TSG Chapter VI. Treatment of Textiles - Section B. Addressing Previous Interventions: Repair, Restoration, Alteration, and Prior Conservation Treatment

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Previous interventions to textiles include repair, restoration, alteration, and prior conservation treatment . For a general definition of intervention, refer to Vinas (2020). Below are definitions of related terms by Finch and Bede.

(Finch 2000, 112-113)

Conservation: Treatment to objects of historic or artistic worth that are likely to be of interest to scholars who wish to see only what is original.
Restoration: Treatment that adds missing parts of an object of artistic and monetary value, or makes other changes. This may be more acceptable to the public but less so to the scholar.
Repairs and Maintenance: Treatment that keeps objects in working order and is usually applied to carpets, curtains and furniture still in use.

(Bede 2013, 12-13)

Previous repairs” encompasses any intentional modification to the object, including amateur repairs, alterations, professional restoration, and prior conservation treatments.

Over time, these non-original elements of interventions may contribute to the preservation of textiles or may threaten the condition of the textiles by compromising their physical stability or visual appreciation. Certain previous interventions turned out to be harmful to the health of handlers.

Understanding the intention of previous intervention is critical to the treatment decision of whether to retain, remove, or modify the intervention. Particularly, removal of previous interventions has been controversial for its irreversible nature.

Currently, it is widely accepted to retain previous interventions for their historical value as integral parts of textiles. However, it may conflict with other factors in various contexts including detrimental effects of previous interventions to the condition of the textiles.

Considering the context and interpretation (Bede 2013, 12-13) of a textile can influence the evaluation of previous interventions and treatment decisions accordingly. Regardless of the decision, it is important to document the reason for the treatment decision, as well as written and visual documentation of the textiles.

Context and Interpretation[edit | edit source]

The context in which a textile exists, either through ownership by a private client, dealer, or particular museum, or through its cultural significance to a group of people, affects how that textile is interpreted and which of its features are considered of most value (Bede 2013). Preconceived biases about and accepted standards for conservation practices regarding a particular type of textile - archaeological, domestic, functional, religious - additionally form a textile’s context (Bede 2013; Orlofsky and Trupin 1993).

The textile’s context factors into any decisions regarding conservation treatment, particularly when addressing previous interventions. Every possible intervention made by conservators will have a resulting impact. Ideally, the current context of the textile should be established and documented prior to making any treatment decisions (Bede 2013).

Methodology for Evaluation[edit | edit source]

Though not a comprehensive list, the following questions are considerations in deciding whether to retain, modify, or remove previous interventions (compiled from Bede 2013; Chiostrini 2012; Lugtigheid 1995; Niekamp 2008; Suh 2006; Suh 2011). The questions are divided into sections related to physical, aesthetic, and cultural aspects; however, many are pertinent to multiple sections. These questions can be used to determine if an intervention should be retained, modified, or removed. It should also be noted that treatment trends will influence decision making when addressing previous interventions.

Physical[edit | edit source]

  • Are the current interventions causing distortions/deformations or posing a handling risk?
  • Are the current interventions off-gassing harmful chemicals?
  • Are the materials of the previous interventions currently stable/continue to support weak areas? Can they withstand exhibition?
  • Do the previous interventions limit necessary analytical examination?
  • Will removing the interventions cause more damage?

Aesthetic[edit | edit source]

  • How do the previous interventions visually integrate with the textile in terms of:
    • Color
    • Pattern (design)
    • Weave structure (texture)
  • How do the interventions fit within the aesthetic continuity of repairs to a collection over time?
  • What feature of the textile is being addressed during this treatment? For example: technique, materials, identity of maker, story/history of the object.

Cultural[edit | edit source]

  • Do they affect the conceptual/cultural interpretation of the object?
  • Are the interventions from an important event or are they made by the original creator?
  • Do the interventions show a historic technique?
  • Do the interventions have their own significance or meaning? How do they reflect the past interpretation or value of the object?
  • Can the interventions be used to provide provenance or other historical information, such as fabrication methodology, now or in the future?

Treatment Decisions[edit | edit source]

Before deciding whether to retain, modify, or remove previous interventions, it is important to understand the intention of the interventions. Each repair, restoration, alteration, and prior conservation treatment, should be assessed individually, and additional stakeholders such as source communities, art historians, curators, artists, and collectors, should be consulted.

