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Conservation Strategy of Metal Embroidery Threads in Textile Objects

in Museum of Jordanian Heritage
Omar Abdel-Kareem, Ziad Al-Saad
Yarmouk University, Jordan
Conservation Department,
Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology
Yarmouk University, Irbid, Jordan

Documenting the manufacturing technology and corrosion of metal embroidery threads is essential for their
diagnosis so as to provide effective conservation treatment. In this study, different types of non-destructive
scientific methods, such as optical microscopy, Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) with energy-disper-
sive x-ray analyzer (EDX), was applied to determine the chemical composition, manufacturing technology
and corrosion of a collection of metal embroideries. Various samples that represent: strips, wires, coils and
spangles were investigated. One type has been identified as a thread made of silver (Ag) and copper (Cu).
Another type has been identified as strips wound around undyed fibre cotton core. The investigation showed
that the metal threads were damaged most probably due to the uncontrolled environmental conditions in
the museum. The paper also provides an effective conservation approach for costumes made up of textiles
and metal embroidery thread according to the type damage documented in this paper.

Keywords: Metal threads, Corrosion, SEM- EDX, Conservation Methods, Cleaning

1. INTRODUCTION Conservation of metal threads is a complex process

that includes several steps. Knowing the complexity and
Decorative metals have been incorporated into tex- fragility of metal threads, cleaning is usually the first step
tiles for thousands of years [1]. Embroideries were one of and the most difficult to be implemented. Any cleaning
the most sumptuous kinds of textiles produced in six- must be carried out with great respect and consideration
teenth-century Europe, and among these costly goods, of the original object’s form, function and material. In
gold embroideries were the most precious [2]. Metal recent years, new methods for cleaning using laser clean-
threads deteriorate and corrode due to attack by different ing of metal threads have been investigated [9]. Howev-
corrosive factors such as high and fluctuating relative hu- er, traditionally, conservation treatment usually starts
midity, air pollutants and elevated temperatures [3]. Tex- with vacuum cleaning the object to remove dust. Some
tiles employing metal are generally in poorer condition textiles are also wet cleaned with a detergent. It has been
than those that do not contain metal, because of extra found that some metal threads become very bright after
stresses from the high mass of the material and the multi- wet cleaning, whereas others are not [7]. Nowadays, laser
plicity of degradation processes. The condition of the cleaning is increasingly becoming popular for cleaning
metal textile depends on various factors related to the such complex objects [10]. Laser cleaning is an effective
quality of the materials from which they were made and cleaning technique of metal artefacts since it provides a
their manufacturing techniques in addition to the sur- high degree of control that allows fragile objects espe-
rounding environmental factors. This type of objects, cially those with a considerable amount of surface detail
which is formed of composite materials of different origin to be effectively and safely cleaned. High control permits
and nature pose a major conservation challenge [4]. The the preservation of objects with surface details, such as
purpose of this type of conservation intervention is to es- relief, original tool markings and surface patina. The use
tablish the level of decay of an object and to return it to its of this technique requires skilful conservators in order to
original form as closely as possible, so that the object may achieve the most satisfactory results [11].
reflect the original artistic concept [5]. For effective con- Furthermore, conservation of historical objects made
servation planning and treatment of such composite ob- from composite materials is a complex operation, since
jects, it is necessary to carry out a diagnosis of the materi- conservation materials that may suite the treatment of
als that constitute the object. For this type of composite one component may be harmful for the other. For in-
object, many studies have already focused on investigat- stance, cleaning agents effective for cleaning metals may
ing the technology and types of materials for metal cause harm to core yarns, ground fabric or to needlework
threads [6, 7, 1, 8]. pads. Therefore, it is essential to find a common conser-
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Omar Abdel-Kareem, Ziad Al-Saad

vation approach and materials that respect integrity and

can preserve all components.
Identification of the nature of the materials that con-
stitute the object is an essential prior step for effective
conservation treatment, and if possible should be carried
out with non-destructive methods. This study presents
approaches that can be used in analysis and conservation
of historical textiles decorated with metal threads in Mu-
seum of Jordanian Heritage.


