© 2018 by Mountain States Art Conservation

Textile Conservation Services

Paulette Reading Textile Conservation LLC offers comprehensive care of textile artifacts in Denver, Colorado including:

  • All aspects of conservation treatment including repair, cleaning, storage, mounting, and documentation of textiles

  • Condition surveys

  • Workshops/lectures about the care and handling of textiles

  • Exhibit preparation

  • Types of textiles include:

    • Family heirlooms such as quilts, samplers, lace and embroideries

    • Contemporary textiles and fiber arts

    • Historic artifacts such as flags, banners, and military uniforms

What is Textile Conservation?

Textile conservation involves the care and preservation of textile objects. Textile collections can include a wide variety of artifacts ranging from historic or archaeological fragments to contemporary fiber arts.

Textiles are generally woven organic objects that are made from fibers such as cotton, wool, silk, linen. They can also be made of synthetic materials such as polyester or nylon, in ether a woven or non-woven form. Textiles can be dyed, printed, or painted. They can include other materials such as beads, plastics, or metal components.

Many textiles that are preserved were made as utilitarian objects that were intended to be used. Examples include: quilts, uniforms, wedding dressing, and flags. Textiles that were  made for use rather than for decorative purposes might influence the treatment of an object. For example, one might accept more soiling on a historic textile that was used.

Many textiles were constructed as decorative objects or artwork to be displayed. As with utilitarian textiles, there are both modern and historic examples of decorative textiles. Examples include samplers or other embroideries created for display, tapestries, contemporary fiber arts.

Potential Damages

Common damages one finds in textiles include: Fading, yellowing or other discoloration, creases and distortion, bleeding of colors or dye transfer, staining or soiling, fiber degradation, and mechanical damages or loss. Many of these damages may be a result of use, or simply from inherent vice. Textiles do degrade over time, particularly more delicate fibers such as silk. However, improper storage, display, and handling can accelerate natural degradation processes.

Fading

Light damage is permanent and cumulative. Meaning, that the fading that occurs cannot be reversed. Also that any exposure to light, particularly ultraviolet illumination, regardless of intensity or duration, is damaging. The damage continues to add up over time with exposure.

Ways to protect textiles from light are to cover them when not in use. Use UV-protective glazing on framed objects and UV-protective films on windows. Also keep textiles out of direct sunlight.

Creasing / Distortion

Creases most commonly result from having been folded for a long time. These can be prevented by using proper folding and storage techniques. When creases do result, they can usually be relaxed using conservation methods. Distortions can result from poor hanging techniques such as pinning with nails which can cause scalloping along the top edge while hung. These distortions can be more difficult to get out if they become severe.

Staining / Dye Bleed

Bleeding of colors or dye transfer occurs when the textile has been exposed to water or moisture. Some colors are soluble in water, solvents (including dry cleaning solutions), or detergents. Well meaning cleaning attempts can result in permanent bleeding of the colors. Water leaks, spills, or pet accidents can all cause this type of damage. Textiles exposed to severe changes in temperature and humidity can cause condensation or dampness that can cause bleeding of the colors.

Mechanical Damage

Tears and holes can occur in a number of ways. Improper storage or display can also cause losses. Very severe creases can result in splits in the fabric. Pests such as dermested beetles, moths, or rodents can also lead to damages. Artifacts containing wool are especially susceptible to insect attack. This is one of the most common problems seen in textile collections.

Insects

The biggest culprits are dermestid beetles, such as this varied carpet beetle, and clothes moths shown in different stages. The best way to control pest attack is good housekeeping. Keep your collections clean. Insects are attracted to soiling, especially oily stains or textiles that have been worn. Routine monitoring can help to keep an infestation from becoming severe. Often times you will notice the damage to a textile before you will actually see any insects. Look for new holes or loose fibers in your textiles. Also look for evidence of insects such as eggs, casings, or other insect debris. Store your textiles in clean tissue paper or white cotton sheets. This way you can easily see if there are loose fibers or insect matter.

Do not use moth balls. They act as a deterrent but the chemicals are also harmful to your health. If you do find a problem it’s best to contact a conservator for advice.

 

General Handling and Maintenance

Many textiles get damaged just from handling them. Always use clean, dry hands and remove jewelry, watches, or anything that might snag. You can also wear clean cotton or latex gloves. However, sometimes it is better to be able to feel the object when you are handling it, particularly if there are splits or tears in the fabric. Always know where you are going to place an object before picking it up. And have a clean surface prepared to place it. Keep food and drink away from textiles. And for general maintenance, many textiles can be lightly vacuumed to minimize dust and dirt accumulation. Contact a conservator with advice on how to do this properly.

