Learning Together: Leather Repair Tips and Tricks

lab workshopSo much of what we know as conservators is based on learning at the elbow of someone else. Discovering the perfect tip or trick is immensely valuable and can mean the difference between an elegant repair and one that is “good enough.”

This week we held an extended in-house workshop covering several types of leather repair techniques: headcap repair, Etherington tissue hinge, Brock split hinge repair, tacketing and rebacking. Our colleague, Craig Fansler, came up from Wake Forest University to learn along side us.

inserting headcap tissue
Mary shows us headcap fills.

Mary demonstrated reconstructing damaged leather headcaps. This repair needs to not only look good, but it needs to function well and stand up to the flexing of the spine. Mary is very skilled at making these repairs, so she showed us her tips on creating well integrated and beautiful replacement headcaps.

Along the way we discussed the benefits of various adhesives and how to maximize their working properties to achieve the desired outcome.

Erin demonstrated the Etherington tissue hinge, tacketing, the Brock split linen hinge, and rebacking with leather. She showed us some of her prior rebacks to help us understand what the end result should look like, and had models for each of the repairs so we could see those as well. We discussed the benefits and detractions of each repair and why we would select one type of repair over another.

The most important tips we learned during our session were

  • Selection is key to a successful repair, and
  • Repairs should be done in stages and allowed to dry in between each stage. Going slowly and deliberately will lead to better decisions and a better final product.

tacket drilling 2
Erin demonstrates board tacketing.

leather paring_craig
Craig practices lifting brittle leather.

I am very grateful to have such talented colleagues who are willing to share their expertise. Through this sort of collaborative training we can learn new skills and continue the tradition of passing on our knowledge. Craig has written a blog post on the Z. Reynolds Smithy blog. Be sure to check that out.

4 thoughts on “Learning Together: Leather Repair Tips and Tricks”

  1. Looks like a great workshop. As a lone conservator nearly half a day’s drive from the closest conservator colleagues, I’m a bit envious. Relish these opportunities for collaborative learning!

  2. We are very lucky. The conservation community has really grown since I moved here a dozen years ago. I love when other conservators can come and learn with us. Erin and Mary did a terrific job with their demonstrations, and the conversations were enlightening.

  3. Thanks so much for doing this, Craig really appreciated this opportunity for learning from colleagues!


  4. I throughly enjoyed this workshop and meeting everyone in Duke Conservation. Erin and Mary did a terrific job teaching everyone and providing written information about each repair. Thank a million for setting this up!

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