As I prepare to teach the fundamentals of library & archives conservation to our incoming art conservation graduate students this fall, I find myself struggling, as so many of my colleagues are, with how best to teach practical, hands-on content through a virtual platform. One of the very first hurdles is how to equip our students effectively in their homes. Ordinarily, I fill the student lab with tools and equipment particular to book conservation and bookbinding, like sewing frames and lying presses, that are shared among the students as needed. However, the Library Lab does not have enough sewing frames and lying presses to send all ten students home with their own, and it doesn't make sense for us to spend thousands of dollars purchasing more just to get us through the pandemic. Plus, the Library Lab is already short on equipment storage space, so storing so many bulky items in between uses would be a chore.
I've been thinking about how to create a makeshift sewing frame and lying press out of materials that perform other useful functions around the home or lab. My goal was to create something functional but extremely affordable, which would not only break down and take up minimal storage space, but the constituent parts of which could be repurposed for other tasks. (I've been channeling my inner Alton Brown: "only multitaskers in my kitchen.") Happily, with a few everyday items and a couple of ratcheting bar clamps, we can get the job done. I hope the solutions pictured below function well for my students this fall, as well as any aspiring book conservators or bookbinders who are stuck at home but itching to practice supported sewing bindings.
2 ratcheting bar clamps (pictured here: 12" clamps, which work well for the average octavo-sized book)
1 board (pictured here: 10" x 13" x 1/2")
1 dowel (pictured here: 3/8" x 18")
2 elastic bands
blue painter's tape
Optional: binder clips
This set-up works best with a table that has a lip, so the clamps can secure the board to the table while simultaneously providing the two support posts for the dowel. If you're working on a surface without a lip, you can attach the clamps to the board, and then hang the from edge of the board off the edge of your work surface and weight the back of the board heavily to hold it in place. Alternatively, you can prop up the board/sewing platform on a block. Either of these latter two set-ups works, but is definitely more precarious than clamping directly to a table, so be sure to work with a light touch.
After securing the clamps to the board, use elastic bands to grip the dowel and hold it in place as a crossbeam. Linen cords can be tied directly to the dowel, or linen tapes can be held in place with binder clips. The bottom of the cords/tapes can be secured to the sewing platform with a bit of blue painter's tape to create the taut tension needed for supported sewing.