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Door to store caring for your collection - paper and textiles

Kerryn Wagg and Carmela Molica, National Museum of Australia, 11 January 2013

KERRYN WAGG: Today’s program is being run in conjunction with the Museum Workshop exhibition that is currently on here at the Museum where you can get an insight into the role that conservators play in caring for the collection and getting objects ready for display. I urge you all to visit the exhibition that is on in our temporary exhibition gallery and visit our website too, because we have a lot of material there to back up the exhibition.

During today’s session we will be looking at some of the principles that will help you to care for your own precious paper and textile items, such as photo albums and wedding dresses. I will start by looking at some issues surrounding the preservation of photographs and demonstrate some good ways of putting photos into albums, before handing over to senior textiles and paper conservator Carmela Mollica, who will discuss and demonstrate some ways to care for your delicate textile items such as wedding dresses.

I would like to welcome everyone here today. I would also like to extend a welcome to Kiama who are crossing to us via a live link. Now I would like to hand over to Michelle Hudson, the manager of library services at Kiama, who is going to say a few words.

MICHELLE HUDSON: Thank you, Kerryn. Here at Kiama I would like to say good afternoon to the audience down in Canberra and a thank you to the National Museum of Australia for providing us with the opportunity to participate in the class. We look forward to sharing your experience with our local community and look forward to participating in the question and the answer session later on. Thank you.

KERRYN WAGG: There will be time for questions at the end of the session so I would like you all to save your questions until that time. We will cross to Kiama for their questions first and then we will go to questions from our Visions [theatre] audience. I want to remind people that, if you do ask a question during the Q&A session, you will be recorded for museum related websites. So by asking your question, you are giving your consent to being recorded.

The deterioration and damage that we see in paper and textiles objects occurs because of inherent and external factors. The inherent factors relate to the physical makeup of objects which cause them to deteriorate, and these problems can be hard to deal with. The external factors that contribute to deterioration and damage are easier to control. I would like to talk about the issues as they relate to photographs, and Carmela will discuss how they relate to garments. However, many of the principles for caring for photos and garments, or paper and textiles, are similar in that they are preventative measures related to maintaining stable, suitable environmental conditions for objects, implementing good handling practices and having the correct types of physical storage for items.

When we talk about suitable environmental conditions we really mean things like dark storage areas, because visible and UV light can damage objects by fading and making them brittle. You want to have stable relative humidity, one that is not too high or too low. When we say ‘stable’, that is because paper and textiles are organic so they swell and contract with changes in relative humidity. So you don’t want fluctuations in a short period of time. Stable temperatures are also important, temperatures that are comfortable for humans are also good for your objects.

When you have pest and mould outbreaks in your paper and textiles items, it is often related to poor environmental conditions so it’s good to look for the causes of these outbreaks. By maintaining good housekeeping and monitoring your objects, you will keep these things at a minimum. That just means you want to keep your storage areas clean and you want to check regularly for insect and mould outbreaks. In your home, the centre of your home is probably best. It’s the most stable environment. You want to avoid putting things in your ceiling cavities and under your house and avoid putting things against external walls as well.

Good handling practices are also very important. This means it’s important to plan what you are doing before you start. You want to have enough space to work; you want to have the time you need and the materials you need all at hand before you get started.

It’s important to have clean hands or you can wear gloves. You can wear plastic gloves and if you are wearing plastic gloves, you can look for close fitting gloves that are good quality. You want them to be powder free. Surgical gloves are good. You can wear cotton gloves as well, but just be aware that you lose a bit of sensitivity of touch with cotton gloves and the threads can become caught on things. Remove your jewellery as well before you start.

When you are moving objects, it is important to make sure that they are supported well. When you are storing objects you want to have the physical storage materials that you use to be ones that are not going to react adversely with the objects. That just means you want to look for things like archival and acid free storage materials for your objects. We will look a bit more specifically at some examples here today.

I am going to look at some examples for photographs. When we talk about photographs, true photographs means writing with light. They have been processed using light and they have a different chemical makeup and structure to digital prints, which are often done on laser or bubble jet printers. Some of the aspects of care are the same as for all paper objects, but you do have the delicate emulsion layers and things like that with a true photograph that you need to be very aware of when you are handling and storing them.

