Monday, May 28, 2012

An All Consuming Japanese Screen

Last month we took a hiatus from the blog because we were so busy with a wide range of projects and I did promise that I would put up some of those projects. The post this week is about a late 19th or early 20th century Japanese screen. The client brought it in with a host of problems including the fact that the two end panels were completely separated from the other four, the silk brocade that was around the border was rotting and there were several holes punched through the screen.

We did not begin documenting this until after we had reattached the end panels. Trying to cover this in chronological order is proving difficult, so bear with me if I skip around a little. One of the most amazing things about this screen was that it was made completely from wood and paper without any nails. They did this using an interlocking grid system for the internal structure. The panels and the hinges were made from layers of paper glued together.  Melissa, John and I brainstormed until we were able to come up with a way to make new hinges out of paper so as to remain true to the piece. 

Pictured: This is one of the new hinges that we made from several layers of thin paper and one thick, strong piece.

We started taking pictures after we had redone the hinges. The interior hinges had originally had gold paper covering them, so over the new hinges we created I glued tissue paper. We first did this with the panels at an angle, as you can see from the pictures. I tried to leave enough space that when the panels were folded up it wouldn’t strain the tissue. But I learned my lesson when we folded it up and several areas cracked and I had to redo them.

Pictured: Once the hinges were complete I glued "old gold" tissue paper to match the remaining hinges.

Pictured: I used the burnishing tool to press down the tissue paper without tearing it.

Pictured: So, in order to reach the center of the hinges I had to prop it up and sit under it.

 Melissa and I also scraped off all the old brocade. (It was lovely, but blue and didn’t really work with the piece in my opinion) Taking the brocade off was a huge process as well. It didn’t come off cleanly because it was rotting.  Underneath we found what looks like old newspaper.  

Pictured: Here is a shot of the old paper underneath the brocade that we took off. The bits of blue are the remnants of the old fabric.

I had a heck of a time trying to find authentic silk brocade that was appropriate for the screen, but eventually settled on a gold and brown cherry blossom pattern with an off white ribbon to break up all of the gold. 

Pictured: This picture was taken partially through us putting on the new fabric, but I forgot to take a picture of the fabric by itself.

While I was off gallivanting around LA trying to find the appropriate fabric, Melissa and Katie worked on restoring the areas that we had repaired earlier.  Most of these were in the gold areas, which we thought would make it easier to cover the holes, but paint did not want to stick to the screen. There were signs of previous airbrushing, as well as patch jobs, and now we know why.   

Pictured: Katie painting over some of the damages along the hinges.

Pictured: As you can see in this picture, there was a lot of dirt built up on screen, but the client wanted us to do as little as possible because he appreciated the age of the piece.

In order to attach the new brocade we used a heat-based fabric adhesive. We cut the fabric into strips and then folded over one edge and then used the ribbon to seal the other edge so that nothing would fray. We cut the strips down to the size of each panel so that they did not overlap and bulk up the interior of the hinges.  

Pictured: I am measuring the strips of fabric with the ribbon and creating a guide so that we could cut all of the strips the same width.

Pictured: Melissa ironing on the adhesive and folding the edges over so that they didn't fray.

Pictured: Melissa and I ironing on the brocade. We used pieces of hollytex between the fabric and the iron as a safety precaution.

Pictured: We propped up the panels to get to the inside of the hinges.
Pictured: In order for the panels to lay next to each other correctly we did not overlap any of the fabric in the hinges.

Pictured: I love this shot across the screen with most of the new brocade on.

After we had finished the border, we enlisted Aaron and Gabe to help us with a small amount of airbrushing to cover up the patches in the gold that we hadn’t been able to cover.

Pictured: Gabe masking off areas with paper.

Pictured: Here is one of the areas that we covered with gold airbrushing.

And here it is in all its finished glory!

Once the gold had been fixed our next step was to fold the panels up completely. As I previously mentioned when we folded the panels up for the first time the tissue paper I put on cracked in a couple of places, but other than that the hinges we made held together beautifully. We did suggest to the client that he either hang each panel of the screen or put it on a small shelf to prevent any of the hinges from breaking again.

Pictured: Folding up the first panel and hearing the tissue paper crack was nerve wracking, hence the look on Melissa's face.

Pictured: We were most concerned about the end hinges, but apart from the tissue paper they were successful!

Pictured: Halfway folded!

Pictured: All the way folded!

Melissa and I were overwhelmed for a couple of days, but we both love the knotty problems that take all of our concentration to solve and this project fit that bill!

It should be noted that several crucial steps in our process have been omitted. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us via email at or by phone at 818.882.1214. Also check out our websites: and Please feel free to leave comments or questions on the blog!

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