NOW! JAKARTA | Fabrics with History

Fabrics with History

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The Textile Museum is conducting an on-going assessment of its collection, standard and necessary function if the collection includes easily biodegradable materials.

The Indonesian Heritage Society has provided the Textile Museum with a group of volunteers who meet once a week to assist the museum staff in their collection evaluations. Photos by Edith A. Dunn/NOW!JAKARTA

Visit to Jakarta would not be complete without a trip to the Textile Museum. The Textile Museum is a non-profit institution located in an historic 19th century building in Palmerah, West Jakarta. The museum, which was founded in 1976, hosts a collection of over 2500 pieces of textile, including batiks, ikat, songket and woven cloths from across the archipelago.

The museum’s mission is to carry out conservation of the textiles, conduct inventories of natural resources, and record traditional techniques associated with textile production from across Indonesia. The museum also supports research and presents information to the public.

The Textile Museum is conducting an on-going assessment of its collection. This is a standard and necessary function of any museum, especially if the collection includes easily biodegradable materials. Condition assessment, however, is an enormous undertaking for a tiny museum with limited resources. The Indonesian Heritage Society has provided the Textile Museum with a group of volunteers who meet once a week to assist the museum staff in their collection evaluations.

These volunteers have received basic training in handling and evaluating the condition of the textiles thanks to Julia Brennan, a textile conservator based in the United States. The volunteers are not trained to conduct treatments, but they are qualified to handle the textiles properly, recognise condition problems, and to make general recommendations for further action.

Typically, a small group of two to three volunteers may spend three hours or more evaluating, documenting and composing the assessment document for each artifact. The volunteers must learn to identify basic textile types. This involves a cursory understanding of textile production techniques. The volunteers must understand the difference between manufacturing techniques such as batik and ikat methods. They must be able to differentiate a flat weave from a supplementary weft. Recognising the difference between a natural dye and a modern aniline dye provides insight into the age of the textile and its susceptibility to deterioration.

Textile assessment process.

Collection assessment is a task without end since it may take years to carefully examine the entire collection once. After the last textile is evaluated, it is time to begin reviewing the entire collection again. The textiles must be re-evaluated periodically to ensure that there are no changes in their condition.

The volunteers evaluate each textile for a variety of conditions including fading, insect damage, mold infestation, staining, crocking (the tendency of fabric to give off colour), warping, tears and other damage. The team of evaluation specialists makes general recommendations for storage, treatment and display. Conditions are documented and photographed for each item.

It is impossible to display the entire museum collection simultaneously, and the Textile Museum’s staff rotates the exhibits frequently. The typical collection item, therefore, spends most of its time in storage. Storage is a “double edge sword.” Storage helps protect the artifact in the short term, but over time can also cause damage to the item. Stress formed by folding the textile, for example, can ultimately result in the breaking or sagging of threads along the creases. 

Another source of storage deterioration is acid (pH less than 7). The corrosive effects of acid materials can cause discolouration and deterioration of the textiles. An acidic storage environment can result from dust or adjacent storage materials. Dust settles on the textile and becomes corrosive. The textile must be carefully wrapped and protected. These textile wrappings can themselves become acidic as they age, and must be inspected and replaced periodically.

Jakarta is not an easy place to maintain textiles due to the city’s high relative humidity. This humidity encourages the most feared conditions at the Textile Museum---mold and insect infestation. These conditions, including their damaging effects, can easily spread from one piece of textile to the entire collection.

The assessment is also evaluating the history of the fabricss. 

Treating such conditions can be a balancing act. The treatment must address the infestation without further damaging the textile or risking the health of the museum staff. Not long ago, biological infestations might have been treated by fumigating the artifact with chemicals. Textile conservators have recently become more concerned about the possible negative effects of toxins on both the artifacts and people handling the collection. The currently recommended procedure is freezing the fabric to kill any biological infestations.

The IHS volunteers test discolorations on the textiles with a UV “black light.” A stain that fluoresces when exposed to UV light is a positive indication for mold. Volunteers carefully brush and/or vacuum the textile to reduce dust and mold spores. The textile is immediately slated for the freezer. The freezer will (hopefully) kill the mold spores and reduce the amount of moisture in the textile.

Storing the textiles away from light protects them from fading, but also makes the fabric more attractive to insects that prefer dark, quiet environments. The volunteers review the textiles with magnifying glasses to search for evidence of insect infestation. The signs of insects may include the creatures themselves, larvae, insect casings, small holes in the fabric, or a spotted stain pattern. Freezing the fabric is recommended to kill adult insects and eggs. Vacuuming the item is recommended before placing it back into storage.

The Conservation Group documents all of the conditions onto a map of the artifact showing the location of each deficiency. These documents can be recalled at a later time to ascertain the stability of a textile, or the progression of its deterioration. This type of data assists the museum staff in making informed future decisions about the artifact’s conservation.

The Textile Conservation Group at the Indonesia Heritage Society welcomes volunteers. Please contact the Indonesia Heritage Society for further information on this and other volunteer opportunities.

You can learn more by visiting their web page at http://heritagejkt.org/join-us. Additional information can also be requested by calling the Library at +62 21 572 5870, or e-mail join@heritagejkt.org.

 

 

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Text by Edith A. Dunn. This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine May 2018 issue “Building Future Leader”. Available at selected bookstore or SUBSCRIBE here.


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