Joint 44th AIC Annual Meeting and 42nd CAC-ACCR Conference – Textile Session, May 16, "Vial Things: Preserving the Unexpected in the Occult Jewelry of Simon Costin", by Sarah Scaturro

To say Sarah Scaturro had me at “semen” is both entirely accurate and the oddest phrase I have ever put to virtual paper. To be precise, she had my interest at “Vials of evaporating semen…”, the jaw-dropping opener to her abstract, and she held it for her entire talk on the conservation of jewelry by Simon Costin contained within the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute collection.
The two necklaces of discussion were Memento Mori, made by Costin in 1986, and Incubus, made in 1987. Both presented unique preservation problems not frequently encountered by textile conservators. Faced with unfamiliar challenges, Scaturro sought first to better understand the mechanisms of degradation affecting the necklaces: this involved conducting artist interviews and consulting alternatives resources on taxidermy and liquid-preserved specimens.

Simon Costin, Memento Mori, 1986. Wood, metal, bone, claw, synthetic, jet, crystal, bone, hematite. Metropolitan Museum of Art (2006.354a–c).

In the case of Memento Mori, the turkey feet and rabbit skulls, incorporated into the necklace’s design, had begun to degrade due to insufficient preparation methods. The fats contained within the skin of the turkey feet had oxidized leading to a rancid odor – a smell all too familiar to me having recently completed the degreasing of beluga whale jawbones. The oxidized fats were also pooling at the surface of the feet, risking degradation of the neighboring necklace elements. The rabbit skulls, which retained some bits of flesh and hair, suffered from discoloration and mold, negatively impacting the artist’s intended aesthetics. Swabbing with ethanol proved to be the solution for both of Memento Mori’s problems – ethanol was used to degrease the surface of the turkey feet while it also acted as a biocide, killing the mold on the rabbit skulls, in addition to reducing the discoloration. Scaturro also employed preventive strategies which included the use of barriers to prevent transfer of the turkey fats to other parts of the necklace and anoxia to slow the oxidation of the fats.
The treatment of Incubus, the inspiration for the talk’s title and my grim interest, was still in progress at the time of Scaturro’s talk. The necklace, which resulted in a charge of indecency for the artist at the time of its unveiling, contains 5 vials of semen, one donation having been made by the artist himself. Over the past 30 years, the semen has discolored and partially evaporated – how best to address this issue, Scaturro was undecided. She raised two amusing points while discussing her research into the degradation mechanisms of Incubus: one, there is little information available on how semen degrades over thirty years; and two, it would be interesting to understand what elements of the five donations were responsible for the variations in color and evaporation rate.
Simon Costin, Incubus, 1987. Silver, copper, glass, baroque pearls and human sperm. Metropolitan Museum of Art (2006.364a, b).

Her first steps to the treatment of Incubus involved the creation of permanent upright storage for the necklace, thereby avoiding contact between the rubber stoppers on the vials and their contents. Scaturro made note that storage and display at a consistent temperature (as opposed to cold storage and room temperature display) was best practice for slowing the evaporation of the semen. She was also considering applying cyclododecane to improve the seal of the vials – the benefit of cyclododecane wax being its gradual sublimation at room temperature, making it possible to display the necklace without wax coatings affecting the aesthetics.
Scaturro concluded by noting that further interviews with Simon Costin were planned with the hopes that he might be able to offer direction as to the refilling or not of the vials of semen.
Overall, Scaturro handled the unusual topic with professionalism, inciting only minimal nervous giggling. The talk provided a window into the extremes of art and art conservation, and offered an example of how to approach the even the most macabre of objects.

43rd Annual Meeting – Textile Specialty Group, "The Effect of Light Emitting Diode Lamps (LEDs) on 19th century Dyed & Printed Cotton Fabrics," Mary Ballard, Courtney Bolin, Taylor McClean

