria, and describes papermaking with flax from a raw plant fibre stock. This account contrasted with the observations made in India today (as in Europe) where only rag fibres are used to form the pulp. So ensued much discussion: Is ibn Badis documenting a particularly unusual papermaking process? Is he just an interested individual- a prince no less- with limited practical experience or understanding? Or could it be that ibn Badis’ source was protective of the true details of his livelihood?

We also discussed the only other known historic treatise on papermaking, an anonymous work attributed to al-Ghassânî (d. 694-1294) in the Yemen. Al-Ghassânî notes the use of raw plant fibres from the fig tree and fails to mention any use of recycled rags, but perhaps he is influenced by Southeast Asian trade with the Yemen, and documenting a Southeast Asian papermaking process. Our discussion served to emphasise the diversity of papermaking traditions over centuries and across a vast geographic range, as well as the potential hazards of relying upon historic treatises alone.

In the practical sessions, discussion focused on the materials our moulds were made from, and our sheet formation technique. We experimented with bamboo and grass chapri’s woven with thread or horsehair and tried a double-dip technique at the vat, similar to that seen in some Japanese and Korean papermaking traditions; but contrary to popular belief, neither double-dipping nor immediately couching wet sheets on top of one another produced a sheet which was easy to delaminate, a common misconception regarding Islamic papers. Having said that, only three of our number were professional papermakers. The rest of us were at best inexpert at this skillful craft. Our dry sheets were surface sized with starch and burnished with agates and bone folders to produce a crisp hard writing surface, a process which also masked a multitude of sheet formation flaws!

2015-03-25 15.34.06

We finished the fourth day with observations of historic manuscripts. Our session was spent looking at a variety of attributed historic manuscript fragments on a lightbox, which was hugely informative; the differences in paper production techniques across the vast Islamic world were obvious when they were seen side by side. On the last day of the week a symposium was held and I have no doubt that all of the participants’ minds were whirring. It was clear that the speakers had taken the discourse and experiences of the week into consideration in their presentations which added to the thought provoking atmosphere.

In conclusion, this fascinating week was extremely inspiring. There is still much to learn about the intriguing subject of Islamic manuscript production, and this course highlighted the range of unknowns. However, I left feeling enthused by the conversation between deeply passionate participants and tutors.

Another variation of Indian papermaking using a floating mould and textile separators

Kristine Rose Beers, Senior Conservator

Making a Karibari: the Japanese drying board

I was delighted to get the opportunity to attend this three-day workshop organised by the Institute of Conservator-Restorers in Ireland (ICRI) and generously supported by the Heritage Council. This practical workshop was hosted by the National Library of Ireland (20-22 April 2015) and taught by Japanese paper conservator, Namiko Tagawa. The six participants each had the opportunity to construct a 60 x 90 cm Karibari board, which is traditionally used in Japanese conservation to slow and control the drying rate of newly lined artefacts and scrolls under tension.

2 - Group discussion on Japanese papers and brushes

Group discussion on Japanese papers and brushes.

On the first morning, we were all eager to start; Namiko was really enthusiastic and pragmatic so we got going straight away. The class started with a short introduction to the Karibari core which is made of cedar wood; it is lightweight (essential when making large boards) and has a pleasant smell which is naturally repellent to insect and mould attack. The lattice structure is secured with bamboo nails and is extended to form little legs at the top and bottom of the frame. Our Karibari frames were pre-made by the Masumi Corporation a Japanese material supplier.

1 - Construction layers of a karibari boardTraditionally, eight layers of paper are applied to the cedar wood frame to construct a Karibari board. However, due to the limited time available for our class we only had time to apply five. Namiko carefully selected the most important layers and excluded the three layers which are more important when making a sliding door. Namiko explained how the paper is selected to prepare the board; a variety of papers can be used for each layer such as Shekishu-shi or Minogami as long as the increase in weight of the paper for each layer is respected. For this workshop we used a Hosokawa-shi paper (100% domestic Kozo cooked in soda ash, unbleached and stainless steel dried) in 12, 16, 20 and 24 gram weights.

On day one we applied the first and second layers to our Karibari. The first layer, honeshibari, prevents any warping or distortion to the wooden frame. The wheat starch paste must be thick and tacky and was applied directly to the wood and left to soak in for a few minutes. A second layer of paste was then applied before a full sheet of 12gsm dry paper was laid over the wooden core and smoothed down with a nadebake or smoothing brush with slightly damp bristles. The edges were trimmed with a straight edge while the paper was still slightly wet, which is the Tokyo style of karibari making; while in Kyoto the paper is left larger and folded around the sides of the karibari frame. Throughout the workshop it was interesting to learn about the difference in techniques used by conservators traditionally trained in Tokyo and Kyoto.

