TSG Chapter VI. Treatment of Textiles - Section H. Consolidation/Stabilization - Non-adhesive Methods

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Contributors: Originally drafted by Christine Giuntini, Susan Mathisen, Denyse Montegut, and Valerie Soll, with additional help from Susan Heald and Rebecca Rushfield. Contributions from: Deborah Bede, Lucy Commoner, Judith Eisenberg, Shirley Ellis, Patricia Ewer, Tess Fredette, Martha Winslow Grimm, Robin Hanson, Jo Hill, Joy Gardiner, Jane Hutchins, Mary Kaldany, Kathleen Kiefer, Teresa Knutson, Zoe Annis Perkins, Patricia Silence, Gwen Spicer, Sarah Stevens, Virginia Whelan, Deirdre Windsor
Editors: Kathy Francis, Nancy Love, Jane Merritt, Nancy Pollak, Deborah Lee Trupin.
Final Revision, December 2002.
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Acknowledgment:The original publication of this Chapter of the Textile Conservation Catalog was funded by a donation from Harpers Ferry Regional Textile Group, organizer of conferences on textile preservation from 1978 to 1992.
Copyright: 2024. 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.

Stabilization by Non-Adhesive Methods[edit | edit source]

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Definition: Stabilization of a textile artifact includes any treatments that attempt to arrest or reduce the rate of deterioration. Stabilization may include reuniting parts, reinforcing, and/or supporting a textile in order to achieve structural soundness and/or visual completeness.
Pressure mounting, stitching, attaching full or localized support(s), consolidation, and using adhesives are all methods of stabilization that are acceptable treatments under certain circumstances. Conservators sometimes combine stabilization treatments with compensation and/or mounting treatments. This section will address those treatment steps whose main function is to stabilize the artifact by non-adhesive methods. Please refer to Compensation for Loss, for treatments that address primarily aesthetic concerns, and Supports and Mounts, for treatments that are mainly mounting techniques.

Factors to Consider[edit | edit source]

Composition and fabrication of the textile[edit | edit source]

Properties of the textile that may influence the choice of stabilization materials and techniques include fiber content, yarn and fabric structure, surface finish, construction technique(s), and/or dimensionality. For example, a conservator would stabilize losses in a silk crazy quilt differently than losses in a crocheted cotton bedspread.

Condition: Type of deterioration[edit | edit source]

Chemical deterioration[edit | edit source]

Overall inherent vice
  • Due to chemical structure (e.g., lignin and other impurities in jute)
  • From fiber processing or textile manufacture (e.g., weighting of silk, dyeing, and/or finishes)
Overall deterioration by factors of use (e.g., cleaning solutions, bleaches used during original use)
Local inherent vice from materials of construction (e.g., iron gall ink inscriptions, iron tack corrosion)
Local deterioration by factors of use (e.g., ritual use, soil, food, stains from body contact–blood, perspiration)
Environmental effects (e.g., past exposure to light, heat, moisture, pollutants)

Physical/mechanical damage[edit | edit source]

  • Untwisting of yarns, unraveling, fraying of edges
  • Abrasion, wear
  • Dimensional changes, planar distortions
  • Losses, tears, splits, open seams
  • Loss of elasticity
  • Loss of or change in surface character (e.g., matting, felting, pilling, discoloration)

Condition: Past treatments[edit | edit source]

Past treatments should be evaluated for their significance and effect on the artifact. (See also Removal of Previous Repairs/Restorations/Supports.)

Past treatments that affect the character or behavior of the artifact may limit the options for stabilization.[edit | edit source]

Ethical issues: All stabilization treatments should conform to the AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice
  • Artist's intent
  • Requirements of ethnographic and sacred objects
  • Possible loss of the textile's history of use; possible loss of the textile's fabrication materials/methods
  • Reversibility of treatment materials and methods
  • Ability to distinguish stabilization from original. (See also Compensation for Loss).
Reason for treatment/desired end use (e.g., display in a controlled museum setting, in a historic house, in a private home)

Materials[edit | edit source]

Threads and yarns used for stabilization[edit | edit source]

Properties[edit | edit source]

Fiber content and processing (filament or staple), amount of twist, number of plies, strength, size, luster, hardness or softness, color, colorfastness, and finish will affect the aesthetics and long-term stability of the treatment.

