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A review of paper & textiles - the common ground

This conference organised by The Scottish Society for Conservation and Restoration was held at the Burrell Collection, Glasgow from 19-20th September 1991.

As the organisers outlined in the foreword to the conference Preprints 'most paper and many textiles actually share the same basic constituent, cellulose. They may also suffer from common problems, such as acidity, soiling, staining, brittleness and structural weakness. Many museum objects contain both paper and textile materials.' This important conference, aiming to cover these problems was long overdue and had therefore been awaited with great expectation.

Fourteen papers were presented, covering a wide range of subjects including; the structure of cellulose; cleaning; the use of vacuum suction disks; enzyme treatments; FTIR analysis and case histories.

Perhaps the most 'memorable' presentation was by Dr Vincent Daniels, Principal Scientific Officer at the British Museum who gave a highly provocative paper with Yvonne Shashoua, Conservation Scientist, BM He began with a 'tongue in cheek' look at the origins. pf the paper and textile conservation professions but his sweeping generalisations (albeit quite true in some instances) soon succeeded in alienating most of the delegates! Textile conservators with their origins as needlewomen and their maintenance of domestic textiles appeared to come off worst but perhaps I am biased! By referring to these origins he reviewed the similarities and differences of wet cleaning and considered whether they were justified. Most of the instances were easily explained but he thought there were inconsistencies in the approach to others, particularly with the use of detergents and alkaline rinses.

Following the theme of cleaning, Helen Burgess, Senior Conservation Scientist at the Canadian Conservation Institute, described a research project investigating the effects of alkali rinses on paper. Her results indicated that it is not possible to outline one washing procedure for all cellulose fibres. She thus gave a very strong argument for more detailed scientific documentation of all objects before even routine cleaning takes place.

Most treatments discussed in the case histories were original in concept and showed how, with knowledge of each discipline, traditional techniques could be adapted for use in a new and successful way. Helen Shenton, Senior Book Conservator, V&A described a conservation project initiated for twenty six Heal and Son Ltd textile sample books. She explained the criteria for the treatment and the minimal repair and encapsulation eventually chosen. The use of polyester encapsulation for storage and study purposes has been in use for at least 10 years. Why then does it still appear to be in its infancy when it has great potential and versatility for both paper and textile collections? Is it because, as the questions after the day's proceedings reflected, there is concern regarding the acidity in the encapsulated paper allowing them to 'stew in their own juices?'

The use of wheat starch paste featured heavily on the second day when Andrew Thompson, Senior Conservation Officer, Eastern Pictorial Art Conservation, British Museum, gave an illuminating explanation on the construction and conservation of a Japanese hanging scroll, thus dispelling much of the mystique surrounding the Japanese Studio at the museum. On a similar theme, the successful use of wheat starch paste on materials not usually associated with its use was covered by Marion Kite, Senior Textile Conservator, V&A. Of particular interest was her use of paper and paste to support the split fur on a Chinese fur-lined robe.

I was disappointed that the case histories presented did not fully reflect direct collaboration between the two disciplines. The only one that did was programmed to end the conference, but it was a 'glittering' finale. Barbara Heiberger, Senior Textile Conservator, presented the work carried out by herself, Johan Hermans, Senior Paper Conservator and Patricia Mahoney-Phillips, Paper Conservator, on tinsel prints from the Museum of London's collection. She explained that the tinsel print is an area virtually unexplored in conservation and because of the many different materials used in their construction, analysis and research are essential when treating and storing these prints.

Anne Amos
Conservator, Textiles Section, Conservation Department

The outstanding theme of this conference had to be the combination of materials that may directly work against each other; a problem faced by many conservators and a problem that will only be solved by working together. Greater interaction between the two disciplines, by necessity, is the way conservation is heading and hopefully this conference will have encouraged it. Linda Eaton and Fiona Butterfield should be thanked for the idea of combining the two for this conference. They and their colleagues should also be thanked for its excellent organisation and smooth running. The added bonus of the Burrell as a venue, the evening reception at the Hunterian Art Gallery and private viewing of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh House all went towards making this conference, but to quote one colleague it was undoubtedly 'a textile conservator's conference'.