A stitch in time

Earlier this year the blog carried a report from a student conservator about some simple repairs she did while on placement in the Library. There was such a warm response, we thought you might be interested to learn more about the work our NADFAS volunteers do to help preserve some of the Library’s modern pamphlets.

Needle and thread

As our retrospective cataloguing project progresses, and more and more nineteenth and twentieth century publications are added to the online catalogue, the relative fragility of modern printed items is amply demonstrated. Not only are the papers used since the early nineteenth century less stable and durable than the rag paper of earlier years, but bindings are often weaker and the leather prone to degradation.

The Library holds a vast quantity of pamphlet material from this period, including tracts, campaigning material, ephemera, and a wide range of cheaply produced modern publications. A typical pamphlet consists of a few sheets folded in a single section, held together by staples down the fold – and there’s the rub. Over time the metal of the staples rusts (rapidly, if they have been stored in damp conditions). The rust damages the paper, and use hastens the damage.

The Library’s stalwart team of NADFAS volunteers are working in tandem with the retrospective cataloguer to tackle the problem of rusty staples.

Each boxful of pamphlets added to the catalogue is methodically examined, de-stapled and single section pamphlets re-sewn using a simple, safe and easily reversible technique. This is how they do it.

Step 1: Carefully remove the staples using special gadget.

Step 2: Brush out any fragments of rust onto a tray to be discarded.

Step 3: Stitch along the fold, using existing perforations (if sound) and new ones, following this pattern (C – B – A –B – D – E – D – C):

The thread should start and end at the mid-point inside the fold (C)

Step 4:  Tighten the thread gently and tie both ends across the long central thread going from B to D.

tying thread ends

Step 5: Trim the ends to 1 cm each and fray them with the needle to flatten the thread

The end product is attractive, free from sharp or rusty metal, and safe to handle. This simple measure has prolonged the life of countless pamphlets in our collection. Finally, as they examine every item in the boxes that pass through their hands, the NADFAS volunteers are also able to provide a survey of conservation needs, noting any damaged items needing professional conservation work.

NADFAS volunteers at work

Some of the NADFAS volunteers at work

Hurrah for the NADFAS volunteers!

NADFAS tools

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11 Responses to A stitch in time

  1. Yes, the dreaded rusty staples! They are all over our pamphlet and archive collections which are of similar age and type to yours I think. It would be most useful to know firstly where you got your gadget and secondly how long on average it takes the volunteers to do this process? Thank you!

    • Library of the Society of Friends says:

      This is a good low tech solution to the horrible problem of rusty staples, which just needs a little time and a lot of care. To answer your first question – the “gadget” is a simple flat tongued staple remover, which should be obtainable at good stationers or online. Using it is the trickiest, riskiest part of the whole process, as there is a danger of pulling the whole staple through the paper. After that, the sewing is plain sailing for our practised volunteers! We reckon each straightforward pamphlet takes about five minutes. Haste is to be avoided, for obvious reasons!

  2. Alastair Reid says:

    Excellent – what kind of thread do you use and where can it be obtained?

    • Library of the Society of Friends says:

      It’s unbleached linen thread, which we used to get on large spools from the wonderful Falkiners Fine Papers shop in Southampton Row. You can probably buy it by mail order from specialist conservation equipment companies, but you can also buy smaller reels in haberdashery suppliers or good department stores. It shouldn’t be as fine as the cotton thread for general sewing, but obviously not too thick either.

  3. Judith Jennings says:

    Great explanation and photo images of the process and great volunteers!

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  7. Mole says:

    I love it when different bits of my life collide! As a Quaker and an enthusiastic Nadfas member I was delighted to see yet another great example of Nadfas volunteering. My local Nadfas society has a dedicated team who have been repairing bound copies of nineteenth century magazines for a library here in Cornwall. Many local Nadfas societies do amazing work in the volunteer sector; preserving heritage, fostering young people’s interest in the arts, not to mention providing top class talks on arts subjects of all types. I’ve always thought that one of the responsibilities of us as Quakers is to try and knit together the world we live in, and for me encouraging people to come together to share an interest in the arts is a way to doing that.

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