Uses[edit | edit source]

  • Integrated stabilization repairs (e.g., darning, reweaving)
  • Reuniting of parts (e.g., restitching of seams)
  • Attaching the textile to a local or overall support fabric
  • Securing weak areas of the textile or losses to the backing (e.g., couching)
  • Stabilizing edges (e.g., attaching loose fringe or other trims, rebinding edges)

Threads and yarns commonly used by conservators[edit | edit source]

Sewing threads. Sewing threads are smooth, tightly spun, tightly plied, and finished. These properties allow the thread to withstand the abrasion that results when threads are passed repeatedly between the layers being attached to each other. Conservators typically use sewing threads for structural attachment, such as joining two layers of fabric.
Cotton threads. Cotton threads including lacemaking and heirloom sewing threads, machine-embroidery threads, quilting, heavy-duty button or carpet threads. The various weights of cotton sewing threads are used for many types of stabilization stitching.
Cotton-wrapped polyester threads. Most conservators use cotton-wrapped polyester threads to assemble support fabrics. Cotton-wrapped polyester threads are rarely used for stabilization stitching.
Linen threads. Some conservators use linen threads for heavy-duty purposes.
Polyester sewing threads. Polyester sewing threads may be chosen for their strength and chemical stability. They are rarely used for stabilization stitching.
Embroidery threads.Embroidery threads are generally loosely spun and variously plied. As purchased, the yarns are loosely plied or grouped together, permitting the individual strands to be separated and used alone or in groups. Conservators typically use embroidery threads for stitching, reweaving, or cosmetic purposes. Because of the quality of the spin and ply, some conservators believe that embroidery threads are generally not strong enough to serve as the primary means of attachment. Other conservators, however, believe that this quality is an asset, as the conservation (embroidery) threads will fail before the historic artifact on which they are used.
  • Six-strand embroidery floss
  • Pearl cottons
Filament threads.Filament threads are threads made from filament fibers and are generally very fine. Conservators use filament threads when they need a very fine, nearly invisible thread for stabilization stitching. Conservators rarely use filament threads as the primary means of attachment.
  • Duppioni or "hair" silk (also incorrectly called monofilament silk)
  • Threads drawn from stabilization fabrics (e.g., from polyester Tetex® [previously known as Stabiltex®] or silk crepeline). Conservators use these threads as sewing threads, especially when using the fabrics from which they are pulled as stabilization fabrics.
  • Skala® Gütterman U81 polyester thread, available in many colors
Yarns.Yarns, typically bulkier than threads, may be tightly or loosely spun, and plied or not plied. Conservators use a wide variety of yarns for integrated stabilization repairs or to restitch a seam, etc., that was originally stitched with yarn. Generally, these yarns are chosen to be visually and structurally compatible with the object being stabilized.

Fabrics used for stabilization[edit | edit source]

Properties[edit | edit source]

Fiber, quality, yarn construction, fabric structure, texture, dimensional stability, weight, color and colorfastness, hand, sheen, and finish must be considered when selecting a fabric to use in a stabilization treatment.

  • To remove potentially damaging finishes, fabrics must be washed before use in a stabilization treatment.
  • Some conservators prefer "like with like" and therefore match the fiber content of the stabilization fabric with that of the historic textile. Other conservators deliberately eschew protein-based fibers out of concern about the potential for insect damage.
  • Many conservators follow no fixed rule but select fabrics to best suit the needs of the particular project, balancing the many fabric properties with the properties, condition, and needs of the textile for which the fabric will be used.

