My Favourite Tool: Keara Burr’s soft-touch tweezers

This tool was an innovative solution to an issue that arose whilst rehousing a small selection from the extensive Audrey Amiss collection at Wellcome Collection. The collection varies widely and includes paintings, sketchbooks, drawings, letters and scrapbooks by the artist Audrey Amiss. She also made photographs using Kodak disc negatives – a format of film released in 1982 as a low-cost photographic medium. The challenge was to ensure that these discs could be handled by readers and could be temporarily removed from their paper sleeves without damaging the delicate film.

Fig. 1 – A Kodak disc negative beside a paper sleeve.

The tool created is a modified pair of horizontally fluted plastic tweezers. They can grasp the negative without any fingers coming near the easily damaged film. Each arm of the tweezers is encased in PEL Soft WrapTM 80 gsm, an acid-free 100% polyester flexible but strong and soft material, sewn tightly to the arm with 1 mm waxed braided polyester thread. The unsightly knot at the end is covered and secured with finer teal thread. Sewing was chosen over adhesive because it allowed the material to be wrapped snugly around the tweezer arms and because the stitching looked more aesthetically pleasing. An adhesive may have pulled away from the fibres and come loose after multiple uses; sewing is more secure. It should also deter any restless readers’ hands from picking at the edges. But most importantly, the wrapped tweezers keep the negatives safe both from scratches and from the oil and dirt from unclean fingers.

Fig. 2 – Covering the tweezer arm with Soft WrapTM.

The covered tweezers are stored conveniently in a compartment within the box of negatives, along with illustrated handling instructions.

Fig. 3 – Left to right: a disc negative, the modified tweezers and the original unmodified tweezers.
Fig. 4 – The tweezers stored in the box of negatives.

All photographs by Stefania Signorello, courtesy of Wellcome Collection.

Keara Burr graduated with an MA in Conservation from West Dean College. She currently works as a project conservator for The National Archives, but has also worked as a freelance conservator for the National Conservation Service and Wellcome Collection.

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