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Tuesday, May 17 • 10:30am - 11:00am
(Textiles) Gelling in Theory and Practice: An Examination of Agarose Gels in Textile Conservation

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Recent developments in poultice treatments have led to the introduction of agarose into textile conservation and innovations in its application. First used on paintings, agarose has rapidly transitioned into through specialties with limited research underpinning its effect on different materials. For textile conservators, the movement of moisture in an object can have a profound effect on cleaning, resulting in tidelines, dye bleed or damage to finished fabrics, making control of the introduction of moisture paramount for the use of poultice systems. Translating the use of this material from published literature into actual practice has proved challenging, as predicting how these gels will work on different materials is difficult. This paper will examine dissertation research completed at the University of Glasgow to better understand how the chemical and physical properties of agarose can been used in conservation to predict how they will work and facilitate successful treatments. Focus will be placed on the properties of agarose gels as discussed through research in the areas of food science and biology. Further discussion of the properties listed by chemical companies will aid in clarifying purchasing criteria. This will be assessed alongside results of tests utilizing these gels on a textile substrate to better understand how the theoretical information presented in food and biological sciences inform and effect the practical use of these materials. Current available literature on the use of agarose in conservation is limited in its discussion of gel properties and their manipulation to facilitate the use of the gel for treatment. The dissertation allowed focus to be placed on these properties, first discussing what they mean and how they may affect how the gel works. These properties represent may of the theoretical principles that may have an effect on how the gel responds in actual practice. Clarifying what they mean, and then testing the gels allowed for a better understanding of properties verses practice. The experimental phase of the dissertation project focused in textile materials. Three fibres, cotton, wool and silk were tested using three concentrations of agarose and two different gel depths. The results showed that the success of a treatment is dependent on the material being treated but also on the depth and concentration of the gel. This paper will focus on the results of this testing and how the properties of the gel affect the success of the treatment. This paper will build on the existing body of literature on the use of agarose in conservation. By providing a source that explains the basic properties and their effect on how the gels will respond during treatment, this paper will help facilitate their use within the field, providing a starting point for understanding how the physical properties work together. It will highlight how understanding how to manipulation of working properties can be an effective tool in controlling how moisture moves through a substrate, making the transition from theory to practice easier to predict.

avatar for Emma Schmitt

Emma Schmitt

Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Textile Conservation, The Denver Art Museum
Emma Schmitt is the current Andrew W. Mellon Fellow at the Denver Art Museum. Prior to working in Denver, Emma worked for Windsor Conservation in Dover Massachusetts. She received an MPhil at Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History at the University of Glasgow in 2014 and a BA at the College of Wooster in 2010.


Sarah Foskett

University Teacher, The University of Glasgow
Sarah Foskett graduated from the Textile Conservation Centre in 1994. Following an internship at Glasgow Museums she worked for many years at the National Museums of Scotland. She moved back to Glasgow Museums in 2009. She is now University Teacher on the MPhil Textile Conservation programme at the University of Glasgow.

Tuesday May 17, 2016 10:30am - 11:00am
Room 511 A/D

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