Textile Tuesday: How do they do it?

Welcome to the second installment of Textile Tuesday, where we check in on the ongoing restoration project happening in the basement of the UMFA. Our first post introduced you to the project and its importance, and today I hope to explore the actual process.

The cleaning, restoring, and documenting of the textiles in the UMFA’s care is such an important effort: our team is working hard to ensure a healthy future for these objects, and through this work, the UMFA hopes to bring our community in touch with these incredible works of art.

Navajo Saddle Blanket

Navajo Saddle Blanket

When I first learned about this undertaking, some of the first questions that came to mind were about how this was going to be done. How does one take a textile–something that might be old and delicate, and certainly of historical worth– and properly care for it?

I was lucky enough to join Jennifer Ortiz and one of our great volunteer docents in the basement to get a glimpse of the process.

A glimpse of the process

A glimpse into the process

When picturing object care in the basement of a museum, I had envisioned something more akin to a lab on CSI. Instead I was greeted with something much more familiar: a vacuum.

Simple tools give big results

Simple tools give big results

It was explained to me that once a textile is removed from from storage and unrolled, the first thing is to carefully inspect it and fill out a “condition report.” This asks the team to document anything problematic on the front and back of the textile and to note any wear or damage (some examples of boxes that can be checked include: powdering, fungal damage, puckers and bulges, fading, holes, and, my personal favorite, wefts out of alignment). The overall condition is noted on a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, or Poor.

When I ask about these ratings, which seem to me to be rather subjective, Ortiz agrees. We are viewing an old condition report for a textile that is displayed only a few feet from us, and the condition report notes this textile is Excellent. Does she agree with this ranking, I ask?

“I am skeptical,” she answers. “I mean, I can see from here the tattered fringe. The rankings aren’t quite standardized, obviously.”

A careful examination of the textile is an important part of the process

A careful examination of the textile is an important part of the process

I ask the team to walk me through the process: what happens after the textile is examined, and the condition report filled out?

Next, the textile will be cleaned, and, as I had seen when I first walked in, this is done with a vacuum. Over the vacuum’s hose is positioned a blue cloth, and I learn this is a bead mat, something sold at any craft store to aid in the jewelry making process. This functions as a barrier that limits the suction of the vacuum, and also allows the team to see if the textile is powdering: if pigment appears on the bead mat, they know to stop vacuuming.

You can buy your own high-tech bead mat for as low as $2.00

You can buy your own high-tech bead mat at any craft store for as low as $2.00

Next, the textile will be photographed for our records, and then re-housed in new materials and placed in our storage. The textile is wrapped in acid-free tissue paper and then rolled onto an archival tube. It is then covered in Tyvek, a breathable, water resistant barrier.

A copy of the photograph will be displayed with the textile, so that the museum might readily see what we have and where.


Tell us below or on our Facebook or Twitter: What questions do you have for those working on this project?

For more on our docents and volunteers working on this project, check back with us next week!


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