Uses[edit | edit source]

Localized support (i.e., patch or fill) or overall support (i.e., backing or lining)
  • The fabric should provide sufficient support.
  • Texture and interaction with the original fabric (i.e., friction or lack thereof between the fabrics) should be considered.
  • Fabric weight is most often the same as or lighter than the weight of the original. For an artifact that has heavy embellishments on a weak ground fabric, a support fabric of a heavier weight than the original may be needed.
  • If the fabric is also being selected as compensation for loss, then color, sheen, and texture will also be important. (See also Compensation for Loss]).
  • When an overall support is also being used as a barrier to dust, weave density is also important.
Overlay (i.e., to protect a fragile surface such as shattering silk)
  • Because translucency is a primary requirement of overlay fabrics, sheer fabrics, such as nylon net, silk crepeline, or polyester Tetex® (Stabiltex®), are typically chosen.
  • If an overlay is combined with a backing support, the needs for support and surface stabilization determine the selection of fabrics.

Commonly used fabrics and applications[edit | edit source]

  • Sheer fabrics, including nylon net, silk crepeline, or polyester Tetex® (Stabiltex®), are typically used for overlay treatments or treatments combining overlay and backing.
Nylon net–heat-set or bobbinet-constructed
  • Because of the openness of its construction, nylon net is usually considered the most sheer overlay fabric.
  • Nylon net does not unravel or fray.
  • Heat-set nylon net is available in many colors; bobbinet-constructed nylon net is available only in white, off-white, and black, but is easily dyed.
  • Bobbinet-constructed nylon net has a better hand and drape than heat-set nylon net or polyester Tetex® (Stabiltex®).
  • Heat-set nylon net has a stiff and abrasive hand.
  • Nylon is susceptible to light-catalyzed degradation reactions. Therefore, the lifespan of the nylon may contraindicate the use of nylon in a treatment if the artifact will be exhibited.
Silk crepeline
  • Silk crepeline is less sheer than nylon net, but more sheer than polyester Tetex® (Stabiltex®).
  • Silk crepeline is easily dyed as a whole fabric or in local areas.
  • Silk crepeline is usually hemmed to prevent raveling, creating areas that have less translucency.
  • Silk crepeline has a good hand and drape and generally conforms well to textiles. (Drape is similar to bobbinet-constructed nylon net and better than heat-set nylon net or polyester Tetex® [Stabiltex®].)
  • Silk is susceptible to light-catalyzed degradation reactions. Therefore, the lifespan of the silk may contraindicate the use of silk crepeline in a treatment if the artifact will be exhibited.
Polyester Tetex® (Stabiltex®)
  • Tetex® (Stabiltex®) is less sheer than both nylon net and silk crepeline. In addition, it has a surface shine and moiré effect that can be aesthetically disturbing.
  • Tetex® (Stabiltex®) is available in a range of colors that can make dying unnecessary. However, since polyester is difficult to dye, the range of colors can limit the aesthetic satisfaction in using Tetex® (Stabiltex®).
  • Tetex® (Stabiltex®) can be heat-cut which seals the edges, eliminating the need for hems.
  • Tetex® (Stabiltex®) can be difficult to drape over shapes.
  • Tetex® (Stabiltex®) is chosen for its long-term stability.
  • Light- to medium-weight, high thread count cotton fabrics, such as shirting or sheeting, are chosen when dimensional stability and flexibility are considerations.
  • Tightly spun and densely woven balanced plain weave fabrics such as cotton duck are chosen when structural stability and weight-bearing considerations are important.
  • Non-woven materials such as spun-bonded synthetic fibers are occasionally chosen for their smooth texture, inelastic nature, and hydrophobic qualities. Some common non-woven polyester fabrics are Reemay® and Hollytex®.

Papers, boards, and other non-textile supports used for stabilization[edit | edit source]

Properties[edit | edit source]

The composition, processing, structure, rigidity, and weight will determine the appropriateness of a paper-based or non-textile material as a support for stabilization.