Although Mary Ballard was unable to attend the conference, Ines Madruga, Paintings Conservation Fellow at the Smithsonian’s MCI, read the paper and gave a dynamic presentation. Mary and her coauthors worked closely with the color scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to explore the ways in which differently colored LED lights can change perceptions of colored textiles. They used samples from a 19th-century handbook for dyeing and printing cotton and the Spectrally Tunable Lighting Facility at NIST. 
The “Practical Handbook of Dyeing and Calico-Printing” was published by William Crooke 1874. Since each sample in the handbook included detailed information about the dye used, the results of the study should be informative for many textiles made on or before 1874.
The STLF is able to simulate many different types of light, measure spectra, and provide side-by-side comparisons. For more information, visit their website ( After comparing the samples in many different types of light, the authors were able to create a guideline with recommendations for LED lights that provide the best overall color.
The NIST website has many helpful resources, including a spreadsheet with Color Quality Scale information. The spreadsheet allows users to predict how how color qualities will change with different lights. The spreadsheet, which includes a tab with directions for use, can be downloaded here.
This presentation builds on work presented at the previous AIC meeting. For additional information, consult this paper:
Bolin, Courtney, Mary Ballard, and Scott Rosenfeld. 2014. “Assessing Colorants by Light.” (

AIC's 41st Annual Meeting – Textile Session, May 30, "“Merging Disciplines: Designing a Mount for a Matisse Serigraph,” Yadin Larochette

Yadine Larochette presented her treatment and mounting of one of Henri Matisse’s large silkscreen prints, Oceanie, le ciel, printed in 1948 by Zika Ascher. The print, made with oil-bound pigments on dyed linen, measures about 65″ by 144″. Unlike other prints in this series, for which some treatments have been published (see, for example: Vuori, Jan, et al, “Local stain removal from Océanie, la mer by Henri Matisse: the development of a reducing bleach technique using a suction disk, ultrasonic mister, and airbrush, “ in Conservation combinations: preprints of a conference: North American Textile Conservation Conference 2000, Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A., March 29 to 31, 2000), this print had never been mounted. Its owners wanted to display it, which presented Yadin with the challenge of mounting it securely while still retaining the qualities and stability of the silk-screened surface.
To do this, she used what paintings conservators call a “loose lining.” She had a fine woodworker, Robert Espinoza, make a strainer with a slightly rounded edge. On top of the strainer she secured Coroplast and polyester felt. After experimenting and testing different fabrics for the support, or lining, she selected a wide, heavy scenery muslin from Dharma Trading Company that she then brushed to give it a bit of nap. (I’ve used this fabric as well and have found it has a tendency to become “nappy” even with just machine-washing. For some uses this is a disadvantage, but for this project, it was an advantage.) This nap would help to hold the print in place. She stapled the muslin to the strainer and then stitched the perimeter of the print to the muslin. After covering the edges of the print with a sheer polyester fabric for protection from the frame, she installed the piece in a frame with acrylic glazing. Before coming to the Annual Meeting, Yadin checked with the owners and was happy to report that they are still pleased with its appearance after three years.
Yadin briefly discussed the surface cleaning and humidification techniques she used for this treatment. She also discussed how the prints came to be made, emphasizing the role of the printer. Her description of this part of the story showed her fondness for the print.
During Yadin’s talk, we also learned that Patsy Orlofsky and Mary Kaldany of the Textile Conservation Workshop, South Salem, NY are preparing an article for JAIC on their treatments of five of these prints. It will be interesting to learn how another lab has treated these wonderful pieces.

41st Annual Meeting – Joint Textiles and Wooden Artifacts Session, June 1, “Challenges and Compromise: Preserving the Miller House Textiles, by Kathleen Kiefer”

