Conservation of Maps in the digitisation project: Qatar Foundation Partnership – Part 1
The British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership (BLQFP) is a digitisation project that began in 2012 to create the Qatar Digital Library (QDL). For over ten years this free bilingual online portal has been fed from the British Library´s collections related to the history of the Persia Gulf and scientific manuscripts of the Arabic-speaking world. The items that are selected and digitised include India Office Records, maps, personal papers, catalogued and uncatalogued Arabic manuscripts, sound and video recordings, photographs and much more.
At the beginning of 2022, in the last part of Phase 3, 120 maps entered the digitisation workflow. One of the first stages of the workflow is conservation assessment, where items are assessed and stabilised for safe digitisation and handling. The majority of the maps needed minimal intervention, with only 5 needing a more interventive conservation approach. This blog will focus on the treatment of the following maps: IOR/X/3174, IOR/X/3150/2, IOR/X/9921, IOR/X/10065 and IOR/X/10066.
In order to organise our treatments, we divided the maps into 2 groups according to their similarity in manufacture, their condition and treatment strategy. The first group, which is the focus of the first part of this blog, included IOR/X/3174, IOR/X/3150/2, IOR/X/9921, and had a silk ribbon sewn on the edges of each map. The silk ribbon was placed to protect and give a nice finish to the edge of the maps, since all 3 have cloth as a backing support. We think this was placed because either the paper is too big, or small pieces of paper have been attached together, so the secondary support would give the primary paper support extra protection and ease handling. The silk ribbon protects the edge of the maps and helps to stop the fraying of the textile. We talked to the map’s curator from the Qatar team, Nick Krebs, and he mentioned the possibility that these ribbons were placed when the maps were at the India Office Records.
On these 3 maps the silk ribbon was detached from the edges in some places, due to a broken thread that used to attach the ribbon to the map. Also, the ribbon was very thin and fraying, causing further losses. Apart from this, the general condition of the maps was good.
As paper and book conservators unfamiliar with the treatment of textiles, we took this opportunity to seek advice from the appointed textile conservator at the British Library, Liz Rose. This had the advantage of providing a moisture and solvent free application technique to the damaged silk ribbon, which can be easily damaged by the introduction of moisture. Liz Rose showed us how to prepare the adhesive on crepeline silk and nylon net in the following way:
The adhesive used was a mix 1:1 of two different Lascauxs: 408 HV and 303 HV. The first one dries hard, while the second is extremely elastic and dries tacky. Both are thermoplastic acrylics (AIC - Adhesives & Tapes, 2022), therefore a combination of these two is ideal for reactivating the adhesive with a hot spatula or with solvent (like acetone) to consolidate fragile textiles, depending on the condition of the item.
We prepared two different percentages of the 1:1 adhesive mix, 15% and 25%, to test which of the two had better results on a new silk ribbon. When we had the adhesive ready, this was applied with a brush to a crepeline silk and nylon net, provided by Liz Rose. Fortunately, the crepeline silk and nylon net were already dyed in different tones of green and we only needed to choose the best tone to suit the different ribbons.
Once the adhesive applied to the crepeline silk and nylon net had dried, it was cut to the desired size and heated with a hot spatula to mend the damaged parts of the silk ribbon. As mentioned before, we first tested it on a new ribbon and over cotton textile. From these tests, we determined the best percentage of adhesive to use was 15%, and the appropriate length of time to reactivate the adhesive was 1 minute. We observed in this test that the nylon net melted with both the new ribbon and cotton fabric if heated for too long and if the spatula was too hot. Also, we realized that the nylon net consolidation did not have good results when the consolidation needed to be folded back, due to the fact that some of these maps are oversized and folded multiple times. This was not the case with the silk crepeline, therefore we decided to use this, because we had better results with it being a more sympathetic material with the silk ribbon, and giving us the most satisfying visual result.
Treatment on the maps: IOR/X/3174, IOR/X/3150/2, IOR/X/9921
After completing tests on the silk samples, we dry cleaned the recto and verso of the maps and then the most damaged sections of silk ribbons were delicately removed from the maps by cutting the sewing stitches. Next, we consolidated the bond between the paper and the lining cloth using Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste.
We then applied the pre-coated crepeline silk to the inside of the ribbon using a hot spatula to consolidate the fragile segments. The width of the crepeline consolidation was cut to fit in between the edges of the ribbon and its length was cut into small sections (no longer than 7 cm). We noticed that longer repair creates distortion. The crepeline segments were overlapped by 1 mm when it was necessary to cover a longer part.
In some cases, where the ribbon was particularly damaged, we also needed to consolidate the outside of the ribbon. This helped to further reinforce the zones where the ribbon was completely broken and the zones where the ribbon was folded as the map had been stored in this way.
As the ribbon was attached to the map folded, we applied the crepeline on the outer part on a folded ribbon. The pre-coated crepeline was folded and fitted over the original folded ribbon and then applied with the hot spatula one side at a time.
After consolidating the damaged ribbon, we then re-attached the consolidated ribbons onto the maps by sewing them back in place using a green silk thread, similar to the original.
Finally, after documenting the treatment, the smaller maps (that fit flat in the storage drawer) were placed in a Melinex sleeve to protect them from frictions and limit direct handling. The oversized maps were placed in a blue folder to protect them from friction in the storage.
Stay tuned for Part 2!
Camille Dekeyser and Tania Estrada-Valadez