This was my first visit to the Institute of Making. The creative atmosphere of this impressive space, slotted in amongst the other departments of UCL, invited us to push at the boundaries of the traditional disciplinary identities we usually inhabit.
After listening to Fred Bearman’s presentation on book restoration, I now know that there is a technical (and pleasingly evocative) term – ‘foxing’ – for the mysterious brown spotting which appears on pages of older books, caused by the rusting of tiny metal impurities. I recently found a notebook of my own from just a few years ago, in which the black ink of my handwriting has blotched and faded to a magical pale green, presumably in a similar kind of process.
Bearman talked a lot about the ethical issues involved in book restoration, and the conscious decisions that are taken along the way, which may be perceived as more damaging than repairing. I found myself thinking about inevitable aging or decaying processes that happen simply through use, or thanks to forces of nature that seem beyond our control. I was not present at the first workshop in the series, on ‘Emotions’, but the discussion of Celia Pym’s restored woollen sweater reminded me of one emotion I associate intensely with wool: fear. Other knitters, and lovers of woollen things, will know the dread of discovering dusty traces of insidious moth activity in a favourite cardigan. Pym’s sweater illustrated how evidence of destruction, however, can make us especially sensitive to processes of making and using. Damage can be helpful, because it forces us to think about how things are put together.