Kathleen Kiefer, who was until recently Senior Conservator of Textiles at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), gave the final talk of the joint Textiles and Wooden Artifacts session on upholstery. The talk, “Challenges and Compromise: Preserving the Miller House Textiles,” was written with IMA Director of Historic Resources, Bradley Brooks, and IMA Scholar in Textile Conservation, Wendy Richards, was a fitting end both to the session and to Kathleen’s time with IMA, as it brought together many strands of conservation, preservation, and presentation.
The Miller House in Columbus, IN was designed in 1957 by Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard (who did the interiors) for J. Irwin Miller and his family. Mrs. Miller lived in the house until her death in 2008. In 2009 the house was acquired by the IMA. IMA administration decided that the house should be opened to the public by 2011, which gave the conservation/curatorial team a huge challenge.
Kathleen reviewed the design of the house, showing how the architects (and landscape architect Dan Kiley) connected the interior, exterior and landscape design, partly through the use of natural light through large windows and skylights. She pointed out, of particular interest to this audience, that the house is believed to have the first designed conversation pit. She also talked about how Girard’s fondness for textiles and folk art were an important part of the design of the house.
The IMA team began by deciding on their conservation philosophy for the house. Should they interpret it to 1957? Would it be better to interpret it as it exists today? In part because of the limited time in which to prepare the house for the public, they decided to show it as it is today, taking a conservative approach and not doing anything irreversible. Kathleen noted that the public seems pleased with this approach. She mentioned one scholar who said he was pleased to see original, if worn, Eames chairs, because if he wanted to see new ones, he could go to a Herman Miller showroom!
Among the issues they have addressed so far are access and light levels. Public access, in the broadest sense, was an issue for the surrounding community, as the house is in a neighborhood. The neighbors did not want an increase in traffic and parking problems. As a result, all tours of the house begin from the town’s Visitor Center; visitors are taken by small buses to the house. On the more local level, the IMA team decided to create a “tour path” through the house, using new runners. They chose a light color for the runners and created some wider areas as “gathering areas,” where visitors would stand to look and listen to the docent. In a creative, but extremely practical way, they used craft paper to make mock ups of where the runners would go and how they would be sized.
To reduce light levels, they have added uv-filtering and light-reducing film to the windows. They have begun to monitor the environment using PEM dataloggers.
Before the house went to the IMA, the Miller family took or sold some of the furnishings and sold the art work. Thus, the house was somewhat bare when it was acquired. To rectify this, IMA has been purchasing similar pieces.
On the other hand, the family did leave quite a few pieces that they had no longer been using in the garage/barn. Kathleen described a project in which they removed carpets from the barn, documented and accessioned them, vacuumed them, and re-rolled them properly. For the time being, they had to return these pieces to the barn, but are working to find a better long term solution for their storage.
IMA Textile Conservation Scholar Wendy Richards has worked as a woven fabric designer and weaver. As part of her work, she produced graphs of the weave structures of some of the fabrics. She also helped with commissioning some reproduction carpets from Edward Field. This aspect of the project was particularly intriguing to me.
Many in the audience had been to the Miller House as part of the AIC tour to Columbus earlier in the week. I was not among them and, after hearing and seeing this talk, regret that I was not. I will look forward to learning more about how IMA preserves and interprets this house, as well as to seeing how this work relates to preservation/interpretation work being done on other modern houses, such as the Eames House in Los Angeles.

41st Annual Meeting – Textile Session, May 30, “New and Current Materials and Approaches for Localized Cleaning in Textile Conservation” by Elizabeth Shaeffer (co-authored by Joy Gardiner)

