Can I restore this stencil?
December 24, 2010 12:48 PM   Subscribe

I was given an antique framed piece of intricately cut brown paper, which I am told was used as a stencil, perhaps on fabric. The paper has dark and light stains on it. The dark stains look to be moisture damage, and the light stains appear to be powdery. Is there anything I can do myself to restore it?

I have some experience restoring art, although no formal training. I'm good at highly detailed work with my hands.

My mother got the stencil from my great aunt's estate, and she says it came with a piece of paper describing its origin and use, which she has since lost. The signature may be of interest.
posted by emilyd22222 to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Whoops- linked to the wrong photo for the signature. It's here.
posted by emilyd22222 at 12:53 PM on December 24, 2010

Best answer: The light stains are mold. Brush it off with a soft paintbrush if it is truly powdery. Do this outside and wear a mask.

Then spritz the stencil very lightly with a weak solution of Lysol and water (1 part Lysol to 6 parts water--use distilled water or water you have boiled and let cool) and let it dry, preferably in the sun (though you can also put it between absorbent paper or even white paper towels in an oven you have heated to 200 degrees and then turned off).

Then, if more powdery mold appears, you can brush that off with a soft paintbrush. Then you can go ahead and reframe it, though I would use new mattes and backing paper, just to be sure that mold spores don't spread back to the stencil.

The dark stains do look like water damage, and they might be alleviated some by the drying, but if not you're stuck with them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:02 PM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The spritz should be super-light. If you're using a regular spray bottle of the kind you find in a drugstore, put the stencil on a white towel and stand about a foot away from it and spray lightly at the most diffuse setting. A plant mister would be better, if you can find one. The goal isn't to saturate the paper, just to sprinkle it very very gently.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:05 PM on December 24, 2010

The stencil looks like a Kimono wax resist stencil (stylized pine and water pattern). Perhaps some research on that technique will tell you the typical paper and methods for preserving the paper. The dark stain could be wax. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has an extensive textile/ Asian textile collection that might give some useful information. Perhaps a dedicated search under the technique will give a site specific to the details. Shibori is a different technique, but there's a site called "World Shibori Network" that has some great beginning information.
posted by effluvia at 1:43 PM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, and I wouldn't use this info until you verify any authentic techniques specific to this piece, I have a book of paper stencils that says the (or at least 'its') stencils should be soaked with a mixture of 50-50 boiled linseed oil and turpentine and hung to dry.
posted by rhizome at 2:17 PM on December 24, 2010

The light stain is a bloom of mold, I doubt a brush will shift it. If the paper is not too delicate use a (very slightly) damp cloth.
posted by fire&wings at 3:15 PM on December 24, 2010

Mopping at mold with a damp cloth just feeds the underlying mold, though (as well as stressing the paper fibers). Killing the mold with a mild fungicide and then brushing it off when it dries to a powder is less stressful on the piece.

There is a school of thought now in book/print/map conservation that suggests that it is best not to do anything about mold beyond brushing actual powdery mold off the surface of the piece. However, that school of thought flourishes among conservators who have temperature- and humidity-controlled collection spaces; since you're going to be framing this for a home, I would encourage you to do some mold remediation to the extent you can without stressing the paper fibers too much.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:37 PM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

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