3 - Dobari layer

Applying the Dobari layer

After the first layer is applied, the board is turned over and the same process carried out to the second side. It was interesting to note that both layers needed to be applied one after the other, with no drying time in between; this prevents distortion of the frame. The second layer, dōbari, tightens the frame further. means ‘rib’ and bari means ‘to apply’ so the idea of the second layer is to apply a ribcage-like structure to strengthen the board. A full sheet of paper cut a little smaller than the first layer was fully pasted out with a thinner wheat starch paste. with assistance, the frame was held vertically with the top edge tilted forward. The pasted sheet of paper was held to the top corners of the frame before the board was tilted back allowing the sheet of paper to lie down naturally onto the board. The paper was then smoothed down before the action was repeated on the other side.

4 - ShitafukuroOn the second day we cut away the four legs of the frame and applied the third and fourth paper layers to the frame. The shitafukuro and uwafukuro form pockets –fukuro– which prevent distortion caused by the tension of the uwabari, the fifth layer.

The shitafukuro was prepared by cutting a sheet of paper in to eighths. Namiko showed us how to square a sheet of paper and cut straight edges using traditional techniques. At this stage only the edges of the paper are attached to the board. Each piece was applied to overlap the one next to it by about 2.5 cm. The pieces for the uwafukuro layer were water cut all around and applied in the same way as shitafukuro to both sides of the board. However, the shitafukuro pieces were offset with the layer below to give a brick-work effect and the overlap on this layer was only about 1 cm. This careful staggering of the paper overlap in the shitafukuro and uwafukuro avoids a build-up of paper which would create an uneven surface.

On the morning of the third day we applied the last layer of paper to our board. The uwabari is a full lining over the entire surface of the board and was adhered with a layer of very thin paste. To ease the application of this lining, the paper was placed on to a large sheet of release paper before it was pasted out. In contrast to the application of all of the other layers, the board was then carefully placed on top of the pasted paper before being turned over to allow for smoothing of the sheet with the nadebake. Finally, the release paper was peeled off, the lining smoothed down once more, and the edges folded onto the edges of the frame. Once both sides were lined, we cut strips of paper to cover the edges of the frame and applied them to the board to finish it.

6 - Uwabari layer

The Uwabari layer

In the afternoon Namiko explained how to finish the board with several applications of fermented persimmon juice (shibu) from the kaki fruit. The high tannin content of the persimmon juice oxidises to give the karibari board its distinctive dark brown-red colour, whilst also waterproofing it. A minimum of four coats are required, but more may be necessary to achieve the desired colour. A brush with no metal must be used and ideally the brushing should be done on a bright day to allow the coating to dry quickly without sinking in to the paper too much. Shibu has a strong, distinctive, and quite unpleasant smell, so it is best to apply it outdoors if possible! On this note, we set off to an improvised work space where the sun was shining for Namiko’s demonstration. To dry, the board must stand in the sun for a while before it is turned over and after a little less than an hour a second coat could be applied. The weather was really blissful!

Working with shibu

Working with shibu in the sunshine! CBL’s finished Karibari after nine applications of Persimmon juice.

Back at the Chester Beatty the following day I set myself the task of applying the first few waterproofing coats of shibu to our own karibari board. The weather was still warm and sunny so I decided to make the most of our roof garden! The first solution of persimmon juice was 1 part persimmon: 2 parts water and Puneeta, Kristine and I took turns to apply the careful stripes. The sun was so strong that within 45 minutes of drying and board rotation we could apply the second coat (1 persimmon: 1 water). The next day we applied the third layer (1 persimmon: ½ water), a concentration that was used for each of the additional layers. In the following weeks a further six layers of shibu were applied to the board. The karibari now has to be allowed to dry fully over two or three months before it can be used.

I would like to thank Louise O’Connor, ICRI member and Conservator at the National Library for taking the initiative to invite Namiko to Dublin after her participation at the ICON Adapt and Evolve conference in London in April 2015. All participants were delighted with Namiko’s expertise and enthusiasm, and look forward to using their karibari boards in the not too distant future.

Julia Poirier, Book & Paper Conservator

Adapt & Evolve: East Asian Materials and Techniques in Western Conservation

Icon’s Book and Paper Group Committee organised the Adapt & Evolve 2015 conference, which was held from 8th-11th April at The School of Oriental and African Studies, London. The four-day event included lectures, panel discussions, a day of studio tours, trade stands, in-conference and post-conference workshops focused on East Asian materials and techniques.

East Asian materials, particularly handmade Japanese paper, have a long history of production and use. Their durability and known ageing characteristics have led to their widespread and successful adoption by Conservators of Western and non-Western materials.

Thurs-WSP by BM conservators demoWheat starch paste made in various way

Above: wheat starch paste made in various ways.  Attendees were given a chance to feel the differences between each method of preparation including hand stirred, microwave, and le saucier.

The conference lectures spanned two days and the topics discussed included papermaking in East Asia, the use of Japanese paper in western conservation, adhesives, repair and drying techniques, to name but a few. I was particularly interested in the panel discussion titled, Coming Unstuck: Hirayama Studio Conservators Discuss Paste and Paste-making with Dr Vincent Daniels, Jin Xian Qui and Carol Weiss. During this discussion, the method of preparing wheat starch paste was discussed alongside the qualities of the paste. Paste needs to have real inherent strength, although this will vary depending on the purpose the paste is used for. The conservators highlighted the main factors in making a good paste, which include ensuring enough heat reaches the mixture, long duration of mixing, and vigorous stirring to break up the swollen granules. The British Museum keeps their paste in a glazed, earthenware jar with a lid for one week. After this discussion we had the opportunity to handle a selection of pastes made using various methods by the conservators; the British Museum paste proved to feel the tackiest.

