So…. let’s talk news! None of us can deny that it has been a bit of a time for breaking news, ranging from the U.S. election to the COVID-19 vaccine trial success – and everything else in-between.

I’ve returned to Brighton from my month in Finland. On the 31st October there was an article in the daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, written by Anni Lassila, about the last of Finland’s newsprint paper manufacturing machines being turned off in December this year – with a title stating ‘The End of Paper’ (see above), which certainly caught my attention! The article explores Finland’s history of newsprint making – for example, I was fascinated to read that in the 1920s, newspapers in England were printed on newsprint made in Finland. Finland’s first newsprint machine was switched on almost a hundred years ago in a town called Varkaus and this year the last remaining one will be switched off in Kaipola, resulting in over 400 job losses. According to the article, and to give you a better idea of the trend, production of printing and writing paper in Finland was at over 10,000 tonnes in the early 2000s, but has now fallen to around 2,300 tonnes.

I spent some time researching similar stories in the U.K. and the scene is much the same – as an example, the newsprint plant in Shotton in North Wales is also closing and up for sale at the end of this year.

Screen grab of online article about newsprint plant closing in North Wales

As we move at what often feels like breakneck speed towards everything-digital-now, it’s easy to forget about where we started: paper. Work memos are now online, newspapers are online, in fact it feels like most of our lives seem to be lived online – and very seldom do things get printed out. You can, of course, also extend the last statement to photographs.

To bring this back around to the general theme of this blog, the Finnish article got me thinking about newsprint from the conservation perspective.

Newsprint is notoriously acidic and from a paper conservation perspective, I’d go as far as stamping it a bit of a nightmare. It is made in huge quantities from machine-made wood pulp and has never been produced for longevity – after all, it is usually discarded or recycled the moment the day’s paper has been read. Newsprint contains lignin, which is there to hold the fibres of the paper together. Lignin is a three-dimensional polymeric material containing acids which cause the paper to break down and yellow over time. It is not only newspapers that use newsprint: I am sure we are all familiar with old paperback books that have gone a hideous brown colour over time – below is one (not too badly deteriorated, yet) example from my bookshelf at home!

Image of a book printed on newsprint

So what can we do to help? First and foremost, good storage is massively important with newsprint – it should always be stored flat and completely supported, ideally in room temperature and with a relative humidity of around 35%. Newsprint should also be kept away from light and heat – we all knows what happens to a paper left outside in the sunshine (when we have some)! With a nudge to my last blog post and the role of the conservator in digitisation, it is clear that newsprint is a good candidate for digitisation prioritisation in collections. With light being one of newsprint’s enemies, digitising newsprint on a scanner will expose it to a very strong light, but since this moment is brief and is done with the item’s (digital) longevity in mind, it feels an acceptable thing to do. It is strongly recommended that newsprint doesn’t get exhibited, which means making a facsimile copy from a digital file is the best way forward for exhibition purposes.

There is a conservation method which can be used to neutralise newsprint. This takes form in a process called de-acidification and weirdly enough, involves many chemicals! Soaking up the cellulose in water alone can restore some of the paper’s strength but to neutralise the acid, the paper would require washing in a mild alkali bath. Obviously with newspapers this is quite often not feasible merely due to the size, volume and fragility of the newsprint (it may well simply disintegrate when introduced to water), so the general guidance would be to store them as best you can and to digitise, while being mindful that your digital preservation measures are solid too.

Conservation and digitisation

For the past two weeks I have shifted my working-from-home to my native Finland, where I have been experiencing quarantine existence prior to being able to take some time off and see family and friends – within the restrictions in place here, mind. As I mentioned in my previous post, since March I have taken part in a variety of online lectures and events in connection with the conservation profession – including a good handful during these past two weeks. They have prompted me to thinking about the shifting role of the Conservator in the 21st century – so I thought I would type down some of these musings with the hope that they might spark food for thought to others!

Conservation has always been a very ‘live’ profession – techniques and approaches have changed a huge amount even since the 1980s, and keeping on top of the latest is a very active role. My path into the world of (paper) conservation didn’t start until 2010 and I came into it from an archive digitisation role, having started work at the Design Archives in 2002. A deep understanding and expertise of the role of the conservator, collection care, preservation and archival digitisation processes have definitely placed me in a very interesting, and in some ways privileged, spot at a cross-roads between these different aspects of the field. As with other professions during COVID-19, conservation and preservation professionals have had to adapt to new ways of working, bringing to the fore many innovative ideas and approaches. This has also resulted in borders between areas of responsibility blurring around the profession – not necessarily always a welcomed phenomenon. The importance of collaboration and openness about all the challenges (and successes!) we have experienced – this year in particular – are very clear, and it has been very positive to notice that this has been a running theme in the online events I have attended since March.

