The consolidation of mud-silk: a Southeast Asian textile

Blair, K. and Thompson, K. (2014) The consolidation of mud-silk: a Southeast Asian textile. Studies in Conservation, 59(S1), S1-S4. (doi: 10.1179/204705814X13975704317237)

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Mud-silk, a fabric made in Southeast China and other areas of Southeast Asia, was recently identified in museum collections in Hawaii and Canada. The fabric is characterised by a glossy black or dark-brown surface finish, achieved by spreading iron-rich river mud on silk dyed with a tannin-rich dye. Still produced and used by fashion designers today, little research has been done regarding its specific preservation requirements. Museums in Hawaii and Canada found that until recently mud-silk had been unacknowledged or misrepresented in their collections, and it is likely that this is common in collections worldwide. As mud-silk becomes more widely known and comes to light in other collections, more information will be needed on its care and preservation. During a survey of mud-silk garments at the Royal British Columbia (BC) Museum, Canada, the author noted that one mud-silk jacket had a flaking surface coating. The coating was highly unstable, with tiny flakes detaching and shedding whenever the jacket was handled. While the problem was not common, it severely affected the preservation of and ability to handle the affected jacket. The pressing conservation needs of this mud-silk jacket sparked the current investigation, which aims to explore methods for consolidating a flaking mud-silk coating while minimally affecting the fabric’s flexibility and appearance. The paper aims to contribute to the conservation literature in two ways. Firstly, one conservation aspect of a little-researched, culturally significant Southeast Asian textile will be discussed and practical solutions provided. Secondly, research into the consolidation of a thin surface coating, similar to a paint film, on a flexible textile will add to research previously undertaken on the conservation of painted flags and banners. The techniques investigated will add to the toolkit of textile conservators faced with an unstable film on a textile, whether it is paint or another kind of surface finish, where it is imperative that the textile retains its flexibility. This paper will discuss attempts to recreate the flaking condition on non-damaged mud-silk. Description of consolidation tests carried out and results from these tests will show which consolidants and techniques are effective at stabilising a flaky surface film on a flexible textile. Special emphasis will be placed on consolidation application techniques (e.g. brushing or spraying) and solution properties (e.g. volatility), as these are areas that have not been well explored in textile conservation. Evaluations of the effect of successful consolidation methods on the flexibility and appearance of mud-silk will be discussed, with a view to providing options for the consolidation of flaky mud-silk while minimally affecting its physical properties. This will provide a practical solution to the conservation issue noted at the Royal BC Museum that can also be applied to other textiles with flaky surface films.

Item Type:Articles (Other)
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Thompson, Mrs Karen
Authors: Blair, K., and Thompson, K.
Subjects:A General Works > AM Museums (General). Collectors and collecting (General)
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities > School of Culture and Creative Arts
Journal Name:Studies in Conservation
Publisher:Maney Publishing
ISSN (Online):2047-0584

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