Yakima Valley Museum
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Bustles to Bikinis Yakima Valley Museum

Putting the Pieces Together
All textiles are a composite of fibers, fabrics, finishes and embellishments. Museums attempt to identify the composition of each garment when determining the proper way to treat, exhibit, and store.

Prior to the 20th century, all fibers came from natural sources-either animals or plants. Common animal fibers are hair, fur, wool and silk. Common plant fibers, which can come from leaves, stems, or seeds, include cotton and linen. Synthetic fibers such as rayon and nylon, which were not available until the 20th century, were usually developed in response to wartime shortages of natural fibers. Thus, they were made to resemble the features and appearances of natural fibers, but often do not age as well.

Joining Fibers To Make Fabric:
There are various ways fibers are joined to make thread and cloth. These include spinning, netting, lace-making, macramé, and weaving.

Treating The Cloth:
Finished cloth is often treated before it is used. Each treatment results in a special effect, but many of the processes will eventually speed up the deterioration of the fabric. Some of the more common treatments are as follows:

Cropping, napping, and shearing all raise fibers to the surface and create a fuller, denser "piled" fabric such as corduroy cotton.
Rubbing, pressing, and glazing all result in a smooth, lustrous surface such as moiré silk.
Scouring is the washing out of agents such as oil, lubricants and sizing used during weaving.
Fulling is the use of lubricants, detergents, and other additives (including "fuller's earth") to absorb grease and dirt as well as add weight to the fabric.
Mercerization is a strongly alkaline chemical treatment for cotton. The treatment swells fibers, increasing the fabric's strength, durability, luster, and ability to take dyes. It also reduces shrinking.

The addition of dyes to add color and/or design to fabric is a chemical treatment, which involves heat and non-porous additives like starch and wax. Many dyes and pigments are not very stable and will fade, weaken the fibers, and make the cloth more susceptible to environmental changes.

Weighting is sometimes used in the processing of silk. Silk is boiled to remove natural protective gum, then steeped in metallic salts or sugar. The resulting increase in weight, which made the silk more profitable as it was sold by the pound, had the advantage of also making the silk feel fuller, drape better, and rustle more. However, over time, the metallic salts act like little knives, and also make the fabric more sensitive to the harmful effects of light. Old weighted silk becomes highly susceptible to fracture from handling, and without very good care, it splits and turns to powder.

Surface Embellishments
As fabrics are made into garments, the stitching, the decorative surface embroideries and appliqués, and the way the garment is designed become integral to the actual structure of the piece. Some of these embellishments cause extra stress and strain. Beads, buttons, sequins, feathers, bone, pottery, and plastic sometimes contain or are attached with materials that interact with the fabric, finishes, and/or dyes, with unfortunate results. For example, early sequins were made of gelatins and glues which soak up moisture from the atmosphere and then become tacky or even dissolve. Rust marks are another example of the type of damage caused by this unintended interaction.



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