THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Collection Care blog

11 posts categorized "Textiles"

08 May 2017

Beauty is only Skin Deep – Installation of the 101st Soviet Rifle Regiment Banner for the Russian Revolution Exhibition

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Iwona Jurkiewicz reports on the installation of an extraordinary and iconic banner on exhibition for the first time outside Poland at the British Library's latest exhibition: Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths. It can be seen until the exhibition closes on 29 August 2017.

It is a well-known truth that external attractiveness bears little relation to the essential internal qualities of a person. This time, the old saying: ‘beauty is only skin deep’ proved to be true for a banner.

The 101st Soviet Rifle Regiment banner captured in the 1919-20 Soviet–Polish War by the victorious Poles is very plain and unassuming in appearance. It is, however, of enormous value, being the only surviving banner from that conflict still held in the Polish collections.

A great number of other banners were captured during the Soviet-Polish War and kept in the Polish Army Museum in Warsaw. In the 1950’s all but this one were ordered to be returned to the Soviet Union (hence its unique status).

Soviet Rifle Regiment
Picture 1: The banner of the 101st Soviet Rifle Regiment with the popular propaganda slogan of the time: ‘Peace to huts, war to palaces’.

The banner has been borrowed from Warsaw for the Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy and Myths Exhibition together with a much more visually appealing hat of a Red Army soldier, known as Budenovka.

Red Army uniform hat
Picture 2: Red Army uniform hat named after Red Army Commander, Semen Budennyi.

Yet, it was this plain looking banner, with its twists and turns of history that go beyond the Russian Revolution, rather than the cute red hat, that captured my attention.

The current monochrome appearance of the cotton ground is misleading since it was originally red, and the star stitched in the middle of the banner with the early emblem of the Soviet state of a hammer and sickle was - against all expectations - white.

We know this thanks to the detailed documentations of all captured banners made between 1930's-1950's published in a book on trophies seized during the Soviet–Polish War by Jarosław Pych1.

Banner
Picture 3: The banner as shown in the documentation in the Polish Army Museum after it was donated in the 1930’s.

Unfortunately, this iconic item lost its original colours in the course of the long term display and due to the poor stability of the dye used. It now, indeed, seems very plain and unassuming. However, the post Second World War Soviet intervention gave it the status of the only surviving banner in the Polish Army Museum collection, and this added to its already great national significance. The banner has never been displayed abroad before, and it was conserved prior to the Russian Revolution exhibition by the Textile Conservation team based in the Polish Army Museum and led by Jadwiga Kozlowska, who also couriered the item for the British Library exhibition.

Jadwiga Kozlowska
Picture 4: Jadwiga Kozlowska with the banner.

Her presence during the installation proved vital. The banner, usually displayed in portrait orientation in Warsaw had firm attachment – a Perspex rod - on the short side, but not the long one as was necessary for the landscape orientation of the case in the Russian Revolution exhibition.

Perspex rod attachment
Picture 5: The Perspex rod attachment of the banner.

Display case
Picture 6: Landscape orientation of the display case.

This situation was promptly remedied by Jadwiga Kozłowska who was able to stitch the crêpeline facing the banner alongside the top edge using an invisible polyester thread.

Attaching the banner
Picture 7: Jadwiga Kozłowska attaching the banner to the supporting board.

This enabled a secure display of the item in landscape rather than portrait direction. The banner is displayed on a slope within the case, and the supporting board is secured using acrylic clips.

Final installation
Picture 8: The final installation of the banner.

The installation of the banner with such a chequered history couldn’t have been straightforward, but nothing proves impossible with teams of dedicated exhibition, conservation and loans registry staff!

The Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths Exhibition opened on 28 April and will run until 29 August 2017. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website.

 

Iwona Jurkiewicz

 

I would like to thank Jadwiga Kozłowska for not only helping with the installation, but also providing the information about the banner.

Further reading:

1. Jarosław Pych "Trofea wojny polsko-bolszewickiej 1920 roku", Warszawa, 2000

13 February 2017

Understanding leather - from tannery to collection

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Five days Continuing Professional Development (CPD) training for Conservators (10 -12 participants only).

Conserve and Care Northampton

Main Subjects

  • Understanding Leather
  • Understanding the threats to the preservation of leather in your collection

The course is a mixture of theory and practical (tanning, handling different leathers and examining deterioration problems).

Each aspect of leather production is explored in both a theoretical and practical way, and explained in relation to deterioration processes and resultant care and conservation problems.

Participants will have opportunities to try some of the production methods using both modern and traditional techniques.

