The Textile Conservation Centre

Silk Deterioration 2007-2009

Silk Deterioration: Investigating the Effect of Silk Weighting

2 year project; AHRC grant number AH/E00962X/1 (£187,431)

Silk is a culturally important textile, found in many artefacts of historic significance. To conserve such objects for future generations it is necessary to have a good understanding of their properties. Unfortunately silk is a fragile material, and certain historically common processing methods are believed to render it more susceptible to damage; of particular concern are ‘weighting’ with metal salts (used to impart a desirable texture and drape) and sulphur bleaching, both widely used in Europe between the late 18th and 20th centuries. However exact role of these agents has not been well understood, so the aim of the research was to investigate the way in which they interact with the fibre and influence its long-term stability. This has been achieved through the use of surrogate materials, prepared using historically accurate methods and subjected to accelerated ageing, along with a reference set of historic silks. These have then been assessed using a range of analytical methods (spectroscopy, chromatography, microscopy and mechanical testing), to investigate the effect that these processing methods have on the deterioration of the material. The ultimate goal of the research is to better understand these valuable textiles and thus to inform future conservation, display and storage strategies.