Thursday, 9 April 2020

Needlework Textile Conservation - March 31, 2020

March 31, 2020

I was recently asked how to handle an heirloom cross stitch that was shipped to a friend in Canada from a family member in Scotland.  It had always been stored behind glass in a fire screen but was removed and rolled into a tube for shipping via the local postal service.  I was told it is in relatively good shape but there was concern on how to handle it, preserve it and display it over the longer term.

I can suggest the following ways to ensure that this family heirloom and other needlework textiles will see many more years of enjoyment.  When in doubt please contact a textile conservator for advice.  The Canadian Association of Professional Conservators has a way to search for a conservator in your area.  See References below for a link to their site.  The Museum of Natural History in Halifax Nova Scotia can also assist.  A call to their general number asking for help will likely get some answers for you.

The following is general information based on a needlework textile of moderate size such as a sampler, small cross stitch, small hooked rug, or needlework textile of most kinds.  This information is also based on simple and low cost materials that might be available in community museums with minimal funding available for professional services.
  • keep it flat - originally intended to lie flat then it should remain so.  For example, if shipped in a tube then once unrolled store it flat in a protected area.  Rolling or folding textiles can break fibres which could cause unravelling.  There are some textiles that can be rolled if done properly.  For example, rugs with heavy fibres.  See link below under References for a discussion of this from the Canadian Conservation Institute.
  • minimize handling - use gloves to avoid oils or other contaminants on your hands from coming in contact.  Handle it as little as possible.
  • don't clean it - unless done by a professional such as a textile conservator.  Different fibres require different cleaning methods and chemicals used in cleaning.  The conservator will determine the type of fibres, the nature of the dirt and come up with a cleaning method.
  • storage - between acid free papers in a flat box or in an acid free envelope.  Depending on the size you can likely get this type of paper in the size needed at most comic book stores.  I can also recommend archival supplies on this web page by this Canadian company Carr McLean - Archival Supplies.  Although normally for archival documents, this works well for smaller textiles and they do have map sized storage for the larger ones.
  • display - one option to show your textile is to put it on an acid free backing paper or matboard and frame it along with a UV protectant glass.  Do not attach the textile to the backing or glass.  Simply lay it flat and tighten it in the frame so that it is held in place.  It is okay if it touches the glass but, you should wash the glass and make sure it is thoroughly dry first, but tighten the frame only until it keeps the textile in place.  Do not over tighten.  See References below for detailed information on mounting flat textiles.
  • environmental issues - do not store or keep it in direct sunlight or harsh lighting, fading will happen over time.  Avoid high humidity (can promote mould) and extremes in temperature.  See this post for more detailed discussion these issues: Environmental Considerations
  • insects - always carefully check over the textile for any evidence of insects.  Watch for holes, eggs, insect parts, etc. and if in doubt contact a textile conservator for advice and treatment.

Caring For Textiles- American Conservation Institute
Canadian Association of Professional Conservators - Can search for a textiles conservator
Flat Storage For Textiles - Canadian Conservation Institute
Mounting Small, Light, Flat Textiles - Canadian Conservation Institute
Textile Mounting - Minnesota Historical Society - using a fabric covered board for mounting
Carr McLean - Home page for Canadian with archival and conservation supplies