Conservation of nineteenth century machine-made endbands

By Maria Borg, MA Conservation Studies. Books and Library Materials

This year, together with my colleague Nayla Maaruf, I was able to work on a Cartes-de-Visite Victorian photo album (Fig. 1). One of the fascinating things about this album is that it contains a music mechanism within a hollow box (which also serves as the right board of the album). The most obvious problem with the album was that the original spine had been completely lost and all that was left was the original spine lining and the endbands.

The nineteenth century endbands were stuck-on and machine-made with white and green thread, measuring approximately 50mm x 13mm. It was immediately clear that the endbands had suffered significant damage.

Explore Categories

Figure 1, Cartes-de-Visite Victorian photo album, left board, before treatment

Figure 2, Detail of endbands on spine, before treatment

Both endbands had losses and the threads had frayed (Fig. 3). Due to the losses, there was a risk that the endbands would become completely detached and consequently lost. As part of the approved treatment, the spine lining was removed and the endbands were mechanically lifted using a flat-ended spatula.

Upon closer examination, it was clear that the endbands were very stiff and brittle. Looking at them under the microscope, we could see the excess residue of adhesive (probably animal glue) which had penetrated the fibres deeply (Fig. 4).

Figure 3, Detail of endbands, before treatment
Figure 4, Diagram of blotter wash, cross-section view

Nayla and I agreed that the endbands should be stabilised and re-adhered to the spine as part of our treatment. After I carried out some research however, it became apparent that there weren't many sources available that addressed the conservation of endbands. I realised that this presented an interesting challenge for me as a book conservation student and was in fact the perfect opportunity for me to learn more about such materials and their conservation.

Due to the nature of the materials, I thought it best to look into conservation methods pertaining textile conservation. After looking at various sources and spending some time pondering over treatment ideas, I concluded that the goals of my treatment were:

1. To reduce the excess glue in order to re-introduce flexibility and facilitate movement of the endbands as part of the binding structure
2. To support the endbands, especially in areas of loss
3. To re-attach the endbands to the spine without re-introducing damaging adhesives

And so it began! First, the endbands were cleaned to reduce the excess adhesive residue. As the adhesive had penetrated into the fibres so deeply, moisture had to be introduced. The introduction of water relaxed the fibres and caused them to swell, consequently giving up dirt particles in the process (Landi, 2012). I tested the colour fastness of the dyes first using a cotton swab. I placed the endbands on blotting paper and placed the cotton swab on top. I left it for a few seconds at a time, continually increasing the time of exposure. When I was confident that the dyes would not bleed if water was introduced, I opted for a blotter wash as the blotter would help absorb the adhesive residue from the fibres via capillary action (Fig. 3). I made sure that the blotters were not too wet and that they were frequently changed to remove as much residue as possible - and voilà! A good amount of residue was removed to ensure that enough flexibility was re-introduced so that the endbands would again move freely when the album was opened.

Next, I had to find a way to support the endbands. After looking at several sources, I came across a method of stitching frequently used in textile conservation. Couching is a stitching method used to hold down broken or worn areas of fabric to a new support, using the least amount of stitches possible whilst giving a flat joint when joining two materials together. A thread is sewn in a straight line in the warp or weft direction, and small, perpendicular stitches are sewn at equidistant points in a staggered arrangement to form a brick pattern (Landi, 2002). Stitching was an ideal solution as I could stitch through the existing holes in the woven material of the endbands, and the support material could act as a barrier between the endbands and the adhesive used to re-adhere them to the spine.

I decided to test the method first, using scrap off-cuts of textile which were of similar thickness and quality as the endbands (Fig. 5).

Figure 5, Attempting the couching method on scrap off-cuts
Figure 6, Stitching the endbands on a support of aero-cotton lined with thin Japanese tissue, using thin linen thread

I tried stitching one of these scraps along the warp and weft to a piece of aero-cotton. Although the stitching was successful, I could see that a single layer of aero-cotton would not be sturdy enough to support the endbands adequately.

After discussing the matter with Nayla, I decided to use aero-cotton, this time lined with Japanese tissue (Tengujo 12gsm) in order to give it the strength it needed to match the original materials and support the stitching. A thin linen thread was used to stitch the endbands onto the support, using a very fine needle (Fig. 6). In this case, it was easier to stitch along the weft, and only pass the needle through the original holes of the woven material of the endbands to avoid creating further damage. The treatment was successful and the endbands were visibly stronger and sturdier. Not only were they supported better, but the aero-cotton also acted as a barrier against the adhesive which would be used to re-adhere the endbands to the spine. The aero-cotton support extended onto the left and right boards, further strengthening their attachment. Watercolour was applied to the white threads using a very fine brush in order to reduce the stark contrast of the white linen thread against the aged colours of the endbands.

As the album had originally been a case binding, adhesive (wheat starch paste) was only applied to the aero-cotton support (and never directly to the original endbands) when reattaching them (Fig. 7, 8). Seeing the endbands functioning once again as part of the binding was of tremendous satisfaction. A little TLC can clearly go a long way!

Figure 7, Endbands re-adhered onto spine lining, after treatment
Figure 8, Detail of headband, after treatment

References:

CCI, Stitches Used in Textile Conservation (2008) Available at: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/cci-icc/documents/services/conservation-preservation-publications/canadian-conservation-institute-notes/13-10-eng.pdf?WT.contentAuthority=4.4.10 [Accessed 22 May 2019]

De Stefani C., Rogerson C. and Green A. (2011) 'Evaluating cross-disciplinary working: the application of textile conservation adhesive techniques to book conservation', Journal of the Institute of Conservation, 34:1, pp. 90-103 [Online pdf] Available at: DOI: 10.1080/19455224.2011.577727 [ Accessed 22 May 2019]

Landi, S. (2002) Textile Conservator's Manual. 2nd edn. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann [Online pdf] Available at: http://www.tandfebooks.com/action/showBook?doi=10.4324/9780080518749 (Accessed: 24 May 2019).

Lennard, F. and Ewer, P. (eds.) (2009) Textile Conservation: advances in practice. Oxford: Butterworth. [Online pdf] Available at: https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/e/9781136434761 (Accessed: 24 May 2019).

Schön M. (2017) The Mechanical and Supporting Effect of Stitches in Textile Conservation, Institutionen för Kulturvård [Online pdf] Available at: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/85145104.pdf [Accessed 22 May 2019]