TSG Chapter IV. Documentation of Textiles - Section B. Factors to Consider

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Contributors: Originally drafted by Susan Heald. Contributions from: Deborah Trupin, Denise K. Migdail, Gaelen Gorden, Gwen Spicer, Judith Eisenberg, Jane Hutchins, Jane Merritt, Lucy Commoner, Lorna Filippini, Patricia Ewer, Martha Winslow Grimm, Marlene Jaffe, Meredith Montague, Nancy Pollak, Sara Reiter, Suzanne Thomassen-Krauss, Susan Anne Mathisen, Zoe Perkins. Content date April 2, 1998.
Editors: M. Cynthia Hughes, Jane Lynn Merritt, Deborah Trupin, Sara J. Wolf
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Copyright: 2018. The Textile Wiki pages are a publication of the Textile Specialty Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.
The Textile Wiki pages are published for the members of the Textile Specialty Group. Publication does not endorse or recommend any treatments, methods, or techniques described herein.


Introduction

"The conservation profession has an obligation to produce and maintain accurate, complete, and permanent records of examination, sampling, scientific investigation, and treatment. When appropriate the records should be both written and pictorial. The kind and extent of documentation may vary according to the circumstances, the nature of the object, or whether an individual object or a collection that is to be documented." (AIC Guidelines for Practice, revised August 1994.)

Examination of textiles prior to treatment: Factors to consider

Type and extent of the documentation may depend on several factors.

Purpose or reason for examination

A detailed report for an individual object needing specialized treatment vs. a large collection of items needing mass treatment will require different types of reports.

Overall condition of the piece

Resources designated to the project

Time, staff, funds, equipment.

Extent of previous documentation

Standardization of Terminology

Words used to designate condition may have different meanings to different people within textile conservation, as well as conservators in other specialties.
  • The use of subjective terms such as excellent, good, fair, and poor are helpful in comparing condition among a group of objects, but they are open to interpretation. Providing a list with guidelines for what constitutes "good", "fair" or "poor" condition would be useful to the reader for truly understanding the condition of the object.
  • Due to discrepancy in the meanings of certain terms, the conservator should be specific and explanatory when using such terms as lining, backing, consolidating, etc.
  • A glossary of accepted terminology of textile-related terms is helpful (such as Burnham, Emery, CIETA).

Permanence of records

Documentation files should be well stored and maintained.
  • Use archival quality paper.
  • Photograph with highly stable black and white or color film.
  • Store in archival sleeves in appropriate environmental conditions for the film type.
  • Save on electronic media that will readable in the future.

Danger of further damage

Thorough examination and photodocumentation require that the object be handled. Be aware of (and record) further damage sustained during the documentation process.

Formats for recording information

Checklist

Form with blanks for information and descriptors with boxes to check for condition and treatment. [N.B. good for large surveys/mass treatment; usefulness to the custodian to evaluate needs or proposal, or for future conservator depends on how the checklist is developed.]

Outline

Sentences or phrase description for each heading; allows for more detailed description than the checklist format.

Narrative

Paragraph or essay form for the entire report. [N.B. Headings are necessary to locate specific information.]

Combination

Integrates checklist and phrase descriptions.

Types of documentation

Examination/condition report

made to assess the condition of a textile at a given moment in time. This report should include a description of the textile, construction details, and descriptions of the types and causes of damage (from age and original use), areas of loss and discoloration, changes or repairs it has sustained. It may be done as part of the acquisitions process, as a precursor to a treatment proposal, or prior to and following exhibition. Standard sections for this report include:

Title or identifying description of an object, accession or job number, date (if known), and storage location.
Owner of object (or contact person) including address and phone number.
Description of the textile [N.B. Amount of detail may vary].
  • Structure of textile - method of fabrication, weave structure, thread count, yarn diameter, twist and ply, fiber
  • Colors
  • Inscription or identifying labels
  • If costume, type of sleeve, bodice shape, skirt style, description of silhouette
  • Embellishments
  • Finish
  • If upholstery, layers which are visible, construction methods
Name of examiner and date
Historical documentation as it relates to conservation treatment.
History of piece, how it has been used and how it will be used. If privately owned, future use may affect treatment.
Dimensions - overall measurements given in inches and centimeters with notes on warp and weft direction and any lack of symmetry or variations and specific measurements needed for storage or mount construction. For costume, this may include pattern reconstruction. It may be useful to include pattern repeat measurements, width between selvedges, and the loom woven width (for a pieced or multiple joined panel object).
Testing methods and material identification of components. Record type of analysis, techniques used, location where taken or read, and results.
  • Non-destructive test methods: visual examination under various light sources; colorimetry; some methods of testing for colorfastness
  • Destructive test methods (requiring samples): microscopy for fiber i.d., chemical tests for dyes or finishes, instrumental analysis, some methods of testing for colorfastness, stain analysis
  • Sample taking should be approved by custodian.
  • Remove the minimum amount required for analysis [N.B. consider retaining samples if not consumed by the method of analysis; factors to consider in determining whether or not samples should be retained include: difficulty of obtaining further samples; the significance of the piece; if results differ from those predicted by visual identification or previous information; request of custodian/owner.]
  • Document the site from which the sample was removed
Description of condition including location, extent and cause of damage
  • Losses, abrasions, tears, holes - indicate size, shape and location
  • Usage, prior handling, storage or display conditions that may have affected the current state of the object, current mounting technique
  • Infestation - indicate whether previous or active; identify organism if possible
  • Previous repairs, alterations, and conservation. Note if treatment(s) have caused any additional stress or damage
Visual aids to describe condition and damage
  • Sketches and diagrams
  • Photographs
  • Color coded photocopies of photographs locating damage
  • Radiographs
  • Tracings of photo or overlay of textile
  • Digitalized annotated computer images

