Basketry skills & Gaugin’s Diary

I recently completed conservation on a beautiful 1927 facsimile of Gaugin’s Tahitian diary called NOA NOA. This was a stunningly produced replica of Gaugin’s diary of his time spend in Tahiti made with lovely laid paper and very high quality reproductions of his artworks, some of which were lightly tipped or glued into the book to give it a true scrapbook/diary feel.

The book was covered in a really unusual material that I hadn’t seen used on a book before, I found an auction catalogue which sold another copy refer to it as a ‘woven straw cloth’ and that is certainly how it looked. I used a little microscope that attaches to my phone to get a closer look at it…

An image taken under high magnification of the cover of Noa Noa, Gaugin's Tahitian Diary. It is yellow and uniform in appearance and broken in the top right quadrant.
x21 magnification image of the covering material of Noa Noa

Unfortunately, like straw, this material had become quite brittle over time, and as the boards slightly warped and were opened and closed, it had broken and sheared along the shoulder of the book. (This is where the boards and the spine meet and gets some of the heaviest action of all book parts!)

A picture of the top of the spine before treatment showing a split in the cover material.
The head cap is pulling away from the book and the woven cover material is unravelling and unstable.

This book belongs to a private client who was worried that its condition would continue to deteriorate and wanted it to be stabilised and protected for future use. So after some head scratching and a bit of research into basket conservation techniques I decided to try and replicate the weave using Japanese paper. This is a very strong material produced from plant fibres (usually the inner bark of the Mulberry tree) and can be made into incredibly thin sheets that are surprisingly strong. It is easy to colour and this makes it probably one of the most commonly used conservation materials around.


I decided to do a small test to see if my technique would work. It would need to be on an incredibly tiny scale to match that of the cover material. Each strip of ‘straw’ was only 2mm wide. Luckily I had done some basketweaving before so I had a technique to try and simplify the weave – starting first with the strips going all in one direction and then slowly adding the perpendicular ones using very fine needle nose tweezers. It worked!

Thin strips of brown Japanese paper woven together in a 9 by 9 millimetre square
A test of the technique using toned Japanese paper to replicate the appearance of the cover material

I used some strong archival cotton inserted beneath the original cover where there were large splits- this will add strength and stability to the gaps.

At the top of the spine a section of brown cloth in bridging a gap in the cover material.
A toned archival cotton is inserted and adhered beneath the original covering material.

Then I was able to fill in the gaps in the covering material using my Japanese paper technique. Adhering all the strips going across the shoulder first using conservation grade wheat starch paste and waiting for it to dry.

In process conservation treatment creating a woven infill of thin strips of Japanese paper.
Thin strips of Japanese paper are adhered to the spine of the book and left to dry. Then more strips are adhered going along the spine, weaving in and out of the first steps, creating a weave.

I would then pull back every other one creating a gap for the other strips travelling along the shoulder to fit into. It was quite fiddly, but I found that with each strip it became stronger and more stable.

The woven infill of Japanese paper sits along the spine with the far ends left long before being stuck down.
The weave is finished but not yet fully stuck down.

I’m really pleased with how the fills ended up looking and they work really well over this movable area.

A picture of the finished infill with all the strips stuck down.
The woven infill is finished and stuck down, blending into the original.

Now this beautiful book can be safely returned to it’s owner and enjoyed for years to come!

3 thoughts on “Basketry skills & Gaugin’s Diary

  1. Really nice result, Holly, congratulations and thanks for sharing, it’s a really interesting case!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Rita! It was a lovely thing to work on and great to get to do some problem solving!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very ingenious, great work!

    Liked by 1 person

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