When you are putting together new albums, you want to avoid sticking your photographs down onto pages. Things like scrapbooking are great and by all means do that, but use copies so you have always got your archival or originals separate. This is one option you can use: plastic sleeves are great for photographs. What you want to look for is plastic that is a polyester often sold as a mylar or a polypropylene plastic sleeve. You can buy these from conservation suppliers. We will tell you some at the end of the session. They are great because you can add them to albums and these ring-binding folios without actually handling the photographs themselves. This is a great one that we have here [object shown] because it also has a protective box which is another good thing to have with albums. And that snaps into there for storage.

Another great way to put your photos into albums is to use photo corners. You can buy photo corners but you can also make your own - you can use mylar plastic and fold it. Here I have a straight piece of mylar plastic, but you can also use paper. By folding it into a little triangle, you can put double-sided sticky tape on the back and stick that down to your pages. What you want to use for your pages is a good acid-free medium to heavy weight card. You can stick those down and put your photos in that way.

If you have photos facing each other in an album, you can interleave with things like an archival text paper. It is often better to use a slightly heavier paper than a tissue, because the tissue can become crumpled up and cause physical damage to your photos. You can also buy paper albums that you can put photos into using photo corners, but again you want to look for product labels that say they are archival and things like that.

With photographs, you can also look for products that say they have been PAT tested. That is a photo activity test that is an international standard for products that have all been tested for their reactivity with photographs done by the Image Permanence Institute. If you don’t want to put your photos into albums, you can put them into boxes. It’s good to sort them into like-sized photographs. The best way to do it is to make an enclosure for individual photographs. You can purchase these three-flap or four-flap folders which have another flap at the top or you can make them yourself. That is a great way of encapsulating your photographs and not having to handle them physically. You can also put your labels on the paper enclosure and you don’t have to label the photo. You want to avoid labelling photos particularly with biros and inks. If you do feel that you want to put a label on your photograph, put it on the back along a side and use a soft pencil like a graphite B pencil.

I have an album here to show you. When you are handling your albums, it is important to be aware of their structure to support them. When you are transporting albums and even individual photos, you can use a piece of heavy card to move things to where you are working or a tray. When we open out an album, it is good to have something to support it on. This is a book pillow. You can use pillows at home. Two pillows that you have stitched together in the centre makes a good-shaped support for an album.

This album has good features and bad features. So it’s black paper. You want to avoid coloured papers, particularly black paper, because it can have sulphur in it which can react adversely with some of your photographs. Other things you want to avoid are putting stacks of photographs together with paper clips using PVC plastic enclosures. You can often smell something that has PVC in it. When you are interleaving in a bound album, you want to remember that you are putting extra strain on the structure, so you don’t want to put too much extra bulk into the structure of a bound book.

We will have some more questions at the end. When you do see deterioration with your photographs, it’s good to contact a conservator. You can go to the AICCM, which is the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials, website [http://www.aiccm.org.au/] to find conservators in your local area. Now I will hand over to Carmela.

CARMELA MOLLICA: Paper and textiles react quite closely to the same environments and problems so I am not going to repeat a lot of what Kerryn has said but concentrate on three main ways of reducing some of that deterioration on garments. Today I have a wedding dress here to use as an example. There are three main [storage methods]: we either store them flat; we can store them on a hanger; or we can roll.

We will start with storing in a box or it could be even in a drawer. Creasing is one of the major causes of damage to the textile, especially if it’s a silk which is quite fragile. Before we put anything away ,we want to try to put it away clean because over time we find that, while you may not see the stain or have spilt a glass of champagne on your wedding dress or someone else has, stain will oxidise with the impurities in there. So you do want to clean it before you put it away.

Once we have done all that, the best way to reduce the creasing is to make special supports that fit inside the dress really well. Here we can use acid-free tissue and Kerryn mentioned about acidity in items. You can use tissue. In this case we have used a combination of dacron wadding, special supports that we make ourselves and tissue. If you don’t want to go to the effort of making those special supports, you can use your tissue. Because what we are trying to do is make that fabric not create a crease but have a smooth surface, we just crunch up our tissue. We don’t want that rough surface over our fabric because the fabric can mould into that crease and cause damage over time. We do want it to go over a smooth surface. So we just get another piece of tissue and roll it over. You end up with a smoother area that you can then put inside your sleeve, your seams or your bodice.