I have been particularly interested in cross-overs and collaborations between the areas of digitisation and conservation, because of my position of wearing both of these hats in my professional role. During the COVID-19 times we live in, both bench work and digitisation of materials came to an unnatural halt for many as institutions and archives closed their doors. While places have tentatively started opening up again in the past few months, access issues and safety concerns still exist for many, and will possibly continue to do so for many months to come.

Last week a friend and conservation colleague Emma Skinner did an online talk and Q&A about her Conservation for Digitisation internship experience. Conservation for digitisation is an accelerating field of the profession as demand for digitised items from archives increases. In the Design Archives we are in a perhaps more unique position where the vast majority of our collections are from the 20th Century. This means that digitisation of materials doesn’t necessarily provide major conservation challenges and considerations (such as rolled up parchments or ‘oversized’ pieces), but certainly doesn’t come without its challenges either! The Design Archives have been at the forefront of many innovative digitisation projects since the early 2000’s and we very much hope to continue on this path. As technology, such as 3D imaging, becomes more and more ‘everyday’, it will be fascinating to see what the Digitisation Conservator field will come up against in the coming years. The two areas of work are certainly going to need to head forward very much hand in hand.

Naturally all this talk about digitisation and its possibilities for ease of access is very exciting, but we must not forget about those that digital technology and its advances alienates. The lack of inclusivity can very quickly become an issue as we, as a world I guess, move deeper into the digital age. Talks about 3D exhibitions and other non-traditional methods of exhibiting fill me with joy and dread at the same time, and we will have to be mindful of finding a balance between the ‘new and exciting’ and the ‘old and traditional’. I guess all the advances will ultimately take us back to the question which initially prompted me to study conservation: what about ‘the stuff’? Because nothing beats ‘the stuff’! So I feel that the importance of the conservator’s role can never be underestimated – be it a more ‘traditional’ Conservator or a Digitisation Conservator.

To finish on a light note, here is an image I found in the depths of the internet. I’m sorry I can’t credit the maker or the photographer, but I’m hoping you might appreciate as much as I did when I came across it! Good ole pencils, eh?

A picture of a pencil on yellow paper with text

Small notes from a home-office island

It appears some time has passed since I last wrote anything on my beloved blog – and what a ride it’s been since the last post! A lot has changed in the Design Archives in the past two years, and now we continue to be in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m sure I echo a lot of people’s thoughts when I say it has been an incredibly surreal and difficult year so far. We must all brace ourselves for the inevitable changes that are heading our way – and I am, of course, not just referring to the archives and conservation sectors. While we can only wait and see what the fallout will be, I truly only hope that the majority of you have managed to stay safe and sane in the middle of all the madness.

To give you a quick update, our currently 3-strong team has been taking on this working-from-home since the 20th March, when the University closed its doors. For me personally this has obviously meant no conservation, preservation or digitisation work as access to the Archives was on hold, so I have been working around the other aspects of my job as far as I am able. I’ve also had the opportunity to take part in some online courses, seminars and panel discussions organised by International Academic Projects, Institute of Conservation and the National Archives , so continued professional development has been possible, albeit online, and these events have kept my brain ticking at times when I thought I didn’t have any left! I would thoroughly commend the inventiveness of colleagues that has risen from this completely new situation we are all facing despite the adjustments we have all had to make being far from an easy ride.

Design Archives staff member standing next to the grey, square conservation table at the Design Archives
Grinning with joy under the mask

Just two days before the University closed its doors, we took delivery of a beautiful new height adjustable conservation bench made by Willard Conservation Equipment Engineers –  in these weird times it only takes the lure of more surface space to get me going… It’s the little things, right? She has been sitting in the office all by herself all this time… until this week!

A view of an area of paper requiring conservation with heat-set tissue
Preparing the heat-set tissue repair on the minor tears present along the edge of the poster

I have been arranging a loan of a single poster from the Design Council Archive to go to the Design Museum’s upcoming display entitled Margaret Calvert: Woman at Work. On my weekly pre-arranged visits to the Archives to read the hygrometers and do a general check on things, I was also able to have a look at the condition of the poster the Design Museum requested. Forgive me if this is going to sound a little wrong: I was quietly happy that the poster required some (very minor) tear repairs. This gave me a chance to get some tools out and give the table its maiden mission. There was really not a lot to do but it was so much better than nothing!

A red, rollable pouch filled with conservation tools
How I have missed these beautiful tools

Before I go (and in case the news might have passed you by), I want to shout about our biggest news… We were just over a week into the lockdown when we were able to officially announce that we achieved Archive Service Accreditation. We are desperate to celebrate this enormous achievement in style but this, like everything else, has had to be put on hold for the time being. We are still planning on doing just that when it is safe to do so – and it is definitely good to have something positive to look forward to!