I had the pleasure of attending Elizabeth Shaeffer’s session exploring current and developing approaches used in the localized cleaning of textiles.  Her fast-paced, well-delivered lecture provided a wealth of information on localized cleaning techniques from the traditional use of cellulosic materials (cotton sheets, blotter papers and cellulose pulps) to gel systems (both viscous and rigid).  She then concluded the session with a more in-depth discussion on a sampler treatment followed by comparison charts on the different methods.  I will not go into all the detail that she went into, but I will provide a brief overview.  We all should look forward to reading her post-prints as they will provide a more in-depth discussion.  Being an objects major with a subspecialty in textiles, I was excited to hear her talk, as the reduction of stains or adhesives is found in all conservation specialties including paper, objects and paintings.
Cellulose Poultices
Beginning with the use of cellulose poultices to reduce stains from a textile by capillary action during drying.  Shaeffer described a treatment performed by Joy Gardiner at Winterthur, with whom she conducted a lot of her research, where a series of cellulose poultices assisted in the reduction of a tideline on the upholstery fabric of a rather fragile chair.  The textile was dampened followed by blotter wicking for the initial removal of discoloration.  Blotter wicking was continued until no more discoloration was removed.  At this point, dampened cellulose pulp was used for better contact.  The difference between the before and after images were dramatic; the treatment was quite successful.
Viscous Gels
Unlike cellulose poultices, gels are used to deliver cleaning solutions (which might include chelators and enzymes) with the added benefit of being able to limit the amount of solution to water-sensitive surfaces and to increase the solution contact time.  Viscous gels still maintain a fluid-like property and can flow into the interstices of a fabric, which could make it difficult to remove.  She discussed the thick application of a methyl cellulose (MC) poultice on a dye sensitive sampler.  MC (50% concentration) can be made very thick and molded by hand into the desired shape.  The residue question can be reduced by the addition of a barrier, but this also can reduce the efficacy.  Enzymes can also be included in MC poultices and alpha-amylase is currently available in a pre-made system, the Albertina Kompresse.  Additionally, lowering the concentration of MC with shorter application times and the application of sodium chloride to the rinse solution can reduce resides.
Xanthan gum, another viscous gel, was discussed and it’s unique shear force properties, which was interesting.  When the gel is agitated on the surface of a textile, soils will be suspended in the solution phase and then trapped in the gel structure when the force is removed.  Also, xanthan gum is compatible with non-water miscible solvents such as benzyl alcohol or tolulene.  The gel structure has “pockets” in the network allowing oil in water emulsion. Reducing bleaches cannot be used as it will break gel.  Be sure a buy “highly purified” xanthan gum.  Consider adding a biocide, as it can grow mold.
Laponite RD was also covered briefly.  The benefit is that it is compatible with bleaches since it is inorganic.  Studies do show that residues left may cause discoloration, so the use of a barrier like gampi paper should be considered.
Rigid Gels
The first rigid gel discussed in the session was agarose, which is a product already familiar in conservation.  When dissolved in heated water and cooled, agarose forms a rigid three-dimensional polymer network with pores.  These pores can hold solutions and can be combined with chelators, enzymes and even water miscible solvents.  Depending on the concentration of agarose used, the pore size will differ thus affecting amount of solution released, and therefore can be tailored for each treatment.   Shaeffer described her experience with a chelating test kit developed by Richard Wobers with varying pHs.  She found that on a test linen, the higher pH was more effective no matter what the chelator.  When Shaeffer was an intern at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, she used this information along with the system that Laura Mina and Kate Sahmel developed for removing dye bleed, to remove discoloration of the ground fabric of a sampler.  (Laura Mina and Kate Sahmel presented their treatment at AIC last year.)  Shaeffer’s treatment was successful but very labor intensive since each small area was outlined with cyclododecane followed by the “cut to shape” agarose (with EDTA) gel..  Agarose is easy to manipulate and reusable, something to consider.  Finally, gellan gum was quickly mentioned as a recently introduced rigid gel finding its way into the consideration of conservators.
In Conclusion
The comparison charts, when the post prints are released, will be good to review again, since so many types of techniques, solutions and recipes were only briefly discussed.  In the post-prints, she will be discussing at greater length her research and treatments (including “recipes”).  Elizabeth’s warm delivery tone allowed me to be swept away into an in-depth discussion of gels and poultices used in textile treatments.  In this blog, I have seriously only briefly touched on the discussion.  It was a topic that embraces not just the textile specialty group, but other conservation specialties.  She hopes that some of the material discussed will spark our interest; encouraging us to share our findings as we proceed.  I, for one, will be now be considering these materials into my “toolbox” of techniques!

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, The Creation, Implementation, and Safety of Digitally Printed Fabrics in Textile Conservation: Where are We in 2012?, by Miriam Murphy

Author Miriam Murphy, Kress Conservation Fellow, Museum Conservation Institute, and National Museum of African History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution, presented a review of digital printing techniques and their use in textile conservation. This was a great refresher for colleagues who have not kept up with advances over the past decade, including your’s truly.

There are seven steps in producing digitally printed textiles. Step 1 is the digital capture, using scanner or camera. Often this is done by the conservator.

Step 2 is image processing, which is bet left to the printer in order to produce accurate results and avoid hair-tearing-out by the conservator.

Step 3 is color management, for which a color blanket is an essential tool. This is a full printout of colors on the chosen substrate, best compared to the source object in the same lighting as eventual display, ie the gallery or historic house. The small fee for this color blanket is well worth the investment.

Step 4 is the printing process. Although 600-700 dpi is available, 300 is usually plenty good. Printers can print up to 138″ wide and are often constrained only by the size of the image file.

Step 5 is choice of ink. Pigment based inks are the best choice because they require no pretreatment to the substrate and dry with heat. They are susceptible to breakdown in extreme light conditions and with abrasion and much washing. Dark colors can also be hard to achieve and contrast between adjacent dark colors is not always great. Museum conditions usually can accommodate these limitations.