Experienced professionals are on-hand to answer questions and the course takes place in an informal group, where students are encouraged to take part and get involved.

Leather tools

Participants

This course is aimed at conservators, curators and other museum professionals with responsibility for collections which include historic leather items, who wish to understand (a) leather making processes and (b) common deterioration problems found in historic leather objects.

Those who attended the course in previous years found it to be immensely useful as well as enjoyable.

To be held at:

The Leather Conservation Centre & Northampton University’s Institute of Creative Leather Technologies,
The University of Northampton,
Boughton Green Road,
Northampton NN2 7AN

Dates - Monday 26 to Friday 30 June 2017

Cost - £495 tuition only. There are a few bursaries available for students on recognised conservation courses which will bring the cost down to £295.

An accommodation list will be available.

NB The course will not run with less than 10 participants.

For further information or to book a place on this course please contact - Yvette Fletcher, Head of Conservation, The Leather Conservation Centre on email lcc@northampton.ac.uk.

Lab coats, gloves, boots and other necessary PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) will be provided.

Please note the course does not cover conservation treatments or techniques (please visit the West Dean website www.westdean.org.uk for information on CPD course on conservation of leather).

31 January 2017

PhD placement opportunity: Textiles in the British Library

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Textiles are a numerous but perhaps unexpected part of the collections at the British Library. These intriguing and delicate items require careful storage, handling and conservation to preserve them for the future. Since the British Library’s first Textile Conservator was appointed in January 2015, hundreds of textiles have been discovered within the Library’s collections. These range from fabric covers for Torah scrolls and silk escape maps of Berlin, to a Japanese children’s book resembling a baby in a sleeping bag and Captain Cook’s book containing samples of bark cloth from the South Pacific Islands.

Textiles

This first textile-focused PhD placement presents an opportunity to gain insight into a relatively new area of the Library’s work and contribute to raising the profile of a currently less well-known part of the collections. Working alongside the Textile Conservator, Liz Rose, the placement student will be responsible for completing an internal database of textiles in the
British Library collections. This will involve working with curators across collections to view textile items, photograph them and input their details into the database using the Library’s shelfmark conventions. In addition, there will be opportunities for the student to write blog posts about newly-identified textile items for the Library’s blogs and other public platforms.

During the three-month placement (or part-time equivalent), the student will be a full member of the Conservation Team and will have the chance to assist with holding public tours and events in the conservation centre and with preparing textile items for exhibition displays or external loans. As well as developing specialist knowledge of a wide range of textiles and their conservation needs, the placement thus offers a chance to gain transferable skills in event management and public engagement.

The placement would suit PhD students with an interest in textiles from a range of disciplinary backgrounds. The main requirement is the ability to keep clear and consistent records, and strong IT skills. Training in the handling of fragile textile items, the Library’s subject-specific naming conventions, as well as an induction to the textile collections and to the wider work of
the British Library Centre for Conservation will be provided at the beginning of the placement.

View a detailed placement profile.

Application guidelines

For full application guidelines and profiles of the other placements offered under this scheme, visit the Library’s Research Collaboration webpages. The application deadline is 20 February 2017. For any queries about this placement opportunity, please contact research.development@bl.uk.

A note to interested applicants

This is an unpaid professional development opportunity, which is open to current (or very recent) PhD researchers only. To apply, you need to have the approval of your PhD supervisor and your department’s Graduate Tutor (or equivalent senior academic manager).

Our PhD placement scheme has been developed in consultation with Higher Education partners and stakeholders to provide opportunities for PhD students to develop and apply their research skills outside the university sector. Please note that the Library itself is not able to provide payment to placement students, nor can it provide costs for daily commuting or relocation to the site of the placement. Anyone applying for a placement at the Library
is expected to consult their university or Doctoral Training Partnership/Doctoral Training Centre to ascertain what funding is available to support them. The Library strongly recommends to universities that a PhD student given approval to undertake a placement is in receipt of a stipend for the duration of the placement.

31 October 2016

Talk: Fabric of the Library: discovering textile conservation

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Feed the Mind is a series of inspiring lunchtime talks exploring the rich diversity of collaborative research taking place at the British Library. Fabric of the Library: discovering textile conservation takes place on Monday 7 November at 12.30 pm in the Eliot Room, Conference Centre, British Library.

I am Liz Rose, textile conservator at the British Library and I am giving a talk about the textiles I have found in the British Library collections and some of those I have treated. This amazing collection ranges from a contemporary book to a 4th century piece of silk and many beautiful objects in between.

