By Camille Myers Breeze
This spring I am hard at work promoting the latest research project at Museum Textile Services on the Use of Sheer Overlays in Textile Conservation. Sheer overlays, such as nylon net, silk crepeline, and polyester Stabiltex, are used in textile conservation to protect an object and/or change the object’s appearance.
There are many benefits of conserving textiles with sheer overlays. They provide immediate stabilization across a large area with a minimum of stitching. Sheer overlays also provide preventative care, as they offer protection from loss if the textile continues to degrade. Most importantly for use at MTS, sheer overlays are easy to learn, and are among the first things I teach intern to do.
This topic is near and dear to my heart, as I have been teaching it at the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies in Mount Carroll, IL, since 2012. It may also be familiar to you if you have visited the Resources section of the Museum Textile Services web page. There you will find several MTS handouts on the subject, including our newest, Hot Cutting & Applying Polyester Sheer Overlays.
Other MTS Handouts on this topic include Conservation Netting, about the use of sheer nylon net overlays. I created the Sheer Overlay Score Card to assist in choosing the best sheer overlay, and it is also online. There is even a List of Sheer Overlay Suppliers and a Sheer Overlay Bibliography.
At the end of May, 2014, I will present poster on Evaluating and Choosing Sheer Overlays in San Francisco at the 42nd Conference of the American Institute for Conservation.One of the purposes of this poster is to launch my online survey on use of sheer overlays in textile conservation, in which I will gather feedback from conservators and collections care specialists around the world. The survey data will then assist me in an upcoming publication I am writing on the subject.
Stay tuned for more on this topic, and don't forget to take the online survey!
By Camille Myers Breeze and Tegan Kehoe
The name “rayon” was coined in the 1924 as a generic term for regenerated cellulose fiber. The “Father of Rayon,” Frenchman Count Hillaire de Chardonnet, discovered in the 1880s that nitrocellulose from rags or wood pulp could be turned into fiber, thread, and fabric. Rayon was the first manufactured fiber, but because it is derived from cellulose, is not considered to be a true synthetic but a “semi-synthetic.” “Artificial Silk” made by the Chardonnet process was popular for decorative fabrics in the early 20th century.
At the same time, the Courtaulds Company in England commercialized a method of regenerating cellulose fiber, resulting in a new fiber called “viscose.” (so named because their process used a highly viscous solution.) Courtaulds forming a subsidiary in America called American Viscose Company, who began producing rayon in 1910.
A third method of extracting usable fiber from natural cellulose was developed by Swiss brothers, Doctors Camille and Henri Dreyfus, resulting in the 1905 invention of cellulose acetate. The Dryfus brothers turned their new material into cellulose acetate film and plastics before producing usable continuous filaments of acetate yarn in 1913. By 1918 acetate rayon was being manufactured at the British Celanese plant in Derbyshire, England, which lends its name “Celanese” to some of the resulting rayons.
By the turn of the 21st century, 24% of the rayon produced in the world is from Grasim of India, by far the largest manufacturer. Other countries making rayon today include Germany, Brazil, Austria, China, Laos, Canada, and the US. Some critics of the fiber will point to sustainability concerns as well as dirty manufacturing processes. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has banned the manufacturing of cuprammonium rayon, sometimes found under the trade name Bemberg, but it is still made in Italy. Tencel rayon, also known by its generic name "lyocell," was developed in Courtaulds Research in the 1980's as a “non-polluting” alternative.
Today, many rayons include bamboo instead of wood pulp. Because bamboo is fast-growing it is often seen as ecologically friendly, but most bamboo rayons are made with the "dirtier" viscose process. The Federal Trade Commission has charged several clothing companies as falsely advertising their rayon as bamboo, partly because it is not clear that the cellulose they use is entirely from bamboo, but also because the FTC feels that the process alters the fibers too much to be considered plant-based. Currently, lyocell is often made with wood pulp from Eucalyptus trees.
We hope you have enjoyed our recent efforts to better understand the history and chemistry behind our recent boom in rayon textiles treated at Museum Textile Services. Please contact us if you have something to add to this discussion.
by Tegan Kehoe and Camille Myers Breeze
A surprising number of historic clothing and textile items we’ve treated at Museum Textile Services in 2013 have been made of rayon -- and we've added some rayon pieces to our study collection, such as the "reliable" rayon yarn we blogged about in April. This has prompted us to refresh our knowledge of this important fiber and take note of its special conservation needs.
Rayon is a semi-synthetic fiber made of regenerated cellulose. Like naturally occurring cellulosic textile fibers—including cotton, kapok, linen, hemp, jute, and ramie—rayon is used for a wide range of fabrics for household textiles as well as fine and utilitarian fashions. Unlike its cellulose cousins, rayon has also been widely used to mimic fabrics normally made of fibers as wide ranging as silk and wool. It can therefore be difficult to identify rayon when it is found in museum collections.
Rayon exploded in the 1920s as a popular fashion fiber, beginning with socks, lingerie and clothing. The variety of available fabrics and finishes meant that any women could now wear garment types once affordable only to women who could buy silk. By the end of the 1930s, rayon was six times as plentiful as silk in American clothing.
World War II again caused a bump in the production of rayon, both for fabrics and for tire cord--a replacement for rubber, which was scarce. After WWII, rayon saw competition from other synthetic fibers such as nylon, acrylic and polyester.
Rayon is prone to stretching, sagging, and pilling. Despite these problems, trade brands such as Modal rayon became increasingly popular for use alone, or blended with cotton or spandex, for household textiles such as towels and sheets. Early viscose rayon was found to lose strength when wet, but high-wet-modulus (HWM) rayon was released in 1960 as an answer to this problem.
Part II of "Rayon Through the Years" will focus on the technological changes in rayon production... which help account for the many names the fiber goes by.
by Tegan Kehoe
This lovely sample of wartime-era yarn was recently donated to the Museum Textile Services study collection by Mig Ticehurst of Keswick, Cumbria, England. Ms Ticehurst emailed us about her old yarn, saying "It seems wrong to throw it away. Is it possible that it would be of interest to you?"
We love the slogan on the label of this yarn – “Reliable rayon for dainty garments.” Mig quipped that she had this on hand and unused because she’s:
“...not that keen on making ‘dainty garments'. As children, knitting was taught in school and we were all obliged to knit as part of the war effort. Our family thing was scarves for merchant seamen which were garter stitch and at the time seemed absolutely huge but probably were about two feet wide and about six feet long. I learned to knit and read by the time I was eight as it was the only way to do any reading. There was also a great deal of inventive making of things."
This pastel yarn is not just for baby clothes--any women who wanted to make “dainty garments” for themselves could afford rayon. The pattern below is probably from the 1940s or 50s-–note the milkshake glass in the woman’s hand! The pattern specifies Robin Perle, which is what’s in our little yarn stash. “Perle” describes any high-sheen, two-ply twisted yarn like this or mercerized cotton.
The company logo on our donated yarn indicates that it was manufactured in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England. Bradford has been a textile hub for centuries but became a boom town early on in the Industrial Revolution, achieving prominence as the “wool capital of the world” by the mid-nineteenth century. Products included mohair, alpaca, cotton, and silk textiles. By the early twentieth century, however, Bradford’s hold on the industry had begun to slip, so some companies stayed current by producing the new synthetics.
Rayon is still being modified and produced today, and it shows up more places than you might think. Stay tuned for the next two weeks for more blogs about rayon and some other remarkable 20th-century fibers that MTS has been conserving.