Step 6 is choice of substrate. There are many, many available substrates, but cotton remains the best choice for museum applications. The weave structure of the original does not have to match because the image will provide this detail. Fabrics are available form the printer or from TestFabrics or Jacquard Inkjet Fabric Systems.

Step 7 is pre and post treatment assessment–I confess my notes are sketchy about this step.

If you are interested in speaking with digital print houses, Ms Murphy suggested several including Super Sampler, First2print, LTS Design Service Corp and Digifab, most of which are in NYC, I believe.

The benefits of digitally printed fabrics in museums has been outlined elsewhere, but highlights include quick turnaround, high resolution, and increasingly small dye runs. Why aren’t we all using this technology??!!

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.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Repair of 20th-Century Leavers Lace, by Annie-Beth Ellington

Lever’s Lace is a type of machine-made lace that provides a similar product to hand-made bobbin lace. Its structure and relatively low-status in museum collections have made it an uncommon target for conservation treatments. The author’s graduate thesis research for her MA at the University of Rhode Island both brings to light this historic textile and provides guidance in how to undertake stabilization of damaged samples.

In 1813 John Lever modified a loom to make Lever’s Lace, and subsequent addition of Jacquard technology in 1849 increased the range of the product. It was imported to the US in 1910 to make mosquito netting and other simple structures, eventually creating the decorative lace familiar to many people. Lever’s lace consists of a ground of twisted warps. Patterns or ornaments outlined by a heaver thread are accomplished with bobbins.

The author experimented with mock-ups of the structure to better understand the challenges of repairs. She then tensioned a piece of damaged lace over a black fabric-covered board. A photocopy of the pattern area was inserted beneath to act as a guide. Using a microscope, she floated 40 denier nylon threads across areas of loss following the pattern. The author quickly found that intervention could cause additional unraveling of damages areas, so she changed to using Jade adhesive on broken thread ends prior to repairs.

Repair of Levers Lace is slow and dyeing nylon thread to match colors would only add to the project time. However with further development this technique will guide future conservators.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Recovery and Conservation of the Textile Collections at the National Museum of Music, Alina Vazquez De Arazoza

Alina Vazquez de Arazoza is one of 20 Latin American colleagues who were able to join us at the 40th Annual AIC meeting thanks to funding from the Getty. Ms Vazquez requested that our colleague Amparo Ruedas read her paper to the TSG.

In 1971, a former Colonial mansion located in Havana was converted to the National Museum of Music. It contains, among its diverse collections, costumes of prominent Cuban musicians and banners from musical groups. The majority of collection dates to the 20th century, but several important 19th century items are also preserved. Among these is the glove of Perucheo Figueredo, the author of Cuba’s national anthem, and great great grandfather of Amparo Ruedas, giving added meaning to this presentation.

The renovation of the museum building provided the opportunity for the author to survey the collection, undertake conservation treatments prior to rehousing and exhibition, and do biographical research into the artists represented by the collection. She worked in collaboration with CENCREM (Centro Nacional de Conservacion, Restauracion y Museologia) which provided a facility and analytical assistance, all at no charge!

In general the collection was in fair condition. Items were dirty, distorted from poor storage, and dry, despite the tropical climate and lack of adequate environmental conditions. Humidity had taken a toll on some items, however, as seen by corroded metal trims, associated staining, some water damage with dye migration, and some insect damage. Much of the collection also exhibited yellowing.

The author undertook analysis of items in order to prepare a proposal for conservation. SEM results confirmed fiber content of organic and metal components. Much of the collection is hand made, though industrially produced items and commercial labels were noted and researched. The presence of prior repairs were documented, as well as types of adhesives that had been employed. Parameters of the conservation project were set out identify which textiles needed surface cleaning, aqueous or solvent cleaning, which prior repairs would be reversed.

What impressed me most about Ms Vazquez’s and her project are the advanced level of treatment skills, storage and conservation materials, analytical tools and connoisseurship compared to other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean that I have visited. This conservation project was equal in all ways to similar projects undertaken in the United States, which happily dispelled my notions of the ability of Cuban conservation professionals to achieve a high level of skill and accomplishments.