I was fortunate to attend a series of in-conference workshops alongside the lectures. The East Asian Paper Identification workshop given by Megumi Mizumura (conservator at the British Museum) and Nancy Jacobi (President of the Japanese Paper Place in Canada) was very informative. In this workshop we learnt about the papermaking processes in East Asia. We had the opportunity to examine and compare various Chinese, Korean, and Japanese papers in order to identify differences in quality. Paper quality is largely dependent upon how long the fibres are cooked for.

Kozo is the main fibre used for papermaking and this comes from the bark of the mulberry trees grown in Japan, Thailand, China and Paraguay. There is a difference in the kozo fibres chosen for papermaking in each of these countries, and a real difference in the price. For example, an unspecified quantity of Thai kozo would cost $1, whilst the same amount of Chinese kozo would cost $5 and Japanese kozo would cost $15. Japanese Kozo is considered to be by far the best quality kozo. It has been produced for 1400 years and it is known to have been made in the same way for at least the last 100 years. The raw materials for Japanese kozo are harvested carefully and very well processed, resulting in a strong and long-lasting paper.

In contrast to this, Thai kozo has only been produced since the 1950’s but it is often readily available in large quantities.  As the mulberry tree grows faster in hot countries there can often be a fault in the paper made with Thai kozo fibres. This fast growing can result in deformation of the raw material that appears as oil spots, which can take as long as two or three years to become visible  in the paper.

I found this workshop incredibly useful in understanding the importance of choosing the correct papers for conservation treatment. As the different kozo papers showed, there can be unfortunate consequences in selecting poorer quality papers.

The conference concluded with a day of post-conference workshops at the Victoria & Albert Museum, which was a lovely way to end the event. The first workshop, the Use of Natural Dyes in the Work of Kwang-Young Chun was given by Susan Catcher (Senior Paper Conservator at the V&A). Here we had the opportunity to hear about Susan’s research into natural dyes; her aim is to see what natural resources are available in the UK to use as dyes for toning repair papers.

Composite images

Above left: having a go at dying Chinese Xuan Zhi paper © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Above right: the raw materials used for creating dyes including alder cones and sappan wood.

Susan discussed her experiments using mordants to modify colours and create fast colours. We were able to see the raw materials used to create the dyes, which included sappan wood (pink), mugwort (pale green) and alder cones (brown). A practical session followed where we had the chance to apply the dyes Susan prepared to three eastern papers, including Chinese Xuan Zhi, Korean Hanji and Japanese Sekishu-Shi. We learnt two ways of dying paper using Japanese and Chinese brushes. The first is to apply dye directly on top of the sheet, and the second method involves brushing the dye on a flat surface such as polythene and then letting the sheet soak up the dye from underneath.  Using this method, additional sheets can be placed on top of the first to create different intensities of colour. Once we finished brushing the dye onto the paper, the sheets were placed on felt and left to dry.

The second workshop, Hanji Paper, allowed us to observe Korean papermaking in action, demonstrated by Chun-Ho Kim, a paper craftsman specialising in Korean paper. He has been making Hanji paper for 15 years and is part of a family of papermakers. There are a great deal of different steps involved in making a sheet of Hanji paper so the process was reduced to give us the essence of this process.

No chemicals are used in Hanji papermaking. All of the natural materials used are found in Korea and are gathered over a period of six months. The paper is made from kozo fibres from the bark of the mulberry tree and mucilage from the root of the hibiscus is mixed with the fibres as a formation aid.


Above left: Chun-Ho Kim demonstrating Hanji papermaking in a vat. Above right: Feeling the gooey mucilage inside the hibiscus root © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Hanji paper is made on a mould, which is anchored to the vat. The method of making the sheets consists of dipping the mould in vertically, front to back, followed by dipping the mould right to left about five or six times. This creates a layer of cross-hatched fibres which makes a very resilient sheet of paper. The sheets of Hanji can be made with one or two layers couched together.  The sheets are then dried in sunlight on a wooden frame or heated panel. For a fantastic video showing this method of making Hanji paper click here.

Alongside the demonstration and discussion, we had the chance to see the raw materials used to make the pulp and even take some mulberry bark and hibiscus root home with us. To top off the wonderful day each participant was also given a large sheet of Hanji paper to take away with them.

The conference was a real delight to attend; I found it extremely informative and enjoyable. Having the chance to learn about the qualities of Japanese paper and the methods of dying paper with natural materials will be especially useful for the objects I am currently treating at the Chester Beatty Library. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to the ICRI for awarding me the generous bursary to attend this event and to the Chester Beatty Library for granting me study leave to attend.

Puneeta Sharma, Paper Conservation Intern