  • Properties noted above, physical and chemical compatibility with the textile, and long-term stability should be evaluated for materials in close proximity to textile artifacts.
  • For lists of materials considered relatively unsafe or safe for use with textiles, see Storage Furniture, Table 1 and Table 2,

Uses[edit | edit source]

As the primary mount or platform for display, study, or storage. See Supports and Mounts.
As a supplementary support added to the original support. (See below, Passive supplementary stabilization for a textile that is still on an original strainer mount.)

Commonly used types and applications[edit | edit source]

  • A padded insert of archival-quality materials will fill the space within an original strainer, offering soft support and protection to the textile.
  • A secondary strainer (stretched with sheer fabric and installed to fit inside the original strainer) will offer light support and protection to the textile, while permitting the back of the textile to be seen.

Methods[edit | edit source]

Stabilization of broken stitching (e.g., restitching a partly open seam or resecuring trim)[edit | edit source]

Restitching seams[edit | edit source]

  • Original stitch holes are used when possible.
  • Badly damaged seams can be reinforced with a supplementary fabric, then restitched.

Reattaching of non-textile elements (e.g., beads, buttons, tassels, sequins)[edit | edit source]

  • If possible, elements should be reattached using materials and techniques similar to the original attachment materials and techniques. In general, repairs to reattach non-textile elements should not be stronger than those elements.
  • The original artifact must be able to support the reattached elements. Additional stabilization procedures may be required.
  • The non-textile elements may require treatment prior to reattachment.

Stabilization of localized loss, weakness, or damage[edit | edit source]

Techniques for textiles that are generally stable but have local areas of loss (e.g., holes, tears) and/or weakness[edit | edit source]

Losses can be stabilized by integrated sewing repairs (darning).

  • Conservators typically use darning to repair losses in more open and/or more coarsely woven fabrics.
  • Integrated sewing repairs should extend into a strong area of the textile to assure sufficient support.
  • Ends of individual stitching rows should be staggered so as not to create an area of stress in the original.
  • Stitches (rows) usually run in the direction of warp and weft.
  • Density of repair is determined by the strength needed and the visual compensation desired.

Losses can be stabilized by localized support (patches, fills)

  • Conservators typically use localized supports for more densely and/or more tightly woven fabrics.
  • Localized support should be stitched to a stronger area around the loss.
  • The edges of the loss must be secured to the support.
  • The placement and selection of stitches for securing edges varies.

Techniques for multi-component artifacts that are generally stable but include some weakened fabrics or surface elements (e.g., quilts with some shattering fabrics)[edit | edit source]

Stitching can stabilize weakened or damaged areas.

  • Various stitches (e.g., laid-and-couched, whip) may be used to secure the damaged fabric or embellishment to an original lower layer.
  • Placement and number of stitches must be carefully chosen to prevent further damage.

A sheer fabric overlay can be used to stabilize weakened or damaged areas to contain loss.

  • Conservators most often use overlays when the damaged fabrics are too weak to withstand stitching.
  • Overlay fabrics may be stitched into an original, more stable, lower layer of fabric, with stitches placed into areas of loss in the more damaged fabric.
  • Overlay fabrics may also be stitched into seam allowances, which are typically less damaged.

The choice between stitching or the use of an overlay fabric is influenced by condition and construction of the original, aesthetics, and the extent of damage.

Stabilization to provide partial support or protection[edit | edit source]

Techniques for textiles that have significant structural weakness or damage in areas that must support the textile (e.g., top of tapestry, shoulders of costume)[edit | edit source]

  • A partial backing fabric can be used.
  • A backing fabric must be sturdy enough and tensioned so that it offers support. The backing fabric should not be so heavy (sturdy) that it causes stress to the original.
  • Backing fabrics should extend beyond the damaged area(s).
  • Stitching must be done so that the backing fabric offers support to the weak or damaged area(s).
  • Partial backing can be used in combination with local repairs (patch or darning) or in combination with localized visual compensation techniques. (See also Compensation for Loss].)

