Repairing Paper Tears with Japanese Tissue

Japanese repair tissueJapanese repair tissue adds strength to a repair. It is used when the tear does not have wide, overlapping edges and needs reinforcement.
Choose the best method for tearing and applying paste before beginning the repair.

Apply paste on the Japanese repair tissue, then pick up the tissue using a needle, microspatula or fine tweezers. Carefully lay the tissue on the tear. If
the tear is at the edge of the page, extend the Japanese tissue 3/8” past
the edge of the paper. This extension can be turned under now or trimmed
when the repair is dry.
It can be difficult to work with a piece of Japanese repair tissue over 3” so try repairing long tears with several short, overlapping pieces of Japanese tissue. While it may seem inviting to use one long piece of tissue, it is much harder to control, and the finished repair can look clumsy.

Once the pasted Japanese tissue is laid over the tear, cover it with a strip of
wax paper and use a folder to gently press the edges of the tear together.
Remember to always work from the base of the repair toward the edge of
the page.
Wipe away any excess paste that is forced out of the edge of the tear. If
there is much excess, use less next time.
When the entire tear is repaired, cover it with wax paper or non-stick
material and blotting paper, then put it under weight. Remember, if the repair
does not dry under weight, the paper can buckle and curl.
After the repair is dry, curl the paper around the tear and make sure all the
edges are well adhered. If there are loose edges, repaste and dry under
weight. If the page creases at the repair, consider applying a second
Japanese repair tissue patch on the opposite side of the original repair.

Adhesives and Repair Tissue

Paste brushesWhen applying adhesive to Japanese repair tissue, choose a brush that matches the size of the surface.
If the area is small, use a small brush; a bigger area needs a bigger brush. A thin, even coat of adhesive makes the best bond. Too much adhesive will ooze out the edges of a repair and can stain other surfaces.

Apply paste or glue to paper or cloth by brushing from the center of the materials being glued toward the outer edges in a star burst pattern.
Brushing from the center out in a starburst pattern protects the edge of the paper or cloth. There might be small tears at the outer edges of a piece of paper or cloth that the brush could catch and tear or the brush might “grab” the edge of the paper and turn it back on itself, sticking the two surfaces together.

In addition to applying adhesive directly to a piece of paper, it can also be applied indirectly. This method is especially useful when working with very small pieces of paper or cloth.
Brush the adhesive onto a piece of glass or plastic then lay the paper or cloth on top of it. The paper or cloth acts as a sponge and absorbs the adhesive from below. Use the bristles of a brush or fingers to work the paste into the Japanese tissue. When Japanese repair tissue is transparent, it has soaked up all the paste it can.

Masking is another technique used to apply adhesive to paper. By using a strip of waste paper to protect most of a sheet of paper, you can apply adhesive to a very specific area in a controlled way. This is especially helpful in operations such as tipping in a page (separate post).

Tearing Japanese Repair Tissue

Japanese repair tissue is usually torn so that the edges are feathered, not cut sharp as they would be with a knife or scissors. The feathered edge allows the repair tissue to “blend” onto the text paper. Repair tissue can be torn with a water tear or needle tear. A needle tear gives a slightly less feathered edge than a water tear.

To water tear a piece of Japanese repair tissue, use a small, pointed natural bristle paint brush to draw a wet line or shape on the Japanese tissue. For a straight line, wet a piece of repair tissue against the edge of a ruler or straight edge. The water weakens the fibers of the tissue and allows it to tear along the wet line.

To needle tear a piece of Japanese repair tissue, use a needle-in-a-stick to score the surface of the Japanese tissue. The point of the needle creates a “dotted line” on the surface of the Japanese tissue to tear along.

Special Shapes

To tear a piece of Japanese tissue to a specific shape, such as to repair a missing corner or mend a hole in the middle of a page, tear the tissue as follows:

  • Lay a piece of black mat board or paper under the missing area to make the outline of the loss more visible.
  • Put a piece of polyester film over the loss to protect the page from the water and needle; then lay two layers of Japanese repair tissue over the film and water tear or needle tear the patches to fit the loss. One patch will go on each side of the loss.

If the damaged page is not attached to the text block, it is possible to use a light table or the light from a window to see the area that needs to be patched. Put the text page on a light table or window, cover and repair as outlined above.

Japanese Repair Tissue

Japanese repair tissueJapanese repair tissue is sometimes called “rice” paper, but this thin paper is made from the fibers of the mulberry tree, not from rice as the nickname implies. The strength of Japanesere pair tissue comes from its long fibers which make the paper very strong, even though it is very thin. Handmade Japanese repair tissues are made on a mold and have mold or “chain” lines which can be seen in the paper. These lines generally run the same direction as the paper grain. The lines are visible when the paper held up to a light or held down to let the light shine from above. The grain can also be determined by using the tear, bend or water test discussed previously.
In general, Japanese repair tissue is torn rather than cut. A piece of torn Japanese tissue has a delicate feathered edge that blends into the repaired paper, so there is no sharp edge for the repaired page to turn against.
Different methods of tearing Japanese tissue are outlined in a separate post..
Japanese repair tissue can be purchased in different weights and colors.
Generally, three weights will cover most repair needs. Since most paper is not truly white, I recommend you buy the “natural” or “toned” colors.

  • TENGUJO light weight for working over type or illustrations
  • KIZUKISHI medium weight for most repairs
  • SEKISHU heavy weight for heavier paper

Although Japanese repair tissue may seem very expensive, only a small amount is used on any one tear. One sheet of Japanese repair tissue will last you a long time.