Tickets are £5 and can be booked here.

There will be an opportunity for questions and discussion, all in the space of your lunch-break. I have included a couple of images to whet your appetite but don’t forget the free tea, coffee and cakes!

Textiles 1
Or 9430 Image copyright the British Library Board

Textiles 2

C 24 d 5  Image copyright the British Library Board

 

27 May 2016

Washing badly degraded silk flags from the India Office collections

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Royal East India Volunteer Colours - PDP/F.1068 and PDP/F.1068

 

The fragmentary silk was sandwiched between Reemay® 19gsm for support and filtration purposes during wet cleaning. The Reemay® was kept in place during drying which encouraged the flags to dry perfectly flat.

Washing was a great success with a lot of help from other British Library conservation team members and textile conservators Mika Takami and Eveliina Ojanne from Hampton Court Palace.

IndiaOfficeFlag

Vania Assis - IDP, Eveliina Ojanne - HRP, Mika Takami - HRP and Anna Espanol Costa - Hebraic digitisation programme

Liz Rose, Textile Conservator

14 March 2016

Video: The removal of linen backed paper from a silk scroll cover

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Our conservation team were recently tasked with the removal of linen backed paper (a previous repair) from the back of a silk scroll cover. An overview of the item can be found on the International Dunhuang Project website: IOL Khot S 46

Original position of silk cover

Photograph (Photo 392/27(567)) showing original position of the silk cover on the verso of the scroll before its conservation in the India Office Library, when the cover was removed and reattached on a linen backing to the recto of the scroll. 

The position of the silk cover following its conservation in the India Office Library can be seen on the IDP website and in the image below.

Verso of the scroll
Verso of the scroll showing original position of silk cover and linen backed paper attached to the scroll in the British Museum. 

The linen backed paper and silk were detached from the scroll and then the silk was removed from the linen backed paper. The rigidity of the linen backed paper and the India Office Library scroll and storage box were causing extensive damage to the painted silk.

Silk cover before conservation
The silk cover before conservation showing the curl caused by the previous repair. 

Silk cover after conservation
The silk cover following conservation. 

More about the scroll can be read here. The scroll and cover will be rehoused and re-photographed and the new images will be made available on the British Library International Dunhuang Project website.

Liz Rose, Textile Conservator

27 January 2016

Torah Mantle Conservation

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The Torah is the Hebrew Bible. Torah mantles are sometimes used to cover the Torah scrolls and are constructed in a similar way to a skirt. The ‘skirt’ has a top with two ‘holes’ and these allow the wooden scroll handles to protrude.

Construction of Torah Mantle

Construction of a Torah mantle.

Before conservation

Before conservation the front of Torah mantle OMS/Or 13027 showed degraded silk - probably caused by light damage.

During conservation
During conservation solvent activation of adhesive on conservation net was applied to the degraded silk using portable air extraction.

After conservation
Post conservation the Torah mantle now shows stabilisation of the degraded silk. This is most evident in the centre front left and right, around the pleats, and around the holes for the wooden scroll handles.

Liz Rose, Textile Conservator

03 December 2015

Magna Carta (an embroidery) - now on display at the Bodleian Library

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If you visited the British Library during summer 2015 you may have seen the 13 metre long Magna Carta Wikipedia embroidery conceived by Cornelia Parker. Commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art, the embroidery was an original piece of modern artwork to complement and enrich the British Library Magna Carta exhibition commemorating the 800th year since Magna Carta was sealed. 

On display at the British Library

On display at British Library Summer 2015

The piece was a recreation of the Wikipedia entry of Magna Carta – an interpretation of its influence in a digital era. Much of the embroidery was completed by Fine Cell Work

The stunning pictorial elements were completed by members of the Embroiderers Guild

Detail of intricate embroidery

Detail of intricate embroidery

Smaller sections were embroidered by named individuals, some notable, Germaine Greer, Alan Rusbridger, Mary Beard to name a few. Others less so – the British Library Head of Conservation, for example, who was privileged to embroider the hallowed words ‘British Library’.

Mid-way through embroidery
Mid-way through embroidery on the Head of Conservation’s desk, December 2014.

Piecing together the many individually embroidered sections and making it ready for display was completed by the Royal School of Needlework (RSN).  Final touches were completed in the conservation studio at the library by the RSN. A 13 metre long textile was an unusual sight in our studios but given the variety of the British Library's collections, including textiles, nothing fazes us.

