Written by Emily Petermann
As we preserve and digitize the items that come through the Chapman Center, we sometimes encounter items that need more help before they can be scanned in. Some items are tightly rolled or folded to the point that we would damage them if we unrolled them to look at them. So I helped come up with a cost friendly and effective solution!
I was trained on how to do this by the preservation department at Hale Library. And as I worked on a personal project preserving my own family history found that I needed to do it at home too. I couldn’t afford the same level of preservation tools that I worked with at the Library. So, I came up with the budget-friendly and artifact-friendly solution that I brought with me to the Chapman Center.
Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
- a plastic box with a tight fitting lid
- a wire kitchen rack
- watercolor paper
- batting fabric (without any heat treating on it!)
- duct tape
We’ve created our very own humidification chamber to relax these items as controlled and carefully as we can!
The process goes something like this:
Step 1: Determine if it is safe to humidify the document.
Look at the item and discuss how long it will take to humidify safely, or if it should be humidified at all. Things like blueprints should not be humidified in this manner. If all of the pieces are safe, you can move on to step two.
Step 2: Set up the chamber.
Our humidification chamber is a rather large plastic box with a tight lid. We put about an inch of room temperature water into the bottom of the box, and then we placed the wire rack in the bottom of this box to hold the papers out of the water as they relax. On top of this wire rack, we placed the watercolor paper, which had been cut down to fit the box. Then we carefully (so carefully) placed the papers on top of the watercolor paper, making sure that they weren’t overlapping at any point and that there was no way that they could slip into the water. Then, another piece of watercolor paper went on top of the papers, the lid was closed, and we let it sit in a mild-temperature room with no direct sunlight for a day, so that the box wouldn’t heat up too much.
Step 3: Pressing
Now that the items are pliable and can be unfolded without doing more damage, they need to dry in this flat state. To do this we assembled our own weights out of duct tape and bricks- not the fanciest, but very effective. The weights are made by wrapping two bricks in duct tape to seal in the dust and pebbles that might flake off, and then duct taping those two bricks together. We needed three weights, which took 6 bricks. We then took more watercolor paper and the batting fabric, cutting the batting paper to fit under the watercolor paper. Then we sandwiched everything together- first a layer of watercolor paper, then batting, then the carefully laid out pieces, once again making sure that nothing overlapped. Then more batting paper, a final layer of watercolor paper, and the weights. If we had more pieces that needed flattened, we could have continued stacking the batting, water color paper, and artifacts. These were left to sit for a few days, to make sure that they were really truly dry.
Step 4: Drying
After a few days we checked on our pieces, and they were done! Now that they have been humidified, they are readable and easier to open. They can now safely be scanned and accessioned into the project that they belong to!