Techniques for textiles that have significant structural weakness or damage in areas that do not support the textile (bottom borders of tapestries or hems/trains of costume)[edit | edit source]

  • Small borders or edges can be treated with a sheer overlay fabric wrapped to the back of the textile to create a binding or facing.
  • Other areas can be treated with a partial or full backing secured with stitching.
  • To protect the exposed floats of the stabilization stitching, a full-sized secondary lining may be desirable.
  • Stabilization to provide overall support or protection

Techniques for single layer flat textiles that are weakened or damaged overall[edit | edit source]

  • A full backing is the minimum required.
  • A backing fabric must be sturdy enough and tensioned so that it offers support.
  • Placement and amount of stitching must provide adequate attachment and support.
  • A full backing can be used in combination with local repairs (patch or darning) or in combination with localized visual compensation techniques. (See also Compensation for Loss].)
  • To protect the exposed floats of the stabilization stitching, a full-sized secondary lining may be desirable.
  • In cases of the most severely weakened textiles, a rigid (archival-quality panel or board) or semi-rigid support (fabric-covered stretcher or strainer) may also be used. (See also Supports and Mounts).

Techniques for multi-layer flat textiles that are weakened or damaged overall, but where one or more layer(s) remain sturdy[edit | edit source]

  • A full backing may not be necessary.
  • An overlay fabric may be used to secure the weakened layer(s) to an original, undamaged layer.
  • In some cases the weakened layer(s) might be separated from the sturdy layer(s), given a full backing (sewn or adhesive) and reattached. Disassembly is sometimes avoided because it requires removal of original stitching.

Techniques for three-dimensional artifacts that are weakened or damaged overall[edit | edit source]

  • Full backings, while frequently needed, are difficult to apply to a three-dimensional textile.
-Tailoring techniques–darts, gathering, etc.–often similar to original construction techniques can be used to create a shaped backing or support to which the three-dimensional textile can be stitched.
-Sometimes, but rarely, three-dimensional pieces are disassembled to permit backing of weakened fabrics. Disassembly is sometimes avoided because it requires removal of original stitching.
  • Shaped forms rather than backings are sometimes used to support weakened and damaged three-dimensional textiles. (See also Supports and Mounts).
  • When the structure of the three-dimensional artifact (e.g., upholstery, covered box) provides support to the weakened or damaged textile, a sheer fabric overlay may be sufficient. The overlay fabric is stitched into a lower layer of the three-dimensional artifact.
  • Passive supplementary stabilization for a textile that is still on an original strainer mount
Conditions for use of passive supports
-There should be no major structural damages such as tears or holes that require more complex stabilization techniques, i.e., the ground fabric is intact.
-It is desirable to preserve the textile on its original strainer.
_The textile requires protection against puncture or other damage that might occur on an open strainer.
-The supplementary support would help limit damages that might occur as a result of vibration, shock, or flexing.
-The textile requires additional protection because it is sagging on the strainer.
-The textile has never been removed from its original strainer. It retains the original nailing or lacing/tying techniques. Techniques described below must be modified to accommodate original lacing.
A padded insert can provide passive protection.
-A fabric-covered, padded insert should be made to fill the cavity of the strainer precisely. Polyester felt or batting of various thicknesses can be used for accurate fit.
-Choice of appropriate fabric color/texture is critical if the textile ground is translucent or if the fabric is expected to compensate for future losses.
-A rigid backing (most commonly archival-quality rag board of appropriate thickness/rigidity), securely attached to the padded insert by thread ties, sewing, or adhesives can be used to keep the padded insert securely in the desired plane. In most cases, the rigid backing is cut to fit the outside edges of the original strainer.
-Fitting and securing a padded insert requires sensitivity to the textile and its original mount materials.
A secondary strainer, stretched with sheer fabric can provide passive protection.
-The secondary strainer fits inside the original strainer.
-Using sheer fabric, such as Tetex® (Stabiltex®), permits viewing of the back of the textile.
-The fit and attachment of the secondary strainer to the original strainer must be engineered precisely. The secondary strainer must be flush with the back of the textile and must not move inside the original strainer. The secondary strainer may be friction fit, and thus not require additional hardware to attach it to the original strainer.
-Fitting and securing a secondary strainer requires sensitivity to the textile and its original mount materials.