With the ones that we have here at the moment, what we have done is actually created the shape of a sleeve or the bodice using dacron wadding. If any of you are sewers or quilters, you are probably familiar with it, because it’s used in quilting. It’s 100 per cent polyester wadding. We roll and create a shape, whether it’s something like that or what we call a dacron sausage, in different lengths and different shapes. You have your wadding inside rolled to whatever shape and size you want.

Then with the outer layer, again we are looking at smooth fabric. In this case it’s 100 per cent polyester as well, it’s like a lining fabric. But when we do use any of these outer fabrics to provide the support, we do need to prewash them because in the manufacturing process you have starches. Even getting them from the manufacturer to your home there are other impurities that can build up in the fabric. We want to have clean fabric against our precious item, so they do get prewashed in just a hot wash. We don’t add any detergents or anything to it. A nice quick hot wash will be perfect.

Once we have done that, we have created a long sausage and feed that dacron into that roll. I then have a gathering thread around the end. I am just pulling them together and gathering it neatly and tying it off so you end up with a nice finish like that. Again, we don’t use anything that can catch onto the item that we are supporting.

This particular dress doesn’t have a veil but, if it did, again we could concertina a veil in the box itself, again using the rolls and concertinaing it, reducing the size of the veil, or we can roll that veil using an archival roll. Again we have covered this in acid-free tissue, but you could cover that in your fabric as well. Once you have prepared it, you need to make sure that you have enough space at either end so that you handle the roll rather than the textile itself. And when rolling we try to roll straight. We don’t want to start getting a sort of ladder effect happening, because again that fabric over another area can cause splitting of that textile. Another very important thing to remember when we are folding or rolling to interleave, whether it’s with acid-free tissue or a fabric - and in terms of fabric we also use japara or calico or stretch knit but again remembering to prewash it - the reason why we interleave is we don’t want transference of dyes. Sometimes a garment will have hooks and eyes, or press studs or metal embroidery. We are trying to reduce any corrosion that may occur that we are not aware of that could transfer onto the other part of the garment. You can see with the actual train in this dress here, we have provided tissue along the folds but also we have interleaved the different layers with the tissue under there.

If you don’t have the space for boxing, the other thing we can look at is hanging. With hanging we prepare coat hangers in a special way so that we are supporting the garment on the shoulders. When you are looking at wedding gowns they are quite heavy so we want to provide as much support along the shoulders as we can. Sometimes we have to attach tapes around the waist, because that’s one of our strongest areas, just to reduce the weight of the rest of the train. Those tapes will just hang over the coat hanger that you use. This is only a small sized hanger, which is probably not quite the right size for a wedding gown, but you can make them as thick as that.

We look at the garment and pad it - not overpad because you don’t want to start splitting and causing further damage - just enough to support the garment. Again, to protect it from the external environments, whether it’s from your wardrobe or for travelling if you need to take it elsewhere, we provide a cover for it. Again we have used par silk or silk lining polyester but you can use calico or japara – anything that is pre-washed - that will protect the garment. You can see the length you may need to go to for your wedding gown. Ties, again, we don’t want to use any metals or metallic zippers, press studs or hooks and eyes because that’s another material we are trying to avoid against fabrics.

[Points to remember] with the handling of your items: don’t pick up from the shoulders and support the bulk of the fabric. Things to avoid - there’s a couple of wedding dresses in there that are quite heavy and the bulk of it is on the bottom - we are trying to avoid creasing so that’s not quite the right thing and the coat hangers aren’t providing the correct support. They are also made of plastic that can degrade over time. If we do use a plastic coat hanger we need to make sure it’s polypropylene or polyethylene rather than a PVC where there are chlorides that can damage the materials over time. This particular cover is a polyester so it’s fine, but obviously the length of it is not suitable for that garment.

There are commercial pillows that you can use, if you don’t want to go to the effort of making all these doonas, that work just as well cutting them smaller to fit into the garment. In this dress here we have lined the box really just to provide another protection. If we did need to lift that item out of the box, then we have something that we can use to support - two people obviously will need to lift that out and put it onto a table and so on and then put it back into there.