Treatment plan or proposal

Objectives and goals of treatment.
Outline for treatment procedures with justifications or reasons.
Alternative approaches, if applicable, with justifications or reasons, and any additional treatment the conservator feels is optional.
Estimate for treatment time
Possible risks of treatment, and, if necessary, possible consequence for not treating or addressing present problems.
Possible need for additional mount, or solutions for storage, including dust cover.
Signature of approval from authority such as the owner, curator, institutional representative.
Owner's written approval for any change to previously approved treatment proposal.
Name of examiner and date

Post-treatment Report

Reiteration of goals of treatment.
Materials used, with trade names and chemical formulae (if known). Include dilutions, solvents used, or special preparations of materials. Include samples of materials used if appropriate to save.
Description of treatment steps and techniques used. Note any changes to original treatment proposal and include justification for the changes.
Bibliography listing references concerning object treated, technique, equipment and materials used, as appropriate.
Additional information discovered during treatment
Damage which occurred during treatment
Evaluation of treatment if desired.
Record of any materials removed during treatment, their original location and their disposition, and, if possible, include samples of those materials.
Recommendations for future care of object, such as, maximum display time, special exhibition requirements, availability for loan.
Details of photographic and other documentation, including film type, and location for storage of these items if not stored or included with the report.
Name of conservator(s) participating in treatment
Dates of treatment and amount of time required to complete treatment.

Storage and exhibition records

Storage Information should include:

  • Methods
  • Materials
  • Condition
  • Location

Exhibition information should include:

  • Title
  • Dates
  • Location
  • Light levels
  • Methods of preparation - to the object, the exhibition materials, display techniques.
  • Monitoring devices.
  • Any changes in condition during display.
  • Any treatment preparation or modification for reintegration into storage.


Photographic documentation

Photographs should record original condition as well as changes made during treatment. Photographs should be taken in ambient lighting, and in other lighting situations to show particular information, such as distortions (raking light), or auto-fluorescence (UV light).

Photography imposes some risks to the object

  • Exposure to light (including UV component) and heat from lamps.
  • Rapid change in temperature and relative humidity surrounding object as lights are turned on and off.
  • Stress from handling. [N.B. if the photography is not done by the conservator, clear handling instructions and precautions should be provided to the photographer.]

Photographs should include:

  • Overall front and back views
  • Details of damage.
  • Before and after shots of the conserved areas, and detail shots of the conservation treatment.
  • Photomicrographs, if applicable.

The object should fill the frame, including if possible:

  • Object ID number.
  • Name of owner.
  • Date and treatment phase (before, during, after treatment).
  • Gray or color scale depending on film type.
  • Size scale.
  • Front/back views.

To ensure reproducibility of photographs, record the following information (in the report, on a photographic record sheet, as part of the photograph, on the back of the photograph, or on the slide frame)

  • ID, date, phase of treatment (as above).
  • Type of film and ASA/ISO.
  • Type of illumination, placement and level of lights.
  • Exposure time and f-stop.
  • Magnification.
  • Location of shot (i.e., front, proper right sleeve, etc.).


Further Reading

AIC, Book and Paper Group. 1994. "Chapter 6: Visual Examination."Paper conservation catalog. 9th ed. Washington, DC: AIC

AIC. 1995. "Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice." AIC Directory.21-28.

Andrew, Sally and Dinah Eastop. 1990."Using Ultra-Violet and Infra-Red Techniques in the Examination and Documentation of Historic Textiles." The Conservator, 18: 50-56.

Buck, R.D. 1971. "What is condition in a work of art?" Bulletin of the American Group-IIC 12:1. Reprinted 1993. Intermuseum Conservation Association Newsletter 2:2-4.

Buck, R.D.1979. "Inspecting and describing the condition of art objects." In Museum Registration Methods. eds. D. H. Dudley and I.B. Wilkinson. Washington, D.C: American Association of Museums.

Burnham, Dorothy. 1980. Warp and Weft: A Textile Terminology. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum.

C.I.E.T.A. 1964. Fabrics: Vocabulary of Technical Terms. Lyon, France: Centre International D'Etude Des Textiles Ancien.

Craft, M. and S. Jones. 1981.Written Documentation. Booklet prepared for AIC 9th Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, PA.

Doyal, Sherry. 1990. "The Analysis and Documentation of Upholstered Objects." Upholstery Conservation. 42-54.

Emery, Irene. 1966. The Primary Structure of Fabrics. Washington, DC: The Textile Museum.

Flury-Lemberg, Mechthild. 1988. "Preliminary Examination and Documentation." In Textile Conservation and Research.Bern, Switzerland: Abegg Stiftung.

Francis, Kathy.1990. "Fiber and Fabric Remains on Upholstery Tacks and Frames: Identification, Interpretation and Preservation." In Upholstery Conservation. 63-65.

Kushel, D. 1980."Photodocumentation for conservation: procedural guidelines and photographic concepts and techniques." Paper presented at AIC 8th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA.

Landi, Sheila.1992. "Examination, Options, and Choice," The Textile Conservator's Manual. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Butterworths.

Landi, Sheila. 1992. "Recording, Handling and Preparation." The Textile Conservator's Manual. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Butterworths.

Norris, D.H. et al. 1992. "Ethics and Standards Committee Supplement no. 4."AIC News. 1-8.

O'Reilly, Priscilla and H. Lord (eds.) 1988. Basic Condition Reporting: A Handbook. Southeastern Registrar's Association.

Textile Conservation Group, Inc. 1993. Directory of Hand Stitches Used in Textile Conservation. Compiled by Martha Winslow Grimm. New York: Textile Conservation Group, Inc. Online version.

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