Baldisholteppet. FotoOrnelund.jpg
Baldisholteppet (Baldishol Carpet), unknown artist, between 1040 and 1190. Photo: Nasjonalmuseet

Textile Conservation

The National Museum has an extensive collection of textiles that range in time from the early Middle Ages until today.

The collection consists mainly of Norwegian and European textiles and historical clothing, tapestries, textile furnishings, and modern decorative arts.

A textile in a museum collection is a source of history. It should be treated accordingly so that it lasts as long as possible and provides us with accurate historical information.

Textile as material

An eclectic textile collection, such as the one the National Museum possesses, features a wide variation in materials and techniques. Natural fibres such as wool, silk, cotton, and linen represent the main group of materials, but synthetic fibres such as viscose rayon, acetate, polyamide, polyester, and acryl are becoming ever more common. In the future we must be prepared for these more recent, “intelligent” materials.

A wide variety of techniques have been used throughout the ages, with woven textiles such as carpets, curtains, upholstery, and clothing textiles representing the largest portion of our collection. Other techniques that feature prominently include knitting, lacework, crochet, and embroidery. Textiles are often used in combination with other materials, such as hide, leather, wood, glass, rock, metal, paper, and plastic. This encourages a good deal of interdisciplinary cooperation with our colleagues from the other material groups.

Collections care

Textile fibres age and decompose. Our task is to mitigate the external factors that have a corrosive effect on these materials. It is essential to control factors such as light, temperature, humidity, and air quality. Light is perhaps the single factor that has the potential to cause the greatest damage, gradually causing colours to fade and uncoloured textiles to yellow. These external changes are accompanied by a degradation of the fibre itself, thereby undermining the fabric. It is also imperative to control temperature and humidity, which should both be kept as stable as possible. Too high values can stimulate the formation of mould and the growth of microorganisms, while too low values can dehydrate the fibres, which thereby becomes brittle and inelastic. Poor air quality caused by pollution leads to dust and dirt. Preventive conservation therefore begins with in-depth knowledge and the chemical and physical properties of the material. This enables us to create stable and secure conditions for both storage and exhibitions and to choose the proper materials.

Treatment

Certain objects may require more extensive conservation. Before the conservation work itself begins, the object’s history, material composition, and physical condition are thoroughly examined and documented/photographed. Which form of treatment that is selected is determined by the extent of the damage, the condition of the material, and whether the object is to be displayed or stored. All interventions and changes are documented in writing along with photographs taken before, during, and after conservation. In certain cases, it is necessary to make supplementary drawings. It is especially important to document changes, as we must be able to differentiate the original material from later additions that were made so the object could retain its value as a historical source.