Retention[edit | edit source]

  • Important traditions of repair and alteration exist in many communities, and such interventions provide information on how a textile was used.
  • The material used in a historic intervention may be useful in dating an object, or establishing provenance.
  • When working with an object, conservators should make sure they are familiar with the potential significance of past interventions.
    • When working with indigenous materials, evidence of use and past alterations should be treated as part of the object.
    • If source community members cannot be consulted in the care and treatment of an object, then conservators should advocate for caution and retention until such research and outreach have been undertaken.

Modification[edit | edit source]

If removal is prohibitively damaging, then it may make sense to modify or stabilize a prior intervention. The potential damage due to handling during removal and retreatment impacts the decision to modify historic interventions.

  • Prior treatments may be partially reversed, where inappropriate stitches are adjusted but supporting materials are left in place.
    • Treatments like these are commonly encountered in large lined textiles, where a lining is left in place but stitches along the bottom are removed to prevent bagging out.
  • If the supplemental materials used in a previous intervention are still beneficially stable, then other considerations, such as aesthetic concerns due to discoloration, may be addressed through inpainting or overlays without removing and retreating the textile (Getts, 2019).

Removal[edit | edit source]

Removal is not a reversible treatment. Therefore, removal of previous interventions should only be favored when it is the least damaging solution available to conservators.

  • Both the physical and intangible value of interventions should be considered.
    • Non-original features may contribute to the interpretive potential.
    • These decisions should not be driven by aesthetics alone.
    • Documentation and photography of the object's before-treatment condition should be completed before removal begins.
    • Any materials removed from the textile should be documented, and the removed samples should be labeled and retained.
  • Certain previous interventions may damage textiles that have become increasingly fragile since they were previously treated.
    • Supplemental materials that are stronger and heavier than the original textile are likely to cause damage. Common examples of inappropriate supplemental materials include:
      • Heavy underlay patches.
      • Heavy sewing thread and tightly tensioned stitching.
      • Abrasive nylon nets (Lavallee, 2005).
    • Damage due to incompatible materials can be accelerated by handling.

Retreatment[edit | edit source]

Unless the previous treatment was unnecessary, retreatment will be necessary to stabilize the textile after removal. The irreversible nature of removal and retreatment is well describe by Munoz as below:

Whenever an object is treated, some of its original features are altered, some portions of its history are obliterated, and some information conveyed by the object is hidden or lost (Munoz 2020, 56).

During retreatment, once supplemental materials have been removed the textile may be more fragile and must be handled with increased care. To mitigate the risk of damage:

  • Consider using the same stitch holes as previous conservation treatments to prevent further damage or confusion as to the technical structure of the textile (Kite & Cogram 2006).
  • Evidence of original construction may be more accessible once prior conservation treatments are removed, and stakeholders may wish to view or study the textile before retreatment begins.

Case Studies[edit | edit source]

Throughout the history of conservation and restoration, a variety of materials have been used to treat textile objects. Overtime, these may have compromised the physical stability or aesthetics of the textile, requiring retreatment. The following are a few examples of commonly encountered methods and materials involved in the previous interventions and notes on how to approach them. It is important to consider that in many instances historic repairs, particularly those added during the object’s use-life, should be kept in place. Darning, for example, is often left in place.

Fowler methods[edit | edit source]

Amelia Bold Fowler was a well-known flag conservator in the early 20th century who was charged with the treatment of historic flags, including the Star-Spangled Banner. Her technique involved stitching a flag to a linen support using a grid of stitches. Overtime, these stitches, which today may be deemed excessive, can fade differently than the surrounding textile, making them distracting (National Museum of American History. 2020). Solutions for mitigating the damage done by such stitching methods are detailed in the paper “The Evolution of Conservation Treatment Techniques in Mexico, Examined Through the Study of Historical Flags” (Roman Torres et al. 2019). In their paper, “Revisiting Flags Preserved by Flag-Restoration Pioneers for the United States Naval Academy Museum” Camille Myers Breeze and Morgan Blei Carbone discuss two comparative approaches to treating flags restored using Fowler methods. They can be kept in place as evidence of this historic method or removed after documentation. Reversal of Fowler methods requires removing the stitches, which can number in the millions, and replacing the heavy backing.

Failing or Inappropriate Adhesive Treatments[edit | edit source]

The use of adhesive repairs in textile conservation has a long history. A wide variety of adhesives have been used, including shellac, Mowilith (Meijer 2014, 1), starch paste, white glues, and a variety of acrylic emulsions (Hackett and Hillyer 2019, 202). These were and in some cases still are used to attach support fabrics to a textile, such as nylon tulle, silk net, or polyester cloth.

