Young Reporters: paper and pamphlets
As part of Transforming IWM London I was asked to participate in the Young Reporters project involving Year 5 pupils from two local schools – Archbishop Sumner School and Oasis Academy Johanna.I am a paper conservator who also repairs books. In order to illustrate what this entails I held two workshops where the Young Reporters learned a little about the history of bookbinding and made their own pamphlet books.
Before we began each session the Young Reporters were invited to see where we work and look at some of the objects we were conserving. They asked lots of questions about the objects – which ranged from a First World War photograph album to map books from the Churchill War Rooms – and this was probably the first time the children had seen a book’s internal structure laid bare. This was followed by looking at some of the equipment we use including the old cast iron standing book press, which is used for pressing books whilst their glue dries.
As part of the workshops I explained that, in order to repair a book, you need to know how they are made. I showed the Young Reporters several examples of the many different styles of books there have been over the centuries. We talked about the wide range of materials that had been used, such as leather and parchment, and I also used illustrations from a book on bookbinders and their work to show them how it was done all those years ago. Interestingly, most of the methods and equipment are still in use today.
Our first task was to make the covers so that they would have time to dry before we sewed the books together. We had obtained photographs of the children beforehand and these had been transformed into sepia coloured photocopies. These were cut out and glued to marbled and decorated papers before being pressed flat.
Whilst the pamphlets were drying, I told the children about the importance of grain direction in papers used for bookbinding. Essentially, paper folds more easily one way than another, and I showed them how to find out which way was best by testing how resistant the paper was once it was loosely folded over. I then demonstrated how to fold the plain papers for the text blocks, using a bone folder – made, unsurprisingly, from cattle bones – and put the papers inside each other.
The covers were retrieved from pressing and were also folded and placed around the text blocks. The children then had the tricky task of sewing the pamphlets together with embroidery thread. I was very impressed by their sewing and hand skills, as this is quite a difficult thing to do if you haven’t done it before, even for adults. The next stage was to trim the edges straight when the covers were dry enough.
At the end of the sessions all the children had their own book to take away with them and they were justifiably proud of what they had achieved. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my love of books with them and some, at least, seemed inspired to try their new-found skills again at home. Perhaps we might even have some new conservators in the making….