Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Talking Textiles: Fibre and Fabric Study Day

York Museums Trust has recently been undertaking a project with textiles conservator Mary Brooks to assess their collection and experiment with different ways to make their textile collections accessible. As part of this, they teamed up with the Social History Curators Group to run a one-day study session about identifying yarns and fabrics.

The purpose of the study day was to give curators the basic tools and knowledge needed to recognise the different yarns and weaves in their collection, in order to better inform their displays and help curatorial staff understand their conservation needs.

Mary Brooks has decades of experience as a textile conservator and made a very effective tutor. We started off examining different types of yarns, each of us having a chance to feel the texture of samples including milk protein, alpaca, linen and polyester. The sense needed to identify them was not only touch, but sight and smell - one particular wool sample still smelt of the sheep it had come off.

We then moved into the collections in groups to see if we were able to identify the textiles on display. Our group went to the War Galleries, beginning with a 17th Century Buff Coat. The body of the coat was made from a protective leather whilst the sleeve featured woven strips of silk and silver woven together. Further on in the gallery were a number of different uniforms from the First and Second World War. The main yarn used was wool, with the exception of a couple of waxed cotton coats worn by members of parachute regiments. The display featured a contemporary bullet proof vest worn by today's police force - it weighed at least twice as much as a 17th Century breast-piece. As Mary informed us later, most of the high-tech research carried out on textiles today is led by the armed forces.

After lunch we had the opportunity to look at the yarns under a microscope, the first time most of us had used one since school. We were taught the different characteristics, such as the twist in cotton and the scales on wool (these make wool suitable for felting as they enable wool to bind together).

For the final part of the day we moved forward to looking at different weave patterns. I now know the difference between a plain weave, twill weave and satin weave, and exactly how the differ from tapestry weaving. We had come full circle: fibre, yarn, weave.

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