Conservation is generally an activity aimed at extending the life of an object, aiming for the avoidance of it’s deterioration for a shorter or longer time. The conservation of textiles refers to the processes by which textiles are processed in order to be protected from potential damage, and retained. Since textiles are organic in nature, they are vulnerable to numerous deteriorating causes, both natural and man-made. Natural factors being light, climate, humidity, pests, pollutants and man-made factors being mishandhing, neglect, bad storage, accidents, fire.
Natural factors leading to deterioration of textiles
It is a source of energy that can cause a fade in colour and degrade the textile fibre chemically and physically. The longevity of textiles can be compromised by exposure to both visible and ultraviolet light. Fading of colors, alterations of hues are the earliest signs of light damage. It is followed by general textile yellowing and browning, which is a useful indicator of poor quality. The most popular source of ultraviolet light is natural light. In sunlight, it is present and is released by several lamps. Within the shortest time it is able to do the greatest amount of damage.
Moths, carpet beetles, silverfish and rodents are amongst the most common pests to deteriorate the textile. In tropical climates, the insect danger is greater than in temperate zones because insect growth is favoured by high temperatures and humidity. Cloth moths are attracted to protein fibres and are drawn to linen, wool and feathers in particular. Silverfish and firebrats are similar insects that eat starch, typically found in fabric sizes or other treatments, as well as textiles based on plants such as cotton and linen.
When there is no air circulation, mould outbreaks may occur in damp conditions. It is an indication of possible harm from moulds whether you identify furry growth or residual marks on textiles, or a musty scent in the air.
Heat and moisture can also lead to the decay of a textile. Excessive dryness, however, can also cause harm, especially to elastic fibres, such as wool, which rely on a certain amount of moisture to retain their durability. Temperature and humidity should be maintained as stable as possible; fluctuations in any of these can lead to the expanding and contraction of textile fibres, and can also cause textile degradation and decay over time.
Dust is a small particulate airborne pollutant that may contain a combination of different materials such as fabrics, bits of dust, skin and hair molecules of humans and animals, contaminants of air pollutants such as soot and smoke, fungus spores, molecules of paint, and pollen. It is possible to extract dust freshly deposited on the surface of textiles, but it gets trapped within fibres in time and hence is almost impossible to clean.
Human-made factors leading to deterioration of textiles
There are various and varying losses suffered by human beings-wounds to textiles by mishandling, negligence, inadequate care, injuries are among the most common. Textiles, since they are kept rolled, are broken at the creases. The harm is physical and can be generally stopped by proper handling and by following acceptable packaging and storage procedures.
The steps already listed for the prevention of all forms of harm are ideal storage conditions. Thus, in acceptable environmental circumstances, textiles should be processed. Light ought to be reduced to a minimum. It is important to protect textiles from chemicals, dust and insects. Smoke, tar, and acids are airborne chemicals that most commonly influence textiles. Smoke causes discoloration and staining, which are highly difficult to wash. In smoke-proof containers, textiles displayed in a room with a fireplace or where smoking is allowed should be stored.
As our hands hold oils and acids in the flesh, when handling textiles, clean cloth gloves should be worn. If gloves are needed, to ensure that no harm is caused, regular hand-washing should be performed. The job, show, and storage areas should be free from food , alcohol, and tobacco smoke for related purposes, which may also stain or affect the cloth. Finally, only pencils can be used for writing or sketching in the workroom to prevent ink stains.
Deterioration due to light can be prevented by minimising the light intensity that falls on the item, exposing objects for a minimum amount of time to light, elimination of photo-chemically active light radiation. The general consensus is that the maximum degree of illumination does not exceed 50 lux for susceptible objects like textiles.
Pests and moulds can be prevented by keeping the atmosphere of the museum calm and dry. Keep clean, orderly and rubbish-free areas inside and out. Debris from roosting birds is a common cause of infestation in gutters and roof spaces. Set aside an area separate from the storage and display rooms, if possible, where incoming and outgoing artefacts are packed and unpacked and unwanted items may be quarantined. In all undisturbed, humid, dark areas, such as under cabinets, attics and basements, and under carpets and curtains, search periodically for infestation. Though several remedies have been attempted in the past, once it is formed in a cloth, there is no real cure for mould. Maintain a relative humidity of less than 65% and a temperature of less than 18o ° C. Ensure the circulation of oxygen. In fact, if the slightest chance of dampness occurs, stop placing storage boxes in contact with damp walls. Stop spreading waste. Do not unpack mouldy textiles near other items or reuse boxes for other items that have contained contaminated textiles. To stop spores spreading, while maintaining air circulation, cover infected products in acid-free tissue paper.
For controlling the impact of climate both storage and exhibition areas should be configured with measuring devices to assess room temperature and humidity, display cases, enclosed storage facilities and work areas when looking for prevention. Through the use of fans, humidifiers and dehumidifiers, and portable heating or cooling systems, the conservator can also moderate the temperature and relative humidity in places where climate conditioning is not possible. Whether it is part of a care or washing process, textiles can never be enclosed in plastic or other air-tight casings. Combined with the recommended humidity, good ventilation can help prevent mould and mildew from developing, which can stain or damage antique textiles.
Using expert manufacturers’ displays of environmental efficiency designed to protect against dust. Stop open displays and ensure that all textiles displayed in the open are handled by professional workers at least a year using gentle vacuum suction. Secure textiles whether they are outside display cases or boxes by lining and shielding them with dust sheets. All wrappers must be air-permeable-impermeable plastics, such as polythene sheeting, must be used only to protect textiles in an emergency against water. Made sure the textiles do not come into touch with dusty surfaces like box-lids and table-tops. When setting textiles out for inspection, use clean dust sheets spread over surfaces.
The sun, temperature , and humidity of textile storage can be regulated by conservators. They can limit the display form and the amount of handling or cleaning. The elements that make up the original object or their ability for self destruction are something they can’t manage. Dust, gravel, and bugs are drawn by starch endings. Cellulose nitrate has been extensively used to powder buttons and sequins. The compound’s hydrolysis induces nitric acid, which, in essence, degrades silk fabrics. For some dyes, iron-based mordants trigger oxidation, which then interacts with cloth fabrics, allowing them to swell and fall off. Modern technology introduces innovative methods for conservators, but it also creates new problems. And textiles have more to sell than a few threads and some dye. Plastics, circuitry, or also lotions and scents can be used in contemporary garments.
In maintaining luxury pieces that were never intended to survive beyond their debut season, there is also a lot of challenge. In retaining their work, several design houses have taken an interest. They have become more mindful of the resources they use when building an archive.
Conservators’ training is given world wide. Their mission is to interfere for many reasons as heritage properties are endangered or diminished. The curator stops or removes the function of works of art from vanishing when studying the dynamic process of its material history and the cause of alteration. Art awareness and aesthetic value appreciation are virtues for a conservationist, but understanding how materials interact, age, and decay is much more important. Typically, the 1950s are easy to recreate, but cutting-edge styling has always been a challenge. Scientists and researchers are coming up with ideas everyday for different fibres, materials and fabrics finding a solution to preserve them. So, after all, the textiles we used and use today may be kept for future generations to see.
- Istvan Eri, “Conserving textiles (Studies in honour of Agnes Timar Balazsy)”, Iccrom conservation studies
- “Textile conservation in Museums, NCERT
- Karen Finch, “Textile Conservation”, Journal of the royal society of arts
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