This post is by Clare Manias, Enhanced Conservation Work Experience (ECWE) Assistant.

Earlier this year, the New-York Historical Society Conservation Lab treated a sketchbook with drawings by lithographer George John Kerth, a volunteer soldier with the 96th Civilian Corps stationed in Virginia near the end of the Civil War. His sketchbook (N-YHS museum accession number X.433) was filled with pencil drawings of the countryside, townships, including black townships, and of other soldiers and their shenanigans while on his tour through the state.  

In a previous blog post, I highlighted the steps taken to mend and repair the sketchbook’s worn pages to make them strong enough to sew back together inside their original binding. This time I’ll focus on the sewing.

First I marked all the pages, including the yellow interleaving, with a page number on the back, so there would be no mistaking the proper order of the drawings.

To sew the book together, the mended pages were gathered into sections, also called signatures, to be sewn along the fold one at a time.

As the sewing passes up and down each section, the thread runs around linen strips that extend off the sides of the spine. Each stitch has to line up perfectly so the strips aren’t crooked. These linen strips are used to attach the textblock to the cover when the sewing is complete.

The stitch at the end of each section is called the kettle stitch. The kettle stitches run along the end of the spine and form a little chain, the loops of the chain link and hold each section together and keep the pages aligned.

In order to make the book complete—the covers have to be attached. The linen strips are tucked underneath the paper on the inside of the covering boards and glued tightly in place. The gap, called the joint because it’s where the cover flexes, is concealed with linen and Japanese paper. The Japanese paper is tinted to match the book’s paper so it looks like a continuous sheet covers the board, goes over the joint and forms the first page of the book.

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With its boards reattached, the book looks not quite new, but just as it should—like the 152-year-old record of one man’s experiences at the end of the Civil War.

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