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

Anderson, M.J. 1990. The History and current direction of minimally intrusive upholstery treatments. In M.A. Williams, E. Lahikainen, K. Gill, W. Gusler, eds. Upholstery conservation: Preprints of a symposium held at Colonial Williamsburg February 2–4, 1990. Kingston, N.H.: American Conservation Consortium: 13–28.
Appelbaum, B. 1987. Criteria for treatment: Reversibility. Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 26(2): 65–74.
Beltinger, K. 1995. Reversible supports for paintings as an alternative to lining. In The Support of paintings, paper and textiles, Preprints of the UKIC conference. Totton: The United Kingdom Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works: 111.
Crighton, J.A. 1993. Silk: A Study of its degradation and conservation. In N. Tennant, ed, Conservation science in the UK: Preprints of the meeting held in Glasgow, May 1993. London: James and James Science Publishers Ltd: 96–98.
Dancause, R. 1996. On holy ground, methods for the repair of areas of loss on historic military uniforms. Textile Conservation Newsletter (Spring 1996):12–14.
Ellis, S. 1997. A Preliminary investigation of the tensile properties of yarns used for textile conservation. Textile conservation newsletter (Supplement to Spring 1997).
Feller, R. 1977. Stages in the deterioration of organic materials. In J. Williams, ed., Preservation of paper and textiles of historic and artistic value (Advances in chemistry series 164). Washington: American Chemical Society: 314–355.
Finch, K. and G. Putnam. 1985. Conservation and restoration. In K. Finch and G. Putnam. The Care and preservation of textiles. London: B.T. Batsford, Ltd.: 91–123.
Fleury-Lemberg, M. 1988. Textile conservation and research. Bern: Abegg Stiftung.
Grimm, M.W., ed. The Directory of hand stitches used in textile conservation, 2d edition. Washington, D.C.: American Institute for Conservation Textile Specialty Group. Online version.
Hansen, E. F. and H. Sobel. 1992. Effect of the environment on the degradation of silk: A Review. In Textile Specialty Group postprints. Papers delivered at the Textile Subgroup Session, AIC, 20th Annual meeting, Buffalo, N.Y., June 1992: 14–30.
Horswell, M., R.A Young, V. Gordon, M. Sarmadt. 1992. Characterization and preservation of weighted silk. Textile conservation newsletter (Supplement to TCN Spring, 1992).
Kuruppilai, R. V., S.P Hersch, and P.A. Tucker. 1986. Degradation of silk by heat and light. In H. Needles and H. Zeronian, eds. Historic textile and paper materials: Conservation and characterization (Advances in chemistry series 212). Washington, D.C.: American Chemical Society: 111–127.
Landi, S. 1992. The Textile conservator's manual. London: Butterworth.
Masschelein-Kleiner, L. 1982. Conservation of very brittle textiles. In F. Pertegato Conservazione e restauro dei tessili. Convegno internazionale, Como, Italy, 1980. Milan: Centro Italiano per lo Studio Storia del Tessuto. Sezione lombardia: 245–250.
Miller, J. E. and B. Reagan. 1989. Degradation of weighted and unweighted historic silks. Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 28(2): 97–115
Palmer, L. P. 1991. Abrasiveness of certain backing fabrics for supporting historic textiles. Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 30(2): 179–185.
Windsor, D. 1999. Preserving the historic document: Minimal conservation intervention for 18th and 19th century needlework. In J. Bridgland, ed. 12th Triennial Meeting, Lyon, 29 August-3 September 1999, ICOM Committee for Conservation Preprints. London: James and James: 671–676.

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