A guest entry

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I have a treat for you: the second guest entry on this blog! The text has been written by Textile Conservation student Emma Hartikka (also Finnish, so I get to promote Finnish know-how too!) who was on a placement with Zenzie Tinker. I hope you find the entry as fascinating as I did…

“A few years ago, two carpet samples from the University of Brighton Design Archives were conserved at Zenzie Tinker Conservation by Emily Austin, a Textile Conservation student at the time. She wrote a guest entry about the project.  Two other carpets samples from the archives were conserved at Zenzie Tinker’s again – this time by conservators Geoffrey and Jamie from the studio and me, a Finnish textile conservation student from Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and a summer intern at the studio. I will follow Emily’s lead and write another guest entry about the newly conserved carpet samples.

Both of the carpet samples at hand date to the late 1950’s and have quite bold graphic designs. One of them has a green and black geometrical pattern and the other a rotating pattern in three different shades of blue on a darker, blueish-green background. Their pile is wool and the back weave jute and cotton. The piece mentioned first is a sample of Axminster Body Carpet with the design “Royal Gobelin”. The pattern of the carpet was designed by Neville and Mary Ward and the carpet made by Tomkinsons Ltd. The second piece is a Wilton Body Carpet with a pattern called “Mandala”, designed by Audrey Tanner. This carpet was made by The Carpet Manufacturing Company Ltd. Both designs were recognised and awarded The Duke of Edinburgh Design Prize for 1958 and 1959 respectively.

Images (above): The “Royal Gobelin” carpet sample and its label before conservation.

Images (above): The “Mandala” carpet sample and its label before conservation.

The goal of the project was to do the necessary conservation treatments and remount the carpet samples in order to improve their preservation and use for research. The condition of these samples was relatively good, much better than the other two carpet samples previously conserved at the studio. Like the previous ones, these two had also been victims of a moth infestation. They had piles of moth droppings, such as casings and eggs, found especially between the carpets and the wooden panels on which the pieces were mounted. Luckily, the moths hadn’t done much damage here as they had to the previous two. There were only a few little spots where some woollen pile was missing. However, to kill any possible remaining ravenous moth babies the carpet samples had to go through freezing before anything else could be done to them.

Images (above): Moth droppings on the wooden frame and on the edge of the carpet sample.

The carpet samples were prepared for freezing by removing the old wooden panels and vacuuming the worst of the surface dust and moth droppings off. Otherwise the dust could be stuck to the textile fibres even tighter if condensed moisture dampened the textile during the freezing process. To prevent that from happening, the samples were also wrapped in acid-free tissue and polyethylene plastic as air-tightly as possible. The temperature of the freezing process must be low enough so that even the tenacious, more cold-resistant eggs are eliminated. Research has shown that -30°C is low enough to kill the eggs. Due to the unseasonably warm weather during the late summer, the studio freezer was only reaching -25°C, so a decision was made to freeze in two parts: firstly, 75 hours in -25°C, then 24 hours in room temperature and finally a further 75 hours in -25°C again. The day’s warm period in-between imitates a warm spring encouraging the eggs to hatch. The newborn, vulnerable larvae would be then killed by the second winter. It sounds kind of harsh but it can save the object!

The blue carpet sample had cotton tapes supporting the raw edges glued along the edges on the verso but the old adhesive was dry, brownish-yellow in colour and giving away. The cotton tapes were therefore removed. They gave away easily by simply pulling lightly. Then dried adhesive was scraped away with a spatula.

Images (above): The old cotton tapes were removed and the crusty, dried adhesive scraped off.

In some places the adhesive was still sticky and couldn’t be scraped off. Some solvent cleaning tests were done to find an effective substance for removing the remaining adhesive. A mixture of petroleum spirit and a solvent called Rhodiasolve proved to be effective to soften the adhesive enough so that it could be removed but would not penetrate deeper into the weave structure. The swab cleaning was performed successfully by conservator Geoffrey. His method of scraping off the remains of the softened adhesive with a round brush was simply great.

Image (above): The sticky adhesive being removed with the help of a solvent mixture.

After solvent cleaning, both carpet samples were vacuumed carefully to get rid of any remaining surface dust, moth bits and loose pieces of adhesive. The raw edges of blue carpet sample were fraying and had to be supported with cotton tape and blanket stitches along the edge. The other piece had more stable edges which didn’t need extra support.

