The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


March 5, 2012

Frankie Meyer: Repairing old documents a perfect group activity

JOPLIN, Mo. — Do you have old newspaper articles, letters or documents that are torn?

This week I visited the Indiana Historical Society’s history lab where an archivist led me through the steps needed to repair a tear in a document. The method is easy, and the supplies and tools are inexpensive. Some of the items, however, are not common ones.

The two main supplies needed to repair paper are a special paste and paper, both of which need to be ordered. The paste must be water-based, acid free, and starch based, and the mending paper must be a special Japanese paper that has strong fibers that will blend in well with the document.

The mending paper will be advertised as 100-percent Kozo, mitsumata or gampi fibers, or a combination of those fibers. That type of mending paper will not discolor, and it can safely be removed, if needed in the future.

Other supplies are a cotton swab, blotting paper, non-woven polyester webbing such as Reemay or Hollytex, a small ceramic tile (or saucer or piece of glass), a ruler, a small flat brush, a small watercolor brush, a weight and a microspatula (or a pair of tweezers).

Before repairing a document, notice which side of the document will be less conspicuous when mended. You will want to do the repair on that side.

Place a piece of blotting paper under the document (that has the repair side up), and then add a piece of polyester webbing between the blotting paper and the document.

You are now ready to tear the Kozo paper into strips at another place on your table. The Kozo strips should be 3 to 4 inches long and 1/4-inch to 3/4-inch wide.

To tear the paper into strips of that size, place a ruler on the Kozo paper. Next, use a cotton swab to draw a parallel line along the paper with water. When the line is wet, gently tear the strip along the water line.

Repeat this step for all four sides of the strip. Place a finished Kozo strip on a ceramic tile and coat the surface of the strip with the paste using a small flat brush. Use the tweezers to remove the prepared Kozo strip and place it over the tear. Next, put a piece of polyester webbing over the area that is being mended. Add a piece of blotting paper on top.

 At this point, some archivists gently rub the surface of the blotting paper using circular motions with the rounded tip of a microspatula. Put a weight on top and wait about an hour for the repaired area to dry. If the tear is long, additional Kozo strips may be needed.

To learn more about this method, check the Internet by searching “archival repair of a paper tear.”  

If a person goes to the trouble of collecting all those materials, my suggestion is to invite a bunch of genealogy and history buffs who also have documents to repair. The mass repair of documents could become a program at a genealogy society, historical society or museum. After the program, the tools and extra supplies could be saved by the organization for future use.

Suggestions or queries? Send to Frankie Meyer, 509 N. Center St., Plainfield, IN 46168, or contact:

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