Three metal embroidered textile objects that are dat-

ed to the late Ottoman period were investigated and
conserved. The selected textile objects are displayed in
the Museum of Jordanian Heritage at Yarmouk Univer-
sity. The metal embroidered textile objects are: an out-
door woman’s dress (short coat and skirt) in blue colour,
a man’s cloak in dark green colour, and a child’s suit in
red colour. The objects are displayed in a display case
that has no climatic control. (Figure 1).
The visual inspection shows that all the investigated
objects have accumulated dust and dirt mainly due to
many years of exhibition in the museum under unsuit-
able and uncontrolled environment. The embroidery
metal threads are extremely fragile and in very poor con-
dition. The textile fabrics suffered greatly from time and
poor display conditions. Nevertheless, the metal threads
are relatively bright, though brittle and tarnished by dust
and various residues. The reverse side of the embroi-
deries is in very poor condition. Different samples of
each type of embroidered metal threads and from the
textile fabric were taken and subjected for further analy-
sis using the following scientific techniques: Figure 1 - Ottoman textile objects in the Jordanian Heritage
Museum displayed in a poor condition in one showcase
2.1 Scientific Examination
Optical Microscopy was used to examine the threads 3. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
both longitudinally and by its cross-section. The cross sec-
tion was prepared according to Abdel-Kareem [12]. The results of optical microscope investigation en-
Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) Model Quanta abled the identification of various types of embroidered
200 with EDX was applied to examine the surface mor- metal threads. Three different types were identified: met-
phology of each type of metal threads with accelerating al strips wound around a fibre core (cotton), spangles (a
voltage 30 KV, magnification 10x up to 4000x small piece of metal sheet in a round shape), and metal
coil (metal wires wound around threads of cotton). The
2.2 Scientific Analysis microscopic examination showed that all tested metal
SEM Energy dispersive X-ray Analysis (EDX) was threads are badly deteriorated due to advance and exten-
used to chemically analyze the metal threads. The sam- sive corrosion. Various types of fabrics were also identi-
ples were mounted on carbon stubs using adhesive-coat- fied. The woman’s blue dress was made from a velvet fab-
ed carbon discs, and then were investigated directly with- ric. The velvet piles were made from silk, while the main
out any coating layer. This technique has been widely fabric was made from cotton fibre. The dress has an in-
used to analyze metal threads and proves to be powerful side lining fabric in green that was made of cotton fibre.
for the determination of their chemical composition [6, However, the dark green man’s cloak was made of cotton
13, 1, 8, 12]. fabric that has an inside lining fabric made of red silk. The
child’s suit was made from a similar cotton fabric but with
an inside lining made of the same fabric.
The results of SEM morphological examination of the
samples taken from the blue woman’s dress demonstrate
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Conservation Strategy of Metal Embroidery Threads in Textile objects

that the embroidered metal threads are coils that were show that the metal threads in the dark green man’s cloak
made of wires (Figure 2). The wires are distinguished by were made of solid strips wound around a fibrous core of
having a rectangular cylindrical shape. The width of the cotton. The twisting direction of the strips wound around
wire was measure at about 82 Ìm, while its thickness is fibre core is ‘S’-shaped. The strips may have been pro-
about 32 Ìm. The wires may have been made by hammer- duced by cutting them out from a thin metal foil indica-
ing rods. This conclusion is based on the fact that edges of tive by such obvious signs in the sampled edges. The re-
the wires have circular shape while the main body of the sults also show that the investigated metal threads are in
wires has a rectangular shape. This variation is indicative relatively bad condition as there is a thin layer of corro-
of hammering of the surface of the wires. All tested metal sion products, which covers the entire surface of the met-
embroideries (coils) are made from metal wires wound al threads with deep corrosion pits.
around fibrous core of cotton fibre yarn. Signs of surface
damage were noticed, and are shown in Figure 3. The
damage is mainly attributed to the surface metal corro-
sion as many corrosion pits can be seen.

Figure 3 - SEM image of other metal embroidery from

woman’s dress, showing the damage in the surface of met-
al strip, A