Zenzie Tinker discusses various questions one must consider before removing an adhesive repair in the article “Pragmatism With Past Adhesive Treatments” (2011). These include, but are not limited to whether the adhesive was used appropriately or not, whether it can withstand new demands for use or display, whether the condition of the object is still compatible with the strength or type of adhesive, whether the adhesive repair complicates the object’s interpretation, and whether the object can safely withstand retreatment.

Proper reversal and removal of adhesive repairs must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and may be completed aqueously, mechanically (Mina 2011), with solvents, or with gels.

Oxidation and photodegradation accelerate ageing. Any change in the following properties of an adhesive is a cause for concern:

  • Appearance: yellowing or turning brown after drying.
  • Flexibility: an increase in brittleness or sudden loss of adhesion.
  • Tackiness: a change in stickiness of the surface.
  • pH: a change in acidity or alkalinity.

Adhesive Removal
Adhesive removal can be attempted mechanically or with aqueous, heat, vapor, gel, or poultice treatments. When determining how to remove or release an unknown adhesive, the least potentially damaging solutions are best. Shelia Landi’s methodology to determine the properties of an unknown adhesive includes gathering:

  • Deionized water
  • Detergent
  • Ammonia
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Enzymes
  • Alcohols such as IMS, methanol, ethanol, and phenyl methanol
  • Ketones such as acetone
  • Hydrocarbons such as 1,1,1-trichloroethane and white spirit

Additional Adhesive Considerations
Before removing an adhesive, it is important to consider that:

  • Prior to the 1920s, many adhesives were vegetable or animal in origin, and these are likely to be water-soluble.
  • Later 20th-century adhesives may not be soluble in water.
    • Hydrocarbon solvents can be used to soften and swell these adhesives, but they may never go into solution.
  • When working with solvents, care should be taken to prevent the textile from becoming impregnated with adhesive.
  • An adhesive may be the only thing holding an object together. Textiles were often adhered to backings due to their fragility.
  • The removal of certain consolidants used with archeological textiles can be prohibitively damaging.

For additional information on the removal of pressure-sensitive tapes, including a reference list of adhesives, tapes, and hinges, a list of materials and equipment used in treatment, and a timeline of adhesive tapes, please consult the BPG’s article on that topic.

Iron-on interfacing[edit | edit source]

Iron-on interfacing is a relatively recent method with commercially available materials. It may be found on textiles as a means of support or backing. However, the weight of the interfacing can lead to stress and breaking of the original textile, and the adhesive could eventually fail, resulting in loss of the support. If the interfacing is not well-adhered, and the textile is strong enough, it may be possible to peel it off at a low angle. If not, solvent testing of the thermoset adhesive will be necessary. Methé (1993) reports on the successful use of ethanol.

Tapestry and Carpet Restoration[edit | edit source]

Common historical treatments for tapestries and carpets include reweaving and inserting woven fragments to compensate losses or replace damaged areas. Reweaving involves replicating the original weaving of the tapestry or carpet by using materials and weaving techniques as close to the original as possible. With insertion of already woven fragments, these may be adhered or stitched. This may demand partial or complete removal (Suh 2011; Chiostrini 2012). Additional information about the historical treatment and care of tapestries can be found here.

Underlays and Overlays[edit | edit source]

Net or crepeline underlays or overlays are commonly used to secure areas of loose or damaged textile. They can be used to cover the entire textile or selectively in damaged areas. Removal of under or overlays may be necessary if they appear to be causing damage, are visually distracting, or prohibit proper examination or treatment of the textile. In these instances, it is recommended that the underlay or overlay fabric be removed by cutting the individual stitches that hold it in place. Removing cut threads needs to be done by tweezers with extra caution.. The conservator should be aware that the textile is more vulnerable while the overlay or underlay is not in place, and supplemental materials should always be lifted away from the object, rather than the other way around.

References[edit | edit source]

Bede, D. 2013. Legacies from the Past. In P. Hatchfield, ed. Ethics & Critical Thinking in Conservation. Washington, D.C.: American Institute for Conservation.11-19.

Breeze, C.M. and M.B. Carbone. 2019. “Revisiting Flags Preserved by Flag-Restoration Pioneers for the United States Naval Academy Museum.” North American Textile Conservation Conference preprints. 13th Biennial Meeting, Ottawa, Canada. 234-254.

