Among the many artistic disciplines that have developed in the Indian subcontinent, textiles hold a distinguished place. It is a privilege to handle such textile objects that have been worked on by individuals in the past, to experience the connection and understand their working and learning processes. Therefore, it has been a fascinating opportunity to learn about textile conservation at Heritage Preservation Atelier. In the past few months, I have acquired practical knowledge about types of fibers, weave structures, dyes, stitches and adhesives used in conserving a textile object.
To begin with, I assisted in documenting and damage mapping of a 350-year old historic textile. There were blood stains, grime, dust, and termite tunnels, and it was breaking in several different areas. To figure out its shape and structure, numerous sketches and measurements were taken. Before beginning the treatment process, the type of object (costume), type of weave (plain) and repairs and alterations in the past were identified. After careful examination, it was discovered that the lining was added afterwards and was not a part of the original costume because it was machine stitched.
Dry cleaning was done using soft brushes and sponges. Wet cleaning with deionized water was also done because the stains and overall dirt and grime would have led to further deterioration.
During this internship program, I got hands-on experience in dyeing. The most crucial step in dyeing is selecting the fabric. It should have the same weave count as the original object. The number of ends or picks found within a specified measurement of the warp and weft is known as the weave count.
Dyes can be broadly classified into natural and synthetic dyes. However, in conservation it is advised not to use natural dyes but to choose from a wide range of synthetics. For the object in question, cold water reactive dyes were used that directly react with the hydroxyl groups found in cellulose. Sodium carbonate (or Soda Ash) was added to bring about the reaction. Before this, sample tests were done on small pieces of fabric to attain the best results. Through this process, I learnt that several factors such as weight of the fabric, temperature, pH and time duration influence the dyeing. The dyeing process was repeated for two months to achieve the ideal dyed cloth.
Before working on the original object, I along with one of the team members, Sarika, learnt and practiced the various stitches on a piece of cloth/embroidery. The three main stitches that we were taught are:
- Self couching: It is one of the most important stitches in textile conservation and is used to secure torn, frayed, or weak areas to a new support fabric with the minimum of stitches. A thread is laid in a straight line with the weave, in either warp or weft direction. Small holding stitches are then taken over the laid thread, at equidistant points along it. A second thread is then laid close to the first and the process is repeated until the required area is covered.
- Hemming: The word ‘hem’ is used for the lower edge of a garment. Any stitch used at the hem when two turns of fabric are required is called hemming stitch.
- Herringbone: This stitch is used to join two pieces of cloth and also helps in strengthening the joint. It is so named as it resembles the bones extending from the spine of a herring fish. It is worked from left to right along an imaginary double line. The thread is pulled out from the bottom left corner, inserted on the top line a little to the right, and then pulled out to the left. The needle is brought out to the left and then returns to the lower line. We used the reverse herringbone stitch to attach the dyed fabric to the kalis so that the threads and stitches would not show on the front.
This helped us in gaining confidence to work on the original object. The next step focused on filling the holes. For this, cloth was properly traced and neatly cut and pasted using a heat-activated adhesive called BEVA. BEVA is activated at a low temperature and is completely reversible.
At HPA, I gained knowledge on both the most fundamental and intricate aspects of conservation. My internship experiences are as varied as the objects I have come across and just as valuable. Not only have I obtained practical knowledge about various techniques in conservation but have also developed a great deal of patience and perseverance. I have thoroughly enjoyed my internship at HPA and the whole team has been inspiring and a pleasure to work with.