Collection Care blog

18 posts categorized "Textiles"

31 October 2016

Talk: Fabric of the Library: discovering textile conservation

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!

A book likes open to a page which shows off a blue garment made of fabric.
Or 9430 Image copyright the British Library Board

The cover of a book which is covered in a red velvet covering.
C 24 d 5  Image copyright the British Library Board



27 May 2016

Washing badly degraded silk flags from the India Office collections

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.

Four conservators in white lab coat use large misters to wet a flag.
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

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

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.

A sketch outline of a Torah Mantle, in black on white background. The basic outline is similar to a skirt, adjoined to a circular area with two holes, which is where the scroll handles protrude.
Construction of a Torah mantle.


The Mantle before conservation. The Mantle is light coloured silk, with large flowers with green wrapped stems, amongst other flowers and leaves repeated on the fabric. The Mantle is resting on a light grey background.
Before conservation the front of Torah mantle OMS/Or 13027 showed degraded silk - probably caused by light damage.


A portion of the Mantle is visible in this photograph, lying on protective wrapping on a grey table. The Mantle is weighed down by a stack of rectangular glass weights, while a steel conservation spatula and other conservation tools are alongside. An air extraction unit is next to the table, with an open square intake.
During conservation solvent activation of adhesive on conservation net was applied to the degraded silk using portable air extraction.

The Mantle after conservation, lying on protective padding, with the top facing towards camera, where the two open holes can be seen. The black bordering of the silk can be seen more easily in this image.
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

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. 

Crowds gather around a long display case which showcases the embroidery.
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’.

A close-up of the words British Library which partially sewn in a blue thread, and a surrounded by other words mainly sewn in black thread.
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.

Three people inspect the embroidery, which is laid out on a table.
Final touches are made prior to display


The back of the embroidery shows the reverse of the text in mainly black thread with some words in blue thread.
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

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.

The albums rests on a table. It has a cloth cover with a striped design in the colours red, turquoise, and cream. There is also a white cloth strap to keep the album closed.
The album before conservation.

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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.

The album is open to a page with a panoramic photograph which is folded out to its full size. The photographs is a cityscape in black and white with a yellow tint.
Panorama of Mandalay before conservation.

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A closeup of the photograph showing vertical folds.
A detail of the panorama showing multiple folds and damage to the gelatine layer of the photograph.

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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.

This image features three figures. On the left is a young woman, possibly a younger teenager, resting her arm against a chair. In the middle, an older teenage girl sits in the chair. And on the right a young boy sits on the floor looking up at the figure in the chair. All three wear white long-sleeve shirts and long skits with a geometric striped design. The photograph is in black and white.
Burmese Princess in traditional garments.

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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.

A closeup of the album's textile cover. There are vertical stripes of red, turquoise, and white with s-shaped flourishes.
The detail showing the pattern on the textile cover.

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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.

The photograph now sits in a white folder.
The panorama of Mandalay after conservation.

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A closeup showing the flattened folds.
Flattened and repaired fragment of the panorama.

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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.

The treated album rests on a table after conservation. The spine has been repaired with a red leather.
 The album after conservation.

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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

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.

The scroll and its case rest on a table. The case has a light-coloured wood handle, and a round case with a crown-like top hold the scroll. The case appears to be made from a cream-coloured material, possibly bone or ivory.
Esther scroll in decorative case (Add 11831)

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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.

A closeup of a scroll showing pest damage.
Text was rewritten after surface delamination; plus insect damage and excreta (Or 4224)

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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.

The tip of a finger holds a scroll open. The finger is about one-third the width of the scroll, showcasing just how small the scroll is. The text is very tiny.
 The smallest scroll. The finger appears huge in comparison to the tiny script. (Or 4670)

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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.

Another close up showing the tight sewing on the left hand side, and a cracked surface in the middle.
Sewing is too tight and the holes too close together. The leather surface is also crazed and inflexible in part. (Or 1462)

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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.

Two pieces of parchment are held together with sewing. In this image, along the left hand side, the sewing has broken and a large tear has developed in the scroll.
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)

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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.

A closeup showing text on the scroll which is partially covered by wax which has dripped.
Evidence of use is carefully preserved; here molten wax has dripped onto the scroll. (Or 1463)

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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.

A close up of the mantle, which has a floral design on a cream background. There are a number of tears in the silk.
An extremely damaged mantle; the silk lining is also split in many places (Or 13027)

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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.

A close up of the margin of one scroll showing illustrations of three animals: an elephant, a hippopotamus, and another elephant.
Marginal decoration of an Esther scroll (Or 1047)

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A close up of a handpainted printed image. The image is likely Mary and baby Jesus. Jesus stands below Mary, and Mary squirts breastmilk into his mouth from above.
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)

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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

19 February 2015

Discovering textiles at the British Library

Meet Liz Rose, our newly appointed textile conservator!