Final touches

Final touches are made prior to display

Detail of the reverse

Detail of the reverse of the embroidery

Sadly the British Library had to say goodbye to the embroidery in late July and it travelled to Manchester for a period of display at the Whitworth Art gallery. Yet the project remains a particular favourite in British Library Conservation from recent years, probably because we assisted in the creation of something new – a departure from our usual line of work.

If you have not had a chance to see this fascinating artwork you can now see it at the Bodleian Library in Oxford for a limited period.

Cordelia Rogerson, Head of Conservation

07 September 2015

The Marriage of East and West: Conservation of a Photographic Album from Burma

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One often wonders what treasures can be hidden in a buckram box, and this time was no exception. The box on opening revealed an album covered with brightly coloured textile and leather. The pattern on the boards looked unusual and the use of the silk textile to cover a photographic album did not seem common either. This album housed a collection of 19th century photographs from Burma taken by Felice (or Felix) Beato.

Album before conservation

CC by The album before conservation.

At first sight, a cotton band strapped across the boards spelt poor condition and acted as the ‘do not touch’ warning. On closer inspection, my first impressions were confirmed. The leather on the spine was fragmented; sewing exposed and broken, while the boards were only kept in place by the strapping. Most photographs in the album had some distortions caused by water damage and by heavy glue application to corners; with some tears present where the pull of the adhesive was too strong. A large panorama of Mandalay was the most damaged photograph in the album. However, on the whole, the album as a housing medium protected the contents well and the damage inside was less extreme.

Panorama of Mandalay before conservation

CC by Panorama of Mandalay before conservation.

Panorama detail

CC by A detail of the panorama showing multiple folds and damage to the gelatine layer of the photograph.

The albumen prints taken by Felice Beato showed excellent quality images of a bygone age. One could not help but be engaged by the faces, buildings and landscapes, and wanting to find out more about the author and the object itself.

A quick search into Felice Beato’s background revealed a dynamic personality moving around the world with ease and covering such historic events as the fall of Sevastopol, the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the Second Opium War. Beato was one of the first war photographers who reputably produced the first images of corpses. His extensive travels took him all over East Asia, including Japan, and he was also the official photographer of the British forces sent to relieve General Gordon in Khartoum, Sudan. However, Burma was the country he knew best. He lived there towards the end of his life setting up a successful photographic studio and business.

The album broadly dated 1880-1890s was the product of his later years. The silk covering of the album is similar to the clothing worn by the Burmese royalty shown in one of the pictures from the album.

Burmese princess

CC by Burmese Princess in traditional garments.

The Burmese textile depicting a series of wave patterns in green, yellow and white threads is known as Luntaya Acheiq pattern or the flowing water of the Irrawadi River. The textile is traditionally woven on looms using an interlocking tapestry weave and 100-200 small shuttles¹.

Textile cover

CC by The detail showing the pattern on the textile cover.

Beato’s other claim to fame is his mastery of the photographic medium. Like other early pioneers in photography before and after him, Beato experimented with the new technology and stretched the medium more suited to studio work rather than photojournalism to its limits. Silver albumen prints produced from wet collodion glass plate negatives, were not easy to process and the glass negatives must have been heavy to carry in the precarious war circumstances he was often working in. He is also credited with pioneering the hand colouring of photographs and the making of panoramas. One such excellent example of the latter is the panorama of Mandalay. Due to the damage sustained while in the album, a decision was taken not to fold the panorama back into the album. After conservation, it was placed in a Melinex sleeve and housed in a custom made folder.

Panorama after conservation

CC by The panorama of Mandalay after conservation.

Flattened and repaired panorama fragment

CC by Flattened and repaired fragment of the panorama.

The album itself must have been produced for one of the wealthy ex-pats or influential locals. The paper used for the text block was imported from the US. It bears the watermarks of L.L. Brown Paper Co. mill from Adams in Massachusetts. The top quality of the Advanced Linen Ledger paper chosen for the text block ensured that the photographs survived to this day in reasonably good condition.

It is not surprising that Beato’s business was successful. In this beautiful album, Beato combined together the attractive Eastern textile covers and Burmese content, with Western binding and handmade paper; producing a high quality object proving irresistible even when in poor condition! Beato’s photographs shaped the Western notions of several East Asian societies for many years and now after the conservation they will continue to be a rich source for further research.

Album after conservation

CC by The album after conservation.

Iwona Jurkiewicz

1. Slyvia Fraser-Lu, ‘Burman textiles’ in ‘Textiles from Burma’ edited by Elizabeth Dell & Sandra Dudley, published by The James Henry Green Centre for World Art in 2003, ISBN 1-58886-067-1.

