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The Fix – The Art of Camouflage

This post was written by Vanessa Haight Smith, Head of Preservation Services. 

Japanese paper is used for many applications in book and paper conservation and I often choose this material when reattaching weak or detached boards.  The practice of toning Japanese paper hinges for reattaching boards to leather bindings, promoted by conservator Don Etherington, is widely used in the field.

Toning Japanese Paper 1


However, methods of toning the paper vary.  The general goal is to make the repair as seamless as possible and since many leathers vary in appearance, I create Japanese paper hinges that are custom colored. I have found most 17th -19th century leather bindings have often been prepared or treated to create a mottled appearance, introducing a varied tonal surface.


Toning Japanese Paper 2

To achieve a close match to the leather, I use a heavier weight Japanese paper on which I apply acrylic paints thinned in deionized water using a small Japanese horsehair brush.  I layer several colors similar to the tones within the leather binding –  working dark to light.

Toning Japanese Paper 3


The toned Japanese paper is then cut into a strip 1/4″ to 5/16″ wide.  The detached board is positioned on the book with a weight and the strip is attached across the joint using a mixture of wheat starch paste and reversible polyvinyl acetate.  The end result is a mend that blends smoothly to the original covering.








  1. I am always amazed when I randomly find blog posts such as this one where I learn something new and interesting.

    The techniques you use to restore the bindings of these text appears to be a combination of art and science (and patience!).

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Richard

    But have you seen the damage done by fixing a book in this method rather than using the same material as the binding is made of. Tissue looks great you can match and colour easily, yes the tissue is very strong even the most delicate of tissues plus a thin paste adhesive will pull apart the delicate leather as it dries and the paper shrinks. then over a few years the leather gets pulled apart causing a great deal of damage on the spine and boards rather than just the joint area.

    • Filipe

      Hi Richard, i’m starting to work with restoration of old books with this method. Until now i havent found much information about it s middle and long term effects, which interest me. Do you have any information you can share about this subject. thanks

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