AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, A Successful Treatment Method for Reducing Dye Bleed on a 19th-Century Sampler, by Katherine Sahmel and Laura Mina

Conservation of an 1832 Scottish sampler in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art was begun by Winterthur student Katherine Sahmel while an intern at the PMA and continues with FIT student Laura Mina, the current intern.

This outstanding sampler is part of the Whitman collection and is notable not only for its design but also for its provenience and the existence of photographs of the main building depicted in the embroidery. Prior to acquisition, the sampler was apparently washed causing extensive bleeding of green and red dyes. It has not been exhibited due to this unfortunate condition.

The dyes were analyzed by Ken Sutherland using FTIR, identifying Indigo Carmine as the probable blue component of the fugitive green dye.

Initial tests to reduce the dye bleeding with standard solvents and surfactants were not fruitful so Ms Sahmel applied the modular cleaning system developed by Richard Wolbers. Tests on small samples of threads from the back of the sampler led to the choice of a combined cleaning solution of EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetate)1% and TEA (triethylanolamine) .5%.

This system for cleaning requires extended contact with the textile, minimal wetting, and protection of surrounding embroidery threads. Cyclododecane was applied to the front and back adjacent embroidery yarns. A poultice of cleaning solution in methyl cellulose was then prepared and applied to the dye bleed. After treatment the methyl cellulose was removed and flushed with revcerse osmosis water before drying the treated area under suction.

The pros to this treatment was successful removal of dye bleed with minimal effect on adjacent threads. Cons include difficulty in clearing the methyl cellulose poultice and the high ph of the cleaning solution on the wool threads. When Laura Mina took over the project she modified the poultice to use agaros gel, which is easily prepared and removed. The cleaning solution was adjusted to add more TEA.

This research has wise applications in textile conservation, and sampler conservation in ap[rticular. It is non hazardous and requires no fume hood. Stay tuned for an exhibit of the Whitman Samplers coming to the PMA.