25 August 2015

Digitising Hebraic Scrolls

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As part of the Hebraic Manuscript Digitisation Project (HMDP), we are currently imaging 74 scrolls. These range in size from one smaller than a little finger to another a whopping 52.41m long – three times the length of the conservation studio. The tallest is nearly a metre with its rollers.

Esther scroll

CC by Esther scroll in decorative case (Add 11831)

We did a brief survey last year and realised some of the scrolls were very damaged, so we have spent another two months assessing each one individually. Even this was not a simple task. Many of the larger scrolls are also very heavy, so two conservators have worked together to make sure they were handled safely, using lots of weights as stops to prevent them rolling off work-surfaces. The parchment scrolls have been tightly rolled for a very long time and even looking at them has been a challenge, as they try hard to re-roll themselves unless held down securely.

Surface delamination

CC by Text was rewritten after surface delamination; plus insect damage and excreta (Or 4224)

What are they? As well as some fine large Torah scrolls on parchment, made for synagogue use, we also have a number written on leather. The most important of this group is the Kaifeng Torah, made in central China in the 17th century. Read more about it here

There are also much smaller scrolls made for personal or family use. In particular, we have quite a few Esther scrolls, and some with the ritual texts for the Passover meal. Most copies of Hebraic scriptures are unadorned, to focus attention on the religious texts, but scrolls for family celebrations may have decorative margins or full coloured miniatures. The smallest scroll, adorned with silver, was almost certainly an amulet as the script is too tiny to be easily read.

Tiny scroll text

CC by The smallest scroll. The finger appears huge in comparison to the tiny script. (Or 4670)

The survey showed that up to half of the scrolls needed some kind of conservation treatment. Many were quick tasks done during assessment (edge tears or broken sewing joining panels) to avoid having later to roll and re-roll the scroll yet again. However, a dozen of the scrolls needed a good deal of repair simply to get them through the digitisation processes safely, and were sent to the main conservation studio.

Crazed leather surface

CC by Sewing is too tight and the holes too close together. The leather surface is also crazed and inflexible in part. (Or 1462)

Many of the scrolls have integral rollers. We thought it safer not to repair these if broken, lest it give a false sense of security, though we never lift scrolls by the roller handles anyway, since so many are now frail. Even more fragile are the few scrolls that roll back into cases as the mechanisms now tend to stick. Thankfully, once digitised, these will be handled rarely.

Broken sewing

CC by Common damage: the sewing has broken and a tear has developed across the text. This must be repaired before imaging as handling will make it worse. (Or 4224)

The scrolls are made of rectangular panels of parchment or leather (often called membranes) joined end to end. We were surprised to find that the majority were linked only by long, crude running stitches of linen thread, but these joins had mostly remained intact. We understood this better when we found a pair of scrolls with joins of fine oversewing (possibly done by a seamstress, not a leather worker), where the thread had torn through the leather; the frequent holes essentially acting as a perforation strip.

Molten wax

CC by Evidence of use is carefully preserved; here molten wax has dripped onto the scroll. (Or 1463)

A few of the scrolls have protective silk panels stitched to the verso at the outer end and we also found four mantles. Our textile conservator, Liz Rose, is cleaning and repairing these to make them safe to handle and image. They will be boxed separately and available for display in the future. As part of the project, many of the scrolls will also be rehoused in custom-made boxes.

Damaged mantle

CC by An extremely damaged mantle; the silk lining is also split in many places (Or 13027)

Although our imaging technicians are well used to digitising oriental scrolls, as well as other rolled materials such as maps, we think this is the first time anyone has digitised such a large group of Hebraic scrolls. Conservators were involved early in the process of selecting suitable equipment. Although no Hebraic manuscript books have been scanned, we concluded that it would be safer and more efficient to scan some of the scrolls – though using the equipment unconventionally, without the glass sheet to flatten them. There was a full risk assessment before imaging began, and the imaging technicians received specialist handling training, including a requirement to work in pairs.

Marginal decoration

CC by Marginal decoration of an Esther scroll (Or 1047)

Hand coloured print

CC by Image printed on parchment and hand coloured. The printing block was probably generic, used to decorate many different texts, but is unusual for a Hebraic manuscript. (Or 13028)

Conservation’s role in the digitisation of the scrolls is now finished, but there is still several months’ work to be done on processing and stitching the images before everything is uploaded to our website. Meanwhile, you can view many of the books digitised during the project here: using “Hebrew” as the keyword.

Ann Tomalak, HMDP Phase 1 Project Conservator