Chiostrini, G. 2012. “Differing interpretations of the authenticity of an Ushak carpet from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” In Authenticity and Replication: the ‘Real Thing’ in Art and Conservation, edited by R. Gordon, E. Hermens, and F. Lennard, 37-48. London: Archetype Publications. 37-48.

Finch, K. 2000. “Textiles as Document of History and Those Who Care for Them.” In Changing Views of Textile Conservation ed. by M. Brooks and D. Eastop. 111-115. Los Angeles, CA. The Getty Conservation Institute.

Hackett, J. and L. Hillyer. 2019. “Adhesives in Textile Conservation: A Survey of 60 Years of Adhesive Use at the V&A.” North American Textile Conservation Conference preprints. 12th Biennial Meeting, Ottawa, Canada. 200-218.

Getts, A. and S. Gates. 2019. “Inpainting for Old Tapestry Repairs: A Non-Traditional Approach to Restoring Tapestry Legibility.” North American Textile Conservation Conference preprints. 12th Biennial Meeting, Ottawa, Canada. 119-133.

Kite, M. and A. Cogram. 2006. "Re-Evaluation and Retreatment: The Reconservation and Remounting of an English Court Mantua." Studies in Conservation 51 (2). 111-122.

LaVallee, D. 2005. “The Abrasiveness of Sheer Overlay Fabrics Used in Textile Conservation.” Master’s thesis. University of Rhode Island. Accessed December 3 2020. https://digitalcommons.uri.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1670&context=theses

Lugtigheid, R. 1995. “A Tale of Two Tapestries: Considerations of Restoration, De-restoration, and Re-restoration.” In Readings in Conservation: Changing Views in Textile Conservation edited by Mary M. Brooks and Dinah Eastop, 2011. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute. 284-289.

Meijer, S. 2014. “Bonding issues? Adhesive treatments past and present in the Rijksmuseum.” ICOM-CC 17th Triennial Conference. Melbourne, Australia. London: James & James. 1-7.

Methé, E.. 1993. “Removing Iron-On Interfacing from a Silk Dress.” Textile Conservation Newsletter. 25. 13-15.

Mina, L. 2011. “The Observer Effect in Conservation: Changes in Perception and Treatment of a Man’s Silk Suit c. 1745.” Textile Specialty Group post prints, American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works. 39th Annual Meeting Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 2011. Washington, D.C.: AIC. 17-29.

Niekamp, B.. 2008. “Alterations, Historical Restorations, Restoration and Conservation Interventions.” In Readings in Conservation: Changing Views in Textile Conservation edited by M. Brooks and D. Eastop, 2011. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute. 450-467.

Orlofsky, P. and D. L. Trupin. 1993. “The Role of Connoisseurship in Determining the Textile Conservator’s Treatment Options.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 32 (2): 109-118.

Suh, Kisook. 2006. “The Documentary Value of Repairs to the Hwarot, the Korean Bridal Robe.” Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America. Toronto, Canada. 79-87.

___ . 2011. “Conservation of a Safavid Persian Carpet Fragment: Two Different Approaches to Treatment in 1980 and 2010.” Textile Specialty Group post prints, American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works. 39th Annual Meeting. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Washington, D.C.: AIC. 81-85.

Tinker, Z. 2011. “Pragmatism with past adhesive treatments.” Proceedings of the Canadian Conservation Institute Symposium 2011: Adhesives and Consolidants for Conservation: Research and Applications. Ottawa, Canada. Ottawa: CCI. 17–22.

Torres, R. L., R, A. G. Ramos, and N. G. Zepeda. 2019. “The Evolution of Conservation Treatment Techniques in Mexico, Examined Through the Study of Historical Flags.”

Trupin, D L. 2003. “Flag conservation then and now.” In Tales in the Textile: The Conservation of Flags and Other Symbolic Textiles Preprints of the North American Textile Conservation Conference, compiled by J. Vuori, 55-62. Albany, NY, North American Textile Conservation Conference.

Vinas, S. M. 2020. On the Ethics of Cultural Heritage Conservation. London: Archetype Publications. 53-61.

National Museum of American History. 2020. “The Star-Spangled Banner: The Preservation Project.” Smithsonian. Accessed December 3 2020. https://amhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/preservation-project.aspx.