If you need to have something cleaned, it’s best to possibly contact a conservator. You can visit the AICCM website [http://www.aiccm.org.au/] to get some ideas there or our [NMA] website [http://www.nma.gov.au/collections/caring-for-the-collection/conservation-at-the-national-museum]. Another good other little tip - Kerryn talked about labelling. Put a label and a photo outside your box or even on the outside of your hanging bag is always a good thing so that you are not having to rummage through your box to remember what did I put in there. You have a nice image on the outside of that box. I will leave it at that. I am sure there will be questions.

KERRYN WAGG: Now we will have our question session. We will be crossing to Kiama first for their questions. I want to remind people that we can’t answer specific questions about any of your own objects if you have them here today but we would like to take some general questions. If Kiama can unmute their microphones and, if you are asking a question, make sure you speak into a microphone.

QUESTION: I just wondered with the garments, if they can’t be washed, can they be dry-cleaned, because a lot of garments can’t be washed, especially with embroidery and things on them?

CARMELA MOLLICA: That is right. Normally a lot of the garments do have a garment label that will give you an idea of if it can be hand washed or dry-cleaned only. You can dry clean. Obviously we can’t recommend a dry cleaner in Kiama or here in Canberra either. But visiting your dry cleaner and asking them questions about what their processes are and how do they deal with items that have lots of embroidery, metallic thread or any surface decoration on them will give you an idea whether you can trust them with your objects. Certainly we do dry clean here at the Museum. If we can manage the size, we do it ourselves under extraction hoods and so on. But you can take things out commercially and have them dry cleaned.

QUESTION: I notice that all the photographs are loose. I have some photographs that have been stuck to black albums and then dispersed amongst relatives as people have passed away. What do you do with those photographs?

KERRYN WAGG: The photographs are physically stuck down to the black pages?

QUESTION: Yes, physically stuck down.

KERRYN WAGG: You don’t want to try to remove photos that have been physically stuck down yourself. I would say that in that situation it is best to take them to a conservator just so they can actually look at what condition they are in, whether that is causing damage to them. and they can give you some advice on what you can do about that.

MICHELLE HUDSON: I think that might be all the questions we have here at Kiama. Thank you.

KERRYN WAGG: Thank you very much, Kiama. Now we will take questions from the room. Someone will be coming around with a microphone. Please wait until you have the microphone before you ask a question.

QUESTION: My question is about old fabrics that sometimes develop little brown marks indiscriminately across them. Is there anything that can be done about those brown marks?

CARMELA MOLLICA: Brown marks could be what we call a foxing or could be cellulose degradation over time relating to how has it been stored or is it from the materials that it’s been against? Sometimes you can reduce that; sometimes you can’t. If you look at this garment closely, you will see there are still stains and it has been treated. Our aim is to reduce what the components of that stain are and not necessarily try to remove the actual colour because sometimes you can’t reduce that. Without knowing what the item is or how that stain has come about, it’s difficult to provide any one answer to it. But it may have occurred from the materials they were stored in or whether it’s in a drawer because the timbers also emit vapours that can cause damage to the staining on a garment or was it from having being worn in the past? I suppose if you are concerned about something, again visit the AICC website and someone can give you some separate detailed advice there.

QUESTION: I have a question about conserving letters. Would you go through the same process as photographs to restore old letters?

KERRYN WAGG: There are some general principles about caring for your paper objects. With letters and things like that, a lot of the time some of the damage that you see is from the physical handling particularly things like folding those letters. It’s often a good idea to store those letters flat, if you can. Plastic sleeves are a really good option for letters, because you don’t have to handle the paper itself but you can still read them and things like that. The storage conditions are very similar. It’s your environmental conditions and just having clean hands when you do handle them and things like that.

CARMELA MOLLICA: If it is folded, not forcing the letter open because that’s where you can cause splitting of that letter.

KERRYN WAGG: Yes, if it’s already folded, but don’t fold them up to store them.

QUESTION: My question is related to vintage and antique clothing. Firstly you mentioned that the Museum has dry cleaners who you use or whether that is someone internally. I have quite a few garments from the 1920s through the Victorian era and, as you are aware, they didn’t have deodorants and quite a few of them have perspiration marks bearing from faint to quite dark. What would be your advice in relation to conserving garments with that sort of thing; and also with the metal weights in the bottom of the gowns, whether you would advise removing them?

