Affordable Fabric Option for Artifact Mounts
Our Connecting to Collections colleagues in Illinois passed on an interesting tip several years ago in a webinar they produced entitled, “Preservation Tactics on a Shoestring Budget.” Of several great suggestions, the one which caught our attention the most was the use of polyester fleece as a preservation-appropriate fabric for covering mounts for both storage and display. To view the webinar, click here; to target the fleece suggestion, scroll to 35.05. Fleece makes a good option for several reasons.
- The material is affordable, often on sale for approximately $5.00/ yard.
- Its soft texture will help protect an artifact from an otherwise abrasive mount surface, such as cut ethafoam.
- Its stretchy texture makes it possible to tuck into slits cut into ethafoam blocks, consequently avoiding the use of adhesives.
- The fabric comes in a variety of colors that could enhance various exhibit designs.
A couple of concerns, however, made us hesitant to recommend the material widely for storage and display mounts. First of all, manufactured polyester materials often have resins or chemical finishes that may be harmful to artifacts. Secondly, we’re trained to be leery of colored fabrics around artifacts.
To learn more about the preservation-appropriateness of polyester fleece, we corresponded with Margaret Geiss-Mooney, Textile/Costume Conservator & Collections Management Consultant. To guard against the dangers imposed by resins and possible chemical finishing agents, Geiss-Mooney recommends that before use, the fleece be “machine rinsed (in good-to-excellent quality water) and dried (in a dryer that has never had fabric softener sheets used in it OR line dried).” She also cautions that fleece, with its fuzzy texture, is only appropriate as a mount cover for contact with artifact surfaces that are fairly stable, i.e. neither brittle nor fragile.
Geiss-Mooney also notes that most fleece is a knit fabric and warns against its use in a vertical orientation for display mounts, because knits are prone to sagging over time. Use on a slant board “most likely would depend on the angle of the slant and the size of the display mount.” She suggests that acrylic fiber can also be considered as a mount cover with the same caveats in mind.
The pigment does not compromise the preservation-appropriateness of the fleece. Unlike cottons, which are often colored with water-based dyes that can easily bleed, pigmented polyesters are usually safe. Geiss-Mooney explains that “the color is put in the melt and so when the solution is then extruded to form the fibres, the pigment is locked inside the fibres.” She recommends white for storage mounts to aid in visual inspections. Most pest debris or small artifact fragments will show up clearly on a white mount. A light grey color serves the same purpose for white artifacts.
For more ideas on mounting materials that are safe to use with artifacts, check out this NPS Conserve O Gram.
Geiss-Mooney generously offers to discuss this topic further with any readers who may have questions or need further clarification. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-763-8694.
Thanks also to NCMOH Textile Conservator, Paige Myers, for her contributions to this post.