Then it was time to make padded boards for the samples to be mounted on! The principle of the process was similar to what was done for the previous two carpet pieces. Two strips of Velcro tape were stitched both to boards and the reverse side of the objects. This gave a means of attaching the carpet samples to the boards so they could be easily detached if someone wished to take a look at the labels on the verso. Care was also taken not to cover the labels with Velcro or cotton tapes. Finally, the labels were protected by covering them with a piece of see through Melinex film.

Images (above): A padded board in the making and Jamie preparing the Velcro.

After conservation, the carpet samples are now cleaner, more stable and moth free. The new mounting system makes the research of them easier. They are now ready to return to the Design Archives to join the other two previously conserved pieces!”
Images (above): The recto of the green carpet mounted after conservation, and the verso of the blue carpet after conservation, before mounting.

On that note, I want to wish you all the best of Season’s Greetings as this year rolls towards its end. The Design Archives have a big year ahead in 2019, and I am hoping I will get a chance to write a little more about that in due course! So keep your eyes peeled…

Archival deep cleaning discoveries

At the end of January this year, we embarked upon an archival deep cleaning mission here in the Design Archives. Archival deep cleaning is not something to be taken on by one person alone but requires a minimum of two people – not only for health and safety reasons, but in order for it to be a practical exercise. We were fortunate enough to be in a position to be able to hire freelance conservator colleague Kristy Woodruffe to come in and help me – and more so for her to say yes to this rather laborious and time-consuming task!

Fast forward to now, and taking into consideration we have been working on the project on average a day per week, the two of us have made considerable progress. The dusting and vacuuming of boxes and shelves in itself is not something to get excited about, but while working through our collections aisle by aisle, we also came across some more actual objects in our care. As you will know, our collections are mainly paper-based, so ‘unearthing’ more 3-dimensional objects to add to our small collection of them was quite exciting!

They came in the shape of various sizes of wooden boxes with objects housed within. The boxes were a part of the County Council of the West Riding of Yorkshire Education Committee’s School Museum Service, and were used for educational purposes. They held within them some Council of Industrial Design’s Duke of Edinburgh Award winning objects, having been given the award for their good design.

The boxes hadn’t been looked into for quite some time, and Kristy and I took precautions by wearing masks and gloves before opening them. The crates were not suitable for archival storage, so we investigated what was inside and re-housed the materials in a more archive-friendly manner.

The very first box we opened contained within it plates and other pieces of miscellaneous kitchenware.

I personally have a real soft spot for these plates. I have memories from the big digitisation project I undertook in 2006, scanning and cataloguing the photographs and colour transparencies of the objects which had won the Duke of Edinburgh’s Design Award, all housed in the Design Council Archive. The digitisation project took place to celebrate the Awards’ 50th anniversary and I – for reasons unknown to me –  specifically fell in love with a 5×4 colour transparency we have in our photographic collection (catalogue number: DCA-30-7-1960-3-1) showing these plates (below).

The plates are called Fiesta and made from melamine. They were designed by Ronald E. Brookes and manufactured by Brooke and Adams Ltd. They were one of the eighteen designs winning the Duke of Edinburgh prize in 1960. It is so lovely to know we have these plates as physical objects too! They had some unknown sticky substance on them, so they were thoroughly washed and dried before re-housing more appropriately.

You might remember that back in 2013 we had two carpet samples from the Design Council Archive conserved. During deep cleaning, we made a discovery of two more carpet samples. Both of the ‘new’ samples were stored in one of the wooden boxes and were adhered on wooden backings. The carpet samples were mouldy on the carrier side and the samples themselves had evidence of moths. As we did back in 2013, they were take to local textile conservator Zenzie Tinker‘s studio for treatment. A textile conservation student Emma Hartikka on a placement at Zenzie’s studio has kindly written a guest blog entry about the work involved, so be on the lookout for that soon!

To mention another object we uncovered, I feel like I have to give the baby bath some airtime! The Ekco Gold Seal Superbath was one of twenty products recognised by the Duke of Edinburgh Prize in 1958. It was designed by MO Rowlands MSIA and manufactured by Ekco Plastics Ltd. Below you can see the digitised black and white photograph we have of it in the Design Council Archive online (catalogue number DCA/30/7/1958/4/1). The bath comes with wooden legs to stand it on. One of the reasons for wanting to mention it is that our Archivist Sue Breakell has a cream-coloured version of this design in which she was bathed in when she was a baby, so there is a lovely personal connection to it within our team!I am especially fond of the ‘Gold Seal’ sticker which still remains intact at the bottom of the bath.As I mentioned before, we do not hold many 3D objects in our care here in the Design Archives and are by no means ‘known for’ having them, so it is very refreshing to see these, and other, items in the flesh – especially after so many years of working with (mainly black and white) images of them!