CARMELA MOLLICA: Metals obviously react to the environments that we were mentioning earlier. We need to look at the whole picture, where they are stored and the environment. Here at the Museum we don’t remove metal weights unless they have already caused a considerable amount of damage or they have rusted and then we will consider something like that. If there is no sign of anything having happened, then looking at the environment which we store them in and having that consistent temperature and rate of humidity so that that metal doesn’t start to corrode and so on.

With dry cleaners, we dry clean items ourselves here if we are able to; if not, we do go externally. Similar to what I was saying earlier, we are familiar with some of the dry cleaners and we do quiz them. A simple thing as we like our items dry cleaned first thing in the morning so that they have gone through a fresh solution rather than at the end of the day when a whole lot of other items have already been dry cleaned. We do a lot of testing before we send them out to dry cleaners ourselves to make sure that they will cope with the solvents that they use.

QUESTION: I have a large number of old fabrics. With some of them I can tell what type of fabric it is, but with others it’s very difficult to establish what they are. Do you have any pointers on the ways that I possibly could establish the components of the fabric?

CARMELA MOLLICA: So you are talking about what fibre compositions they are?

QUESTION: Yes, that is right.

CARMELA MOLLICA: The best way to identify fibre is looking at it under a microscope, and that’s what we use here at the Museum just taking very small fibre. A lot of analytical techniques are destructive so obviously we don’t want to go down that path. Just a very small fibre sample is enough for us to determine what fibre it is under the microscope. If you work with fabrics, just feel and handle. Again, make sure your hands are clean when you do that and so on. The microscope is a good friend of ours.

QUESTION: I have a double-barrelled question, if I may. The first part concerns off-the-shelf photo albums. Can you give us a comment about their efficacy and whether or not they should be used? In relation to that, should we be treating photos that a century or older differently from the manner in which we treat more recent photos in relation to the paper and so on that is used for them?

KERRYN WAGG: You can get some good quality photo albums that you can purchase. Again, you want to look for either the sleeves or paper that is a good quality archival acid-free paper and again avoiding coloured papers. There is a few suppliers that you can go to.

CARMELA MOLLICA: There are archival suppliers in Australia that the general public can also purchase albums or anything from. I can list them out or, if you want to come and see us at the end of the session, I am happy to give them to you. Like Kerryn said, some of those commercial -

KERRYN WAGG: Some of them are fine. If you are going for the sleeves look to make sure that it’s a polyester or polypropylene and that your papers are acid free. They often will say archival quality. Scrapbooking suppliers will often say that they have passed the PAT photo activity test. A lot of products will have information on them.

With your older photographs, certainly delicate photos are unstable in their nature so you do have deterioration. I mentioned very briefly inherent factors and with true photographs there are a lot of inherent factors that are going to cause them to deteriorate over time and chemicals within their structure. So you do need to be quite careful about the materials you put in contact with true photographs because they do interact. As I mentioned, black pages will often contain sulphur, which interacts adversely with the silver which is used in most of the older photographs so you do need to be extra careful with your older photographs. There is often a lot of damage that you do see already. If it’s something inherent in it that is deteriorating, it’s good to take even a digital snap, if you don’t have negatives, of the way it looks now so that you can at least record it before it deteriorates further.

QUESTION: You have almost answered my question which was: how do I identify what the plastic is, if it’s polyethylene, PVC or whatever? Perhaps if I have received something that no longer has credentials on it.

KERRYN WAGG: You can often smell PVC so that’s a good tip. It has a very strong smell.

CARMELA MOLLICA: It’s like a chlorine because it is polyvinyl chloride. There is a simple test where you apply a hot needle to the plastic and then a flame. If you get a green flame that indicates there are chlorides present.

KERRYN WAGG: If you are looking for products, go for the ones where it tells what it is on the product. A lot of the commercial ones will tell you what the plastic present is on the packaging or at least you can find ones that do tell you that and in that way you are sure. If you have products that say nothing about what’s in them, then you have no true way of knowing.

