Bookmaking: Paste!

[Part of a series on my bookmaking internship at the Kyujanggak conservation lab.]

At the lab they keep uncooked paste in tubs of water. Keeping the paste in water gives the paste more protein but means the paste is more susceptible to insects. Some labs keep paste in jars outdoors and age the paste for years – this makes the paste more flexible, sticky, and strong, which is good for mounting/binding. At Kyujanggak they change out the water in the tupperwares every three to four weeks.

changing paste
Changing out water after a month. The uncooked paste is pretty thick and stinky at this point.

The paste is made by adding water to powder, then kept in the tubs. When it’s time to use the paste, a little is taken out of the tub, mixed with water (at a ratio of 1:3, paste:water), and cooked/stirred for 20 minutes. After cooling, a chunk of the cooked paste is strained.

mixing paste

The large wooden starch container shown above is great for keeping moisture in. It sells for a lot if you order from Japan, but my teacher found one on a Korean website for around $30. It’s pretty much the same type of container used for making sushi rice (초밥).

mixing paste 2

This sieve has a fine mesh layer made of horsehair; I picked one up at Masumi in Tokyo but I wonder if I could have found one cheaper in Korea?

mixing paste 5
Nice thick paste, good for lining silk

Thick paste is used for lining silk, thin paste is used for lining paper.

Though paste-making is a simple and mundane process, paste is extremely important for bookmaking, mounting, and conservation. One master bookbinder (an Intangible Cultural Treasure Holder in Chungcheong Province) said that making paste is the most important process because the paste goes on the actual books or artwork. Its job is to strengthen and protect the work. It is important that the paste is made well, without lumps or chunks. And although it is a simple process, while making paste you have time to prepare your heart and soul for the work that lies ahead.

mixing paste 4


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