Textile Conservation Workshop

Surrey Museum Partnership: Conservation Seminars 2015

29th June 2015 – Surrey History Centre, Woking

Textile Conservation Workshop: Zenzie Tinker, Conservation for Museums, Galleries and Private Collectors

www.zenzietinker.co.uk, info@zenzietinker.co.uk, Tel: 01273 685222

On Monday 29th June a group of Surrey Museum staff and volunteers gathered at Surrey History Centre for a training day centred on Textile Conservation.

Zenzie Tinker ACR and her colleague Ania Golebiowska, brought a large handling collection with them from Brighton. From acid free storage boxes appeared a wonderful array of historic costume and textiles, in various states of preservation; much as exists in the social history collections of our museums. There was also a wide range of conservation materials, padded mounts and hangers for the assembled group to see, touch and work with.

Zenzie began the session by explaining the factors in the deterioration of textile and costume: by natural processes, including environmental conditions and pests as well as poor handling and storage and, fascinatingly, by the inherent weakness resulting from the production of some textiles; 19th Century tin weighted silk, for example.

A second powerpoint talk focused on mounting and storage methods. Using examples of good and bad practice, Zenzie explained the importance of proper structural support both in display and storage conditions. Simple, economical solutions to problems associated with preventive conservation were recommended, such as using Melinex to isolate textiles from wood or metal in displays and how to transform an ordinary coat hanger into a conservation grade support.

After lunch, the delegates were let loose on the handling collection. Metres and metres of delicate, silk, Victorian gowns, flattened bows, reams of lace, bodices, mittens and a baby bonnet were carefully supported, rolled and boxed; initially with trepidation but, with Zenzie and Ania’s supportive encouragement, increased confidence.

It was a very fulfilling and productive day which everybody thoroughly enjoyed and benefitted from.


Acid free tissue puffs and rolls inserted into the bodice, sleeves and individual bows to prevent creasing.


Sleeve, collar and costume mounts for display and storage


A close up of a piece of unsupported lace


Rolling the lace on a Melinex and acid free tissue roll


A Victorian bodice: evidence inside revealed adaptations, possibly related to changes in ownership or fashion -note the sleeves above


Delegates practicing making acid-free tissue rolls and puffs


Environmental Monitoring Equipment Talk – April 2015



Surrey Museums Partnership Conservation Seminars continued on 7th April with an informative, in-depth look into the world of data-loggers and software given by Michael Hall and Samantha Greatbatch from Meaco Measurement and Control Ltd.

They brought us up to date with the latest developments in environmental equipment, explained the levels of accuracy that are now achievable and the importance of annual calibration. They stressed that while the eminently affordable min/max digital devices have their uses, they cannot provide reliable, downloadable annual data which is crucial to understanding the museum environment.

There is equipment for every museum situation:

  • Wireless telemetric systems transmit data from remote loggers, directly to the computer. They provide live as well as recorded data and will send warning emails if alarms are triggered by unexpected peaks! These systems are independent of Building Management Systems, providing an additional stop-check should anything go awry.
  • Tinytag data-loggers. A very user friendly logger which holds up to 5 months of data at the recommended 15 minute recording intervals. They are accurate to +- 3% RH +- 0.3C. The software is easy to use as it shows the data in a graphical and tabular format; the data can also be exported into an Excel spreadsheet or as an image of a graph into a word document. Min/max and average readings are available and LED displays on the front of the logger flash if the battery is low or there has been an unexpected peak. The Tinytag [ at least the most affordable option] has no digital screen, difficult to source batteries and the software is not free.
  • Rotronic 1D data-loggers are comparable to the Tinytag in terms of accuracy and reliability though have a digital screen for spot readings, easily sourced batteries and free software. If stopped and started without downloading the existing data will be saved [ not the case with Tinytag]. The software highlights battery life but is less user friendly than the Tinytag equivalent.

As with all environmental equipment, the data produced is only relevant if the machines are calibrated annually. Meaco offer a calibration service or, if feeling confident, calibration can be undertaken in-house with a handheld reference device and calibration chamber and salts.

Michael and Samantha recommend downloading regularly to really grasp environmental conditions. Simple procedures, such as making people leave wet umbrellas and coats in a cupboard or at the entrance, could remove an unpleasant rise in RH levels. Remember stability is all important.

In September 2014 the IIC [International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works] issued the Bizot Interim Guidelines for Hygroscopic Materials:

  • For many classes of object[s] containing hygroscopic material (such as canvas paintings, textiles, ethnographic objects or animal glue) a stable relative humidity (RH) is required in the range of 40–60% and a stable temperature in the range 16–25°C with fluctuations of no more than ±10% RH per 24 hours within this range.
    More sensitive objects will require specific and tighter RH control, depending on the materials, condition, and history of the work of art. A conservator’s evaluation is essential in establishing the appropriate environmental conditions for works of art requested for loan.

Dust … not only disgusting… it’s destructive !

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These pictures show what years of dusting avoidance results in… thick carpets of proteinaceous matter mixed with pollutants, toxins and assorted fibres and particles of… well, best not think about it.

  • dust can chemically bond to surfaces e.g.- gilded frames making it difficult/impossible to remove – see close up of frame- below left.
  • permeate the canvas, allowing pollutants to absorb into the structure of the painting
  • accelerate the ageing process
  • attract insects
  • encourage mould growth

Overly zealous or too frequent dusting of gilded frames can lead to abrasion of the gilding and possible loss of loose composition detail. Annual or bi-annual dusting with a soft brush only [never, ever a yellow duster or any fibrous cloth that could catch and remove loose mouldings!!] should be sufficient to to keep frames looking good.

Oh, and never spray glass cleaner near an historic frame – the old fashioned method of newspaper dampened with water and vinegar is best. Or better still, call a conservator [such as myself] to do it!

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The top image shows me dusting’ The Princes in the Tower’ by Sir John Everett Millais at Royal Holloway Picture Gallery, University of London.