 

Storage – Overview

Store collections in spaces that you live in: under the bed, in closets, etc. Do not store textiles in attics or basements. As a result, your objects will be more protected from light, moisture, pests, and changes in temperature and humidity. Also, you are much more likely to monitor your collections or notice if there is a problem (such as a water leak or insects) if things are near your daily living spaces.  Use only acid-free materials.

Rolled Storage

One method to store textiles is to roll them. One benefit is that there are no folds or creases when properly rolled. Rolling is actually somewhat tricky to do. If a crease does result while rolling then the crease gets rolled into the textile under significant pressure. Rolled storage can be impractical for larger textiles because the tubes can be really long. You never want to fold a textile and roll it. Not all textiles are good candidates for rolling. Textiles that are lined, have surface embroidery or beadwork, or are very distorted can be damaged with rolling.

Once rolled you should cover with a clean cotton sheet or muslin. Do not cover in plastic bags. Plastic can be acidic, or off-gas unwanted chemicals that can be damaging to the quilt. Even inert plastic is undesirable because if the textile does get wet, the plastic will prevent drying, possibly resulting in condensation or mold, and facilitate bleeding of the dyes or other staining.

Boxed Storage

Boxed storage is often the most practical for many textiles including quilts, coverlets, and garments. Use the largest box possible. Plan folds so that there are a minimum number of folds needed to fit into the box. Pad out all folds with tissue “sausages.” Use acid-free box and acid-free tissue. Usually you want to pack one textile per box. If you stack textiles within the box, then the pressure can crush the folds causing creases, even if the folds are padded out. Monitor and re-fold regularly.

Flat Storage

Smaller flat textiles that are not on display such as lace, samplers or other embroidery, can be stored flat. Drawers or shallow boxes can be used. Wooden drawers or cedar chests should be lined with a material such as Tyvek to prevent acidic migration and staining of the textiles. Textiles should be interleaved with non-buffered acid-free tissue. A tissue folder can be made to so that the textile can be lifted without directly handling it. A rigid support made from acid-free matboard or cardboard can also be used in between layers so that the textile is supported when lifted.

Padded Hangers

Garments that are in stable condition can be stored on padded hangers. Pieces that have weak seams, tears, or other structural problems should not be hung. Garments that contain heavy trim, beading, or other ornamentation should also not be hung and should be stored in a box. For box storage, you want to interleave the garment with tissue and pad out all folds as you would a quilt or other folded textile. The hanger should be the right size so that it properly supports the garment and does not put stress on it causing distortion or other damages. Garments on hangers should be covered with a muslin or Tyvek dust cover. Plastic, particularly dry cleaning bags, should not be used for storage.

 

Display

Velcro and Sleeves

Velcro is a very good, inexpensive, and safe option for hanging larger textiles such as quilts or tapestries. When attached properly, it provides sufficient, continuous support along the top edge, minimizing distortion. You can make fine adjustments so that the quilt hangs nicely. If the textile is removed from display, the Velcro should be removed before folding because of the bulkiness.

A similar option to Velcro include using a hanging sleeve. Like Velcro, sleeves are generally a safe option if attached properly to the textile. A sleeve does not offer as much continuous support since it is only the top row of stitching that carries all of the weight. Unlike Velcro, you cannot make fine adjustments in hanging the textile. An advantage is that the sleeve does not need to be removed prior to folding for storage. Use a rod that is acid-free and will not cause staining.

Framed

When done properly with appropriate materials, framing offers a very safe way to display your textile. It provides overall support to the textile, and UV protective glazing protects it from light, soiling and pollutants. A textile has to be in stable enough condition so that it can be displayed vertically. Proper mounting usually involves preparing a fabric-covered mounting board.  Acid-free materials and an appropriate mounting fabric free of additives or unstable dyes. The mounting fabric is attached to the panel using stitching techniques; no adhesives are used. The textile is then stitched to the panel in the interior and around the perimeter so that it is supported overall. The stitching is done in a manner and using threads that are not readily visible.

 

When to call a conservator

When should you call a conservator? If you have any questions about how to care for your textiles,  or if you want to prepare it for display, it’s best to ask the advice of a conservator.  Certainly if you think your textiles are in need of cleaning or repair.  Also, if you notice an insect problem a conservator can offer advice on what to do.