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

Barlow, A. and O.Y. Wynar. 2018. The Mortlake Horses: A Collaborative Approach to the Conservation of 17th-century British Tapestries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In Abstracts: Materials Matter. American Institute for Conservation 46th Annual Meeting, Houston. Washington, DC: AIC. 99.

Beecher, E.R. 1964. Aspects of PRotection from Light and Methods of Reinforcement. Studies in Conservation. 1964 Delft Conference on the Conservation of Textiles. 9 (sup 1): 43-47.

Columbus, J. V. 1973. Tapestry Restoration in the National Gallery. Bulletin of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. 13 (2): 65-73.

Cousens, S. 1984. The Effect of Old Repairs on the Choice of Conservation Treatment of Tapestries. Seminar International la Restauration et la Conservation des Tapisseries. Paris, France: Institut français de restauration des oeuvres d'arts (IFROA). 138-142.

Digby, G. W. 1966. The Restoration of the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries. Victoria and Albert Museum Bulletin. 2 (3): 81-92.

Finch, K. 1969. Note on the Damaging Effect of Flameproofing on a Tapestry Hanging. Studies in Conservation 14 (3): 132.

___ . 1982. Problems of Tapestry Conservation. V&A Conservation Newsletter. 16 (Winter): 40-43.

___ . 1982. Changing Attitudes-New Developments-Full Circle. In F. Pertegato, ed. Conservazione e Restauro dei Tessili: Papers given at the International Conference on the Conservation and Restoration of Textiles, Como, October 13-18, 1980. Milano, Italia: C.I.S.S.T. (Centro italiano per lo studio della storia del tessuto). 82-86.

___ . 1984. Evolution of Tapestry Repairs A Personal Experience. Seminar International la Restauration et la Conservation des Tapisseries. Paris, France: Institut français de restauration des oeuvres d'arts (IFROA). 125-132.

Geijer, A. 1961. Preservation of Textile Objects. Studies in Conservation. 6 (sup 1): 185-189.

Guidess, G. 2012. Tread on Me! Structural Stabilization of Hooked Rugs with Visual Integration: A Technique for Filling Lost Pile. In AIC TSG Postprints. Poster Session. American Institute for Conservation 40th Annual Meeting, Albuquerque. Washington, DC: AIC. 123-137.

Heuman, J. and K. Garland. 1987. A poultice technique for the removal of cellulose nitrate adhesive from textiles. The Conservator. 11 (1): 30-33.

Krasuski, I. and D. McKay. 1993. The Conservation of an Egyptian Painted Mummy Shroud. Supplement to Textile Conservation Newsletter.

Leene, J. E. 1961. Restoration and Preservation of Ancient Textiles, and Natural Science. Studies in Conservation. 1964 Delft Conference on the Conservation of Textiles. 6 (sup 1): 190-191.

Lodewijks, J. 1964. The Use of Synthetic Material for the Conservation and Restoration of Ancient Textiles. Studies in Conservation. 1964 Delft Conference on the Conservation of Textiles. 9 (sup 1): 79-85.

Marko, K. 1978. Experiments in Supporting a Tapestry Using the Adhesive Method. Conservator. 2: 26-29.

McCloskey, A., M. Butem, and C. Luk. 2010. Revisiting the Treatment of 12th century Mongolian Deels. In AIC TSG Postprints. American Institute for Conservation 38th Annual Meeting, Milwaukee. Washington, DC: AIC. 67-75.

Palmer, L. 1991. Abrasiveness of Certain Backing Fabrics for Supporting Historic Textiles. Journal of the American Institute for Conservation. 30 (2): 179–185.

Shaitel, A. 1991. Conservation Treatment of Tibetan Thangkas. Journal of the American Institute for Conservation. 30 (1): 3-11.

Spicer, G. 1992. A sticky business, the removal of hide glue from silk. In Silk, Preprints of the Harpers Ferry Regional Textile Group Symposium, National Museum of American History. New York, New York.

Thomson, K. 1994. Sepiolite poulticing - An alternative for the cleaning of textiles. Conservation News. 53: 49-51.

Yardley-Jones, A. 1988. Preliminary Treatment of a Sixteenth Century Tapestry. Textile Conservation Newsletter. 15 (Fall): 23-24.

Zoldowski, A. 2010. The Effects of Long Term Display on Previous Treatments. In AIC TSG Postprints. American Institute for Conservation 38th Annual Meeting, Milwaukee. Washington, DC: AIC. 102-113.

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