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Questions to a textile conservator

conservator examining a lifejacket from the Titanic

Read more about the textile conservation| department on this website.

I’d like to hang this old family sampler on the wall. What should I do?
If the sampler looks clean and intact and the frame is sound, with its backboard well attached, go ahead. Choose somewhere where it will not get too much light|. A corridor or the window wall is ideal. Tungsten lights are less harmful than daylight or fluorescent light. If the sampler is not already framed it will probably need mounting. The traditional method, of nailing it to a stretcher, causes holes and rust marks. Self adhesive tape will stain it. The best method is to cover acid free card with a neutral cloth, like washed linen or cotton, and then sew the sampler to the cloth. That way the backing cloth takes any strain, and the sampler is not in contact with anything acid. Have it framed so that there is a slight space between the sampler and the glass, if possible. Even if your sampler is ragged and stained it may be possible to do something with it - book an opinion service| appointment with a textiles conservator.

2 images of an embroidery, looking dark and dirty on the left and much cleaner on the right

Sampler before and after conservation

What is the best way to store a christening robe or a wedding dress?
Acid free cardboard boxes lined with acid free tissue. Use tissue to pad out all the folds to avoid sharp creases. Make sure the christening robe or dress is clean before it is put away. White wine stains on wedding dresses may be invisible at first, but turn yellow with time. For further details on how best to look after your object, book an opinion service| appointment with a textiles conservator.

Any other recommended storage for textiles?
Acid free cardboard boxes lined with acid free tissue are usually recommended. On some occasions Melinex envelopes may be a better option for small flat textiles. Big flat textiles, eg hangings and rugs, are often rolled round a wide diameter cardboard tube with tissue, always right side out. If you don’t want to buy materials, a decent sized box lined with a washed sheet is a possibility. For further details on how best to look after your object, book an opinion service| appointment with a textiles conservator.

Can I mend the tear in my sampler or period dress?
There is no reason why a careful needlewoman/needleman shouldn't attempt some repairs, and mounting for framing. For further help and information on how to best repair your object, book an opinion service| appointment with a textiles conservator.

conservator wearing an apron pouring solution over a dress in a specialist container large enough for it to lie flat

Washing a dress with washing solution

Should I wash my sampler, robe or wedding dress?
Some items can be hand washed by owners, but some definitely can't. For further help and information on your object, book an opinion service| appointment with a textiles conservator.

What's the oldest thing you have worked on?
The oldest textiles I have worked on are prehistoric Swiss Lakes textiles from around 6000 BC. These textiles are essentially highly mineralised (charred/oxidised) bast fibres, so they are blackened and very fragile but the spin and weave can still be determined.

What's the biggest thing you have worked on?
The biggest things we work on here are tapestries|. However, the biggest things textile conservators ever work on are sails, theatre backdrops and wet carpets – wet carpets are very heavy as well as big and special facilities are needed.