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Collection Conservation

 

Microscopy in textile conservation

home | Infrared | Microscopy 1 | 2 | X-rays

 

A 19th century Japanese Buddhist priest's robe called a kesa, was required for display at the National Gallery of Australia. The robe is a flat textile composed of an organised patchwork of silk brocade fabric, which is lined with purple silk taffeta. These robes are generally worn over the shoulders and hand held in place by two loops attached to the reverse face.

Upon initial examination, the robe appeared to be quite dirty and sooty on the right hand side. It was hoped to clean the robe, by vacuuming and then by solvent cleaning. Microscopy was used as the first examination tool to assess the condition and construction of the robe before treatment commenced.

Small particles of dirt trapped between fibres are often removed during vacuuming. Sections of the brocade were woven with a black silk thread that, under magnification, was seen to be brittle with many broken fibres. The fragility of this fibre prevented any vacuuming from being carried out.

Further examination discovered padding layers beneath the lining. The microscope revealed the padding was not woven but was a thick paper layer. The complex structure of the metallic threads was also revealed. A base paper layer had been coated with lacquer and then laminated with a thin metal foil. The presence of the lacquer prevents the use of solvents to clean the sooty stain as the lacquer could dissolve. Water is also unable to be used as the paper fibres would swell and weaken.

Under the microscope, sections of the brocade were discovered to have been in-painted where a design mistake had been made. This also prevented solvent and water applications as the paint could be damaged or removed.

During conservation only a few minor repairs were carried out on the lining. Without the insight achieved through the use of microscopy, standard conservation treatments could have caused further damage to the robe. A complete understanding of the construction of all artwork is essential for good conservation practices.

Click on images to enlarge

 

Front of 19th century Buddhist priest's robe (kesa) from Japan

Front of 19th century Buddhist priest's robe (kesa) from Japan

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Detail of brocade weave.

Detail of brocade weave

Lower left corner is unstained

Upper right corner is stained

 

Detail of sooty stain

Detail of sooty stain

 

 

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Detail revealing dirt particles trapped between the silk threads. Photographed at x 50 magnification

Detail revealing dirt particles trapped between the silk threads. Photographed at x 50 magnification

 

Detail of the fragile black silk threads. Photographed at x 50 magnification

Detail of the fragile black silk threads. Photographed at x 50 magnification

 

 

 

 

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White padding layer revealed through a split in the liningWhite padding layer revealed through a split in the lining

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Photo taken at x 50 magnification. Padding is identified as non-woven paper. (silk lining fabric is on the right)

Photo taken at x 50 magnification. Padding is identified as non-woven paper (silk lining fabric is on left)

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Detail of the black area of the design in the brocade. Photographed at x 6 magnification

Detail of the black area of the design in the brocade. Photographed at x 6 magnification

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Detail taken at x 50 magnification revealing in-painting over the top of the blue silk

Detail taken at x 50 magnification revealing in-painting over the top of the blue silk

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Detail of brocade with metallic threads. Photographed at x 6 magnification

Detail of brocade with metallic threads. Photographed at x 6 magnification

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Higher magnification of previous area of metallic threads. Photographed at x 18 magnification

Higher magnification of previous area of metallic threads. Photographed at x 18 magnification

 

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Metallic thread sample mounted onto a glass slide. Photographed at x 100 magnification under incident light (light falling from above)

Metallic thread sample mounted onto a glass slide. Photographed at x 100 magnification under incident light (light falling from above)

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