‘Chinese Wallpaper: Trade, Technique and Taste’: Part 2

International conference, London, 7-8th April 2016

Chinese wallpaper lining workshop

The second day of the international conference on Chinese wallpaper, held at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), included an afternoon session of visits to the British Galleries, Study Room and Paper Conservation Studio, in the latter to watch the lining of a drop of wallpaper from Moor Park in Hertfordshire. Susan Catcher (Senior Paper Conservator, V&A), with the assistance of paper conservators Melissa Lewis and Amy Junker Heslip and a group of Camberwell College of Arts MA Conservation students, had spent the beginning of the week cleaning and relaxing the paper in preparation for a backing removal, followed by a Chinese-style lining and, a few weeks later, a Japanese-style lining to provide additional support. The conference delegates were divided into groups to watch the lining of the wallpaper over the course of the afternoon.

Condition:

  • The wallpaper was heavily covered in surface dirt, particularly at the top end (the area exposed when the wallpaper had lain rolled in storage)

  • The canvas backing had caused the wallpaper to fracture and fragment. Many areas were lifting and tearing, and there were some areas of loss and loose pieces.

  • The wallpaper was extremely brittle

  • The heavy canvas backing had caused large planar distortions

close up before treatment

Close-up before treatment

bird close up before treatment

Close-up of bird before treatment

Treatment:

  • The wallpaper was cleaned with chemical sponges and gently brushed. Any fragmented pieces that could be linked to their original locations were stored in polythene bags and photographed to facilitate easy replacement at a later stage.
during surface cleaning

During surface cleaning

  • All media was tested for levels of solubility. A green wash in a small area at the bottom of the wallpaper showed slight solubility, and it was therefore consolidated with a matte solution of 0.5% EHEC in IMS by spray application. A glaze used extensively over the design also had to be consolidated, so deerskin glue at 2% was painted on with a small brush in order to replicate the brush strokes of the painting underneath. Deerskin glue has more of a gloss than EHEC, making it a compatible consolidant for the glaze.
  • The wallpaper was then faced with rayon paper, which has good wet strength and soaks up moisture. Facing helps to support the paper while further treatments are carried out, and can help to absorb some of the ingrained degradation. Two layers of rayon paper were applied, first a layer of smaller strips, then larger squares. The facing was applied by placing the dry sheets on the wallpaper, then brushing water over the top with a mizubake.
facing the wallpaper

Facing the wallpaper

  • The wallpaper was further cleaned with a blotter wash. Large sheets of warm, wet blotter were laid on top of the facing, ensuring complete contact with the surface. Polythene was used to cover the wallpaper to stop the blotters from drying out. The blotters were removed after a few hours of washing.
  • The wallpaper was turned onto its recto using a polythene-wrapped plastazote tube.
  • The canvas backing was easily removed by gradually tearing the material into thin strips and pulling them away from the object at a low angle. The next few layers of backing were slightly more time consuming to remove, requiring more gradual mechanical removal. The second-to-last layer of lining material was slowly and carefully removed using spatulas, fingers, porcupine quills and tweezers, as this layer was so close to the verso of the wallpaper. The wallpaper had to be kept humidified throughout the process to facilitate the removal of the penultimate lining and ensure the paper was evenly wetted. This was achieved by spraying it and covering it with damp towels.
close up of backing removal

Close-up of backing removal

  • Toned infills were applied from the verso once the backing had been removed. These infills were toned to blend with the wallpaper ground, water cut and applied with water and pressure. Paste was unnecessary as the infills would be kept in place by the lining paper.
  • The first lining was a Chinese-style one using rectangular sheets of xuan zhi, a Chinese paper traditionally used for lining Chinese artworks and made of compatible material to the wallpaper, also toned to match the wallpaper’s ground. Chinese pigments, traditionally used when dying paper in China, were used with a warm 3% solution of deerskin glue as a binder and applied to the paper through the method of table dyeing. This was achieved by heavily applying the dye to the first sheet of paper (a sacrificial layer) to create a reservoir on which the other sheets could be dyed. The sheets of paper were held rolled together in one hand and then unrolled individually while dye was applied with a pasting brush, moving along the paper with a vertical brushing motion. Each piece was dyed on top of the reservoir, gradually building a stack of dyed sheets. When the correct amount was dyed, the sheets were left to dry.
Susan Catcher table dyeing

Susan Catcher table dyeing

  • Strips of toned lining paper were adhered with thin wheat starch paste to the edges of the wallpaper to create a border. The thin wheat starch paste was brushed onto the verso of the wallpaper in rectangular sections, and the smooth side of the toned lining paper was applied on top. During adhering of the lining, the paper was held rolled in one hand and then gradually unrolled as it was brushed onto the pasted wallpaper with the other hand. The lining paper was applied in sections with minimal overlap.
  • The lined wallpaper was turned face up using the polythene-wrapped plastazote tube, and then the facing was removed. Any fragmented pieces that could be relocated were re-applied to the paper using a small amount of the paste.
  • The wallpaper was left to dry under felts for two weeks before the next lining was applied.
After Chinese lining

After the Chinese lining

after chinese lining with infill detail

After the Chinese lining, showing infill detail

  • In preparation for applying the Japanese lining, the wallpaper was turned onto its recto again using the plastazote tube. The paper was then evenly humidified with a spray and covered with polythene until the lining was ready to be applied.
  • For the Japanese lining, undyed sekishu shi was chosen for its strength and flexibility. This additional lining provides extra support to the wallpaper, while the long fibres of the sekishu prevent the object from becoming stiff when all of the layers are dry. Sheets of sekishu shi were water cut into rectangles of two different lengths and applied to the wallpaper alternately, so that no weak area (join-on-join) would be created. The lining paper was pasted on its smooth side with thin wheat starch paste and applied to the wallpaper verso by pitching it with a stick and brushing it flat.
sekishu

Sekishu tissue

  • Once the lining was applied, the wallpaper was again turned over using the tube, so that it was recto-side up. Any lifting areas or loose fragments were secured with a small bit of the wheat starch paste.
  • The paper was again left to dry under felts until dry before it could be assessed for a possible second Japanese lining.

This workshop was a perfect addition to the conference, as it enabled delegates to visualise some of the treatments described in the second day of talks and see the beautiful design of the wallpaper close up.

If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.

Stephanie Jamieson is in the final year of her MA in the conservation of art on paper at Camberwell College of Arts. For her course final project, she has been conserving National Trust wallpaper fragments from Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire.

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