CARMELA MOLLICA: Also the feel of the PVC is quite crisp and crunchy as if it is almost going to snap and break; whereas with a polypropylene or polyethylene that material is softer. Also your food containers that you are going to store food in them, not your $2 ones but your Tupperwares and things like that, that’s a stable material that you can use to store your albums and things in.

QUESTION: Just in relation to the storage and plastic, you can get those big plastic storage boxes - I see there is a plastic tray with a lid underneath the box there; I am not necessarily talking about those - big enough to take volumes of photo albums. Are they suitable for storing things such as this in? Are they made from the appropriate plastic?

CARMELA: Most of them are polypropylene so they are suitable. Just like I have done here with the garment where I have lined it, just to give you that extra protection, I suppose, lining that box with a sheet of clean calico or a white cotton sheet that is obviously clean and been prewashed. That provides another barrier, but certainly they are suitable and you can seal them and prevent insects.

KERRYN WAGG: It gives you that extra protection. So it is quite good to put your albums into boxes and storage containers.

QUESTION: We’ve got some embroidered baby garments from the mid-1800s which have been stored rolled in tissue paper but they are yellowing. Is there anything I could do to reverse that or to prevent it becoming worse? Do you have any suggestions about baby clothes that are quite old? They are a white cotton quite sturdy fabric with a lot of very fine embroidery.

CARMELA MOLLICA: Very similar to what we have been talking about with a three-dimensional garment, having that rolled you are creating creases and over time damage there so it is best not to have it rolled but just laying it flat in a box or something like that. In terms of the yellowing, it depends on what’s caused that yellowing. Sometimes it’s just general what we call cellulose degradation, which is the inherent nature of the cotton that just discolours over time, and that can be reduced. But you have embroidery on there so there are other issues you may need to consider. It’s really hard to give an answer on that one. It might again be best to visit the AICCM website [http://www.aiccm.org.au/], consult with a conservator and obtain their advice on that.

QUESTION: The long christening robe we have hung rather like you described for the wedding dress and that has done better than the short baby garments that have been rolled up in tissue paper.

CARMELA MOLLICA: Fabric with fabric is one of the better materials to use in terms of long-term preservation.

QUESTION: It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to try to reverse the yellowing.

CARMELA MOLLICA: You can and you can’t. Sometimes a wet clean is suitable for that, but I can’t recommend that process because I haven’t seen it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: So far we have been talking about textiles that are mainly woven. Are there any issues around knitted garments and moth repellents in particular?

CARMELA MOLLICA: Knitted garments would be treated in the same way, so you would pad them out and use the same materials. Obviously make sure that you clean them, if you can, before you put them away, especially woollen garments where you would pack them away over the summer break and bring them out in winter. You need to make sure they are clean. It’s mainly for insects because they do like to eat on foods and stains that are present in the garment.

The other question - moth repellents: as I think Kerryn mentioned earlier, the best thing to try to reduce insects entering your home or in a particular area is good housekeeping. Making sure that areas are clean, not having little corners that insects can crawl into because that will be nice and yummy for them there. The Museum has to deal with insects just like I do at home: we check; we go around in the buildings and make sure there aren’t any issues with insects.

KERRYN WAGG: Sticky traps.

CARMELA MOLLICA: You can use some perimeter sprays. Some people don’t like to fumigate their places but a lot of the pyrethrin sprays that are used are natural and obviously aren’t harmful to individuals. There are different approaches. We don’t put anything specific in a box with a garment. Naphthalene was one that was used over the years. It is certainly not a good thing to be using with your garments. Naphthalene is also no good for us as humans so try to avoid anything with that.

QUESTION: We have some linens that is around about 100 years old. I was looking at it the other day and noticed that there are some little cracks and places where threads have worn through and obviously historically over the years some of these have been mended. I wondered with these new ones that I have discovered, should I try to mend them; and, if so, how should I do it? Should I use a sewing machine or should I do it by hand with silk thread or should I just leave it alone?

CARMELA MOLLICA: Probably just leave it alone. Are they linen pieces that you are using or?

QUESTION: One of them is a big damask tablecloth which we have always used on Christmas Day. Another one is a beautiful hand-embroidered bedspread, which very occasionally we give ourselves a treat and decorate our bed with it. I would absolutely hate to make things worse by leaving an unmended tear or hole.

