How to wallpaper with old book pages

Some time back we came across an old dictionary in a box lot at the local auction house – its cover was missing and it was in pieces but it had great illustrations and great (no longer used) words.

There was no particular plan, we just liked it, until that is we were looking for something to line our dressing room walls with and we decided to use the dictionary. The idea was to create something literary and to pay homage to the early pioneer use of newspapers as wall linings – although I should say that was a habit that had largely passed from fashion in all but the poorest homes by the arrival of the Edwardian period.

Therefore this posting is one of those practical ones about how to wallpaper using rescued pages from otherwise destroyed old books.

1.

The dressing room is a small room lined on two walls and the ceiling with its original match lining. It has a pitched roof and doors in the two long sides. We had put wallboard up on the two short sides were there had been a door and a window when this was a kitchen for one of the old flats.

These were stopped and then sized by the painters. Sizing is not difficult and wallpaper size can be purchased from any hardware store – when you’re there buying the wallpaper paste.  I should say we had an expert paperhanger on the bigger alteration job – and he considered any and all wallpapering to be done – his territory. That was until we described these two walls as being reserved for ‘an art project’ – after that he was happy just to size the walls and let us do the rest.

2.

The next stage is to prepare the pages. The dictionary was ragged but the pages needed to cut out. In order to do this the remainder of the binding needs to be cut. It you look at the spine edge-on you can see the book in made in a series of bound sheaths – cut the string that binds one sheaf to the other by running a knife down the spine between the two.

A sheath of papers should come away in your hand. Remove the remaining binding string (picking away at it, cutting where necessary and drawing it out) and you should have a pile of loose pages each made up of about a dozen leaves that when separated out will give you individual leaves of four pages joined down the middle.

The middle will be pierced with holes from the binding and misshapen from being bound into the spine for 150 years. So this needs to go. Luckily for us each page of the dictionary was edged with a thin black border so it was an easy guide against which to cut the individual pages.

We had borrowed a guillotine to do this with but found a ruler and a craft knife easier. Then eventually we discovered that each sheath could be sliced with relative accurately without being broken down into individual pages – this sped the process up immensely.

 3.

We had decided on a regimented scheme were each page remained readable and there was no overlap. You can of course approach this is a more paper mache/collage way, laying pages one over the other but we sort of imagined you might want to read a section without it being abruptly cut off mid sentence.

Therefore we set up a string line – we started at the bottom because there is to be a wardrobe shelf half way up the wall so when we got to that point we readjusted – so that the papers  above the shelf – the most visible area l– ooked uniform.

We also decided to use wallpaper paste and chose one designed for heavier wallpapers. There had been advice and discussions about other glue types – but the wallpaper paste proved easy to use and is proving up to the task six months later.

From there on it was pretty much wallpapering as usual. Except in that we kept discovering words – that we felt we needed to write down and remember. The pages were liberally coated with glue and then put in place with the same stiff wallpaper brush my father used in the 1960s – this is a really good item to buy. Get a good one and it will last decades (as in the case in point).

Because the pages had a natural black printed border, we had a good guide to create a small even over-lap and although it was stifling hot (this was a mid-summer project) we progressed rapidly.

If you are using a book it is worth remembering that the top edges will be brown (books get dirty even sitting on shelves) and you might want to cover this edge by placing the bottom edge of the next page to be pasted over it. Remember also to wipe off excess glue – to stop bugs feasting on your paper.

The end result is great. The papers come across as clean and tidy with a little of the patina of age. A couple of observation specific to this project. As it is essentially a wardrobe the lower half of the walls ended up obscured and even where the papers are visible – they end up pretty hard to read.

DLJ

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