I am Liz Rose and am the newly appointed textile conservator at the British Library. My role is to find and identify textiles within the diverse collections at the BL. I will build an asset register of textiles which will record the composition, size, condition and propose a treatment strategy or storage solution as well as compiling a glossary of terms to describe these objects.

In my first month I have been lucky enough to find a great many textiles within the collections. I have met with 16 specialist curators from the Asian and African; Contemporary British; Western Heritage and European and American collections. In total I have identified, condition checked, measured and photographed 53 culturally diverse objects. Here are some of the most memorable objects from January 2015:

  • From the Burmese Collections I was shown a 20th century silk, talismanic shirt and trousers (1) and a palm leaf manuscript dated 1856 which is wrapped in cotton (2).


A folded silk textile. The silk is a cream colour. Near the top of the fold there are three animals resembling dogs with pointy ears. Near the bottom is a table with numerous symbols.
(1) OMS Or 15674


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A manuscript wrapped in cotton. There is a patterned yellow fabric covering the manuscript with a swirling, floral motif. Around that is a strip of white and red fabric.
(2) OMS Or 12645



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  • From the Thai, Lao and Cambodia Collection, I was shown a 19th century talismanic shirt (3) from Shan community in Burma. This is highly decorated in black ink with mantras, number and yantra designs.


The talismanic shirt is on a light brown fabric, with black ink depicting animals, charts, and figures.
 (3) OMS Or 15085


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  • I was shown an escape map of Berlin made from waterproofed silk (4) (on the reverse a map of Germany). These maps would have been folded and sewn into the linings of uniforms.
  • I also looked at a cotton ‘map of man’ (5) dated 1780 which displays ‘an allegorical map of human experience’, the border illustrating proverbs and instruction. It is quite large 732mm (w) x 685mm (h), printed in black and presumably engraved. Both these objects came from the Map Collections.
The map of Berlin, with land in white and outlines of read, and the North Sea at the top of the page.
(4) Maps CC 5a 151

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The Map of Man is on a tan fabric. It shows a circle at the centre with circles and other shapes emanating from that. Small text is written around all four edges.
(5) Maps CC 6 a 27

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  • In the Printed Heritage Collections of Western Heritage, I found handbills dating from 1849 in natural silk (6) and pink silk dating from 1862 and 1867 (7) advertising theatre in Exeter. Some of these handbills are extremely fragile and discoloured from adhesive deposits whilst others look reasonably robust and remarkably clear.
The playbill in a natural silk. It advertises a Second Grand Amateur performance at the Theatre Royal, Exeter of the show De Bazan.
(6) 74/L.R.412.e.4


The playbill in pink silk, advertising a Comedy and Burlesque Company show at the Theatre Royal called Mr. R. Barker.
(7) 74/L.R.412.e.4

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  • I also came across a pamphlet called ‘Uniform Rules and Regulations for the Cyclists’ Touring Club’. It contains illustrations of mens’ and womens’ cycling uniforms and two pages of textile samples: ‘Warranted Pure Wool’ (7) in three different weights for formal cycling wear and two weights of ‘Pure Sanitary Undyed Natural Wool for under-wear’.
Two pages of textile samples: small strips of dark-coloured wool are adhered three to a page with information about the textile typed below.
(7) C.194.a.1105

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  • In the Radford Archive there is an embroidery by Frieda Lawrence (8), designed by D. H. Lawrence as a gift to their friends Maitland and Muriel Radford.
A circular embroidery showing a man resting in a boat, with dolphins swimming around him and above him is a grape tree.
 (8) Add MS 89029/2/12

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  • From Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts I was shown an 18th century embroidered binding (9) for the Birch-Yorke Letters (Vol. III). This is a bound collection of letters to Thomas Birch from some members of the Yorke family.
  • I was also shown an illuminated manuscript, Yates, Thompson MS 31 (10), a large bound book in peach silk with lavish silver metal thread embroidery. This book dates from the last quarter of 14th century, the binding from 16th century and the embroidery from 18th century.
An intricately embroidered book cover. The cover is red, and the embroidery has a three-dimensional quality in mainly silver and gold threads. At the top of the book cover is am embroidered eye, with a cloud below. Twisting threads surround a sword which is held by two hands.
(9) Harley MS 4325

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An embroidered book cover on coral-coloured cloth. The embroidery has a three-dimensional quality. At the centre is a crest-like design, with swirling filigree around the edges. The book cover is protected with a plastic covering.
 (10) Yates, Thompson MS 31

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I have only just started my research into textiles at the BL and have been overwhelmed by the quantity, quality and diversity of the textile objects within the collections. It should be remembered that the BL is a reference library and many of these wonderful objects can be viewed in the library Reading Rooms. However, a few of the examples included in this blog have limited or supervised access.

Liz Rose, Textile Conservator

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