Yoko Hanegreefs, Textile Conservator, National Trust
New Methods of Bathing and Cleaning Textiles, Stockholm, July 2018
In July this year I was delighted to be able to attend ‘New Methods of Bathing and Cleaning Textiles’ run by IAP and held at the Army Museum in Stockholm. This was made possible by the generous grant offered by the Anna Plowden Trust.
The course was led by Richard Wolbers, a Conservation Scientist specialising in the use of buffers and gels for cleaning historic objects. Over the three day course the mornings were spent understanding different wet cleaning techniques and the chemistry behind them. The afternoons’ practical sessions were very useful to put the knowledge gained into practice.
We started the course by going through the basic chemical principles behind wet cleaning, like pH and conductivity. After that we discussed different possible components of washing solutions, like water, buffers, chelators and detergents. All this helped me to better understand the different wet cleaning recipes generally used by Mr. Wolbers and which recipe would be best used where and when. Besides wet cleaning solutions we also covered gels, like Agarose and Xanthan, and emulsions and when these could be used.
In the past few years we have been using buffered washing solutions at the Textile Conservation Studio, more specifically when cleaning the Congress of Vienna chair covers from Mount Stewart and on several components from the Spangled Bed from Knole. From this I had gained a basic practical knowledge of what buffers are and what they can do. However a more thorough understanding of wet cleaning techniques, both established techniques and new developments, benefitted me greatly.
The course was well timed for me, as I have recently started the Spangled Bed Coverlet project (Knole) and I am currently investigating different wet cleaning techniques for this complicated object. The combination of metal and silk embellishments, a highly acid silk satin, a degrading linen lining and very compacted soiling, has made wet cleaning highly desirable but also very complex. Putting into practice the knowledge and confidence I have gained at the course will enable me to carry out the best treatment for the coverlet.
During the practical sessions we had plenty of opportunities to ask Mr. Wolbers questions, which was very helpful as I am trying to decide on the best approach to wet cleaning the coverlet and his extensive knowledge was of great value to me.
The course has helped me to better understand the chemistry behind different wet cleaning techniques and has given me some very useful practical tips. Attending this course has already resulted in me using washing solutions and gels with more confidence at the Studio. I have now used different Agarose gels, brought back from the course, to test different washing solutions on the Spangled Bed Coverlet. This will help me decide on the best wet cleaning treatment in the near future.
Apart from learning more about wet cleaning, the course was also an opportunity to meet other textile conservators from around Europe, to share knowledge and discuss ongoing project and issues. I was also able to reconnect with textile conservators I trained with in Belgium
During the practical sessions we also had an opportunity to see projects in progress at the conservation studio at the Army Museum and discuss these with the group. In my free time I had a look round the Army Museum collection to see some of their restored and mounted banners and flags.
Following attendance at the course I created a practical guide to making wash solutions and two of the most useful gels to help the team at the National Trust Textile Conservation Studio with future wet cleaning projects. This document has been attached for your information.
In September this year I will lead a one day workshop at the Studio, putting all this information into practice, and hopefully giving my colleagues more confidence in using these new techniques.
I would like to thank the Anna Plowden Trust for supporting me in this training opportunity and more generally for broadening my horizons in the field of conservation.