Textiles are very sensitive to light, which can quickly fade dye pigments. Exposure to light will also break down the chemical structure of textile fibres, making them weak and brittle.

Poor handling damages textiles. Even clean hands will leave traces of oil behind, so gloves should always be worn. Many historic textiles are so fragile that any touch will cause damage. Therefore textiles are stored in folders, or on trays or 3D mounts that allow the object to be examined without the need to touch it.

Materials used in cupboards, shelves and drawers (e.g. oak or chipboard) can be the source of atmospheric pollutants such as acidic gases, which damage textile fibres and dyes.

Textiles must be supported in storage. A robe decorated with heavy embroidery should not be hung as the weight is concentrated on the shoulder area where the fibres will be strained and will eventually break.

A textile object can be completely destroyed by an infestation of moth or carpet beetle. Storage areas have to be kept clean and monitored for insects.

Previous treatments on textiles can cause damage to fabric weaves if stitching is too tight. Old adhesives can discolour and harden, making the textiles weak, brittle and prone to splitting.

conservation at the ashmolean museum


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