A Journey into Textile Conservation
Birth, old age, sickness, and death are all parts of the rhythm of our life. The same holds true for cultural relics which are manufactured, used, and suffer damage before eventually disappearing. Proper preventative conservation methods are easy to forget or ignore, but they play a key role in extending the life of cultural relics, reducing both damage and deterioration. Textile artifacts are made with organic materials. As such, they are particularly vulnerable to environmental factors such as humidity, light, air pollution, or pests. Proper control of temperature, humidity, pollution, light, and insect pests requires regular inspections of storage areas. If adverse conditions are found, they can be dealt with immediately, thereby maintaining the stability and safety of the textile artifact over the long-term.
Light, heat, humidity, micro-organisms, insects, and air pollutants are all invisible killers that can cause large damage to textiles. They can be countered, however, by using appropriate environment control measures which reduce textile deterioration.
In general, a suitable environment for storing textiles will feature a controlled temperature of 213℃ and a controlled humidly of 555%RH. Therefore, storage rooms are equipped with temperature and humidity recording instruments that also notify the conservator team when temperatures or humidity exceed set parameters.
Light has an ability to break down organic materials, whether it be natural or florescent light as both contain UV rays. If a textile is subject to direct light for long periods of time irreversible damage can occur, such as color fading or the weakening of the tensile strength of fibers.
As such, textiles should be stored in locations free from light or UV rays. Time spent under lights should be minimized and light intensity reduced to a bare minimum. To avoid harmful gases and dust, textile artifacts are sealed or protected by air filtration systems. Storage areas are also cleaned at regular intervals to prevent the growth of mold or mildew.
Before a textile is placed in storage it is checked for any insect pets or mold. Non-preservable materials such as newspaper are removed, as well as any foreign materials that might harm the textile such as pins or staples. When cleaning a textile, a brush and special vacuum is used. Any boxes, cabinets, pads, or lining boards which the textile comes in contact with should be free from materials or chemical compounds that might damage it. Direct or indirect contact with materials that have chlorine, sulfur, or acidic compounds can damage the textile over the long-term.
How a textile is stored not only depends on the characteristics of the fabric (such as its material, size, structure, and condition) but other factors such as budget, available space, size of storage racks, etc. Common storage methods include flat storage, rolled storage, folded storage, and even hanging storage. Laying the textile flat helps to avoid any stretching or deformation of the textile due to gravity.
No matter what storage method is chosen, they all include materials to help cushion, support, cover, or insulate the textile in question. Commonly used materials include acid-free tissue paper, cardboard, corrugated board, unbleached cotton, polyester threads or sheets, and polyethylene foam. If these materials are not available, aluminum foil, mylar, and polyethylene film can be used in their stead in order to avoid acidic or harmful substances from harming the textile.
Example One: Conservation of Alang Nakahara Indigenous Peoples Clothing Items
Among Taiwan’s Alang Nakahara indigenous people, there exists many beautiful textiles that date back to the Japanese colonial era. Due to a lack of proper maintenance and storage techniques, however, many of these valuable pieces show signs of deterioration.
In Nantou County’s Huzhu Village, members of the Alang Nakahara tribe discovered traditional fabrics and textiles manufactured by the Seediq people, fabrics now owned by Ms. Gao Xuezhu and Ms. Lin Ximei—two major collectors of traditional crafts in Nantou. Many of the fabrics showed signs of fading, creasing, powdering, as well as loose embroidery threads. In sum, the artifacts desperately needed better conservation to prevent them from deteriorating further. From January 22-26, 2022, the Bureau of Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture, and the College of Fashion and Textiles at Fu Jen Catholic University joined with the Alang Nakahara tribe to carry out cultural artifact inventorying, bookkeeping, sorting, and preliminary conversation steps so to better preserve the tribe’s culturally and historically important textiles.
Conservation of Lugang’s Ya Cheng Zai Nanguan Ensemble
The parasols of Lugang’s Ya Cheng Zai Nanguan Ensemble show serious damage
Lugang’s Ya Cheng Zai Nanguan Ensemble is an important repository for the culture of the Nanguan music tradition in Changhua. When Nanguan music is performed, ceremonial parasols are an important part of the performance. The Ensemble has preserved two parasols that were used in the Nanguan music clubs of the day. As important “witnesses” to the Nanguan culture of Changhua County, they possess great historical significance and conservation value. However due to their long history of use and resulting damage, today the parasols suffer from powdering, fabric damage, fading, detached threads, entangled fringes, and missing auxiliary items. To prevent the tangle of fringes from pulling on the parasol and causing more damage in the form of tears, the first step was the unraveling of the tangle of fringes, followed by other preliminary conversation steps.