CARMELA MOLLICA: We don’t use a sewing machine to mend tears, it is usually hand stitching. Again, it’s going to come down to you –

QUESTION: And skills.

CARMELA MOLLICA: Yes, and the significance of the item and things like that.

QUESTION: In some of the ones that have already been mended in the past - not very well, I may say - what thread would I use?

CARMELA: If it’s a cotton or if it’s a linen, we normally try to use the same thread as what the item is made of, if that thread is going to be suitable for that repair. Sometimes we do need to use a polyester thread for whatever reason. We make that call depending on what we are repairing. If it’s a silk item we try to use silk for that repair. But again it depends on where and what the item is.

QUESTION: One other question: we have a fan dating from the 1890s that is silk with ivory sticks and some of the sticks have become detached. There is a lot of cracking of the silk, and I realise that’s past help. Should I just leave it alone and not play with it and say, ‘That’s sad but it’s broken,’ or is there anything I can do to prevent further deterioration?

KERRYN WAGG: Nothing is beyond help.

CARMELA MOLLICA: Exactly. Has the guards on them been stuck down with an adhesive or are they stitched? I can’t provide any answers here and it might be again something that a conservator will need to have a look at. The less handling of that item would be beneficial for it, whether it’s a tray or a small box for it where you can still handle and view the item but not actually holding it. Is the fan closed or open - that’s the other thing.

QUESTION: It’s closed and it’s wrapped in tissue. I always had the idea that I would like to have it framed but that’s probably not a good idea.

CARMELA MOLLICA: No, you can frame fans. They do require a special support. Obviously when you open up a fan it’s not straight and won’t sit flat on a bench, so you do need to build up the area underneath the fan to support it in that frame. But it is possible to do that.

QUESTION: Is there anywhere one could get advice from as to how that should be carried out properly?

CARMELA MOLLICA: Again, visit the AICCM website.

KERRYN WAGG: The address is www.AICCM.org.au and there’s actually a link that says ‘find a conservator’ or something like that and then they have a list of conservators in every city.

CARMELA MOLLICA: Some conservators advertise in the yellow pages as well. There are some framers that can help there and normally they will be advertised on the website or in the yellow pages.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask a question about photographs again. Our 1960s wedding photographs are in a 1960s folio with the plastic sheet over the top.

KERRYN WAGG: Are we talking about the so-called magnetic photos where you have the sticky strips and then the plastic over the top?

QUESTION: No, I think they were probably stuck in – yes, there was some sort of adhesive and then the plastic sheet went over the top.

KERRYN WAGG: They are often referred to as magnetic albums and they use the same sorts of adhesives that you see in sticky-tape so they are not good for your photos. Those adhesives go through different phases as they deteriorate. They will become very sticky; they will migrate into the paper fibres of the photographs; and then they start to change colour so they go yellow, then dark orange and turn very hard. When you have photos that are already in those albums, it’s best not to try to remove them yourself because they do quite stuck quite firmly and in trying to remove them you will likely cause further damage. It is good to take those to a conservator to have them remove them for you. But again you can take a digital photo of your photo and then make up a new album and at least record them as they are now before they deteriorate further.

QUESTION: Kerryn, I wonder if you had any particular advice about photographic slides. We have a large collection of slides from the 1950s and possibly early 1960s. They are medium format slides. A lot of them are glass encased and they are starting to fall apart, becoming detached from the paper, and they have a lot of dust on them. We want to know what we should be doing for storage and restoration, if possible.

KERRYN WAGG: Often with slides it’s good to store them vertically. A lot of conservation suppliers will sell enclosures for keeping slides in with different formats for the different size slides so it’s good to get those for them. You don’t want the weight compiling when you are storing them horizontally if you are storing them in stacks. Interleaving again is a good thing to do. But when you start to see damage already, take them to a conservator to give you some advice on fixing them and dealing with those issues of damage.

QUESTION: With dust, is there anything better we can do other than hit them with a dust blower?

KERRYN WAGG: That’s a good way to deal with dust. But if you have them in enclosures where the dust can’t get to them any more, that would be the best way to deal with dust. Thank you, Kiama, for being part of today and thank you everyone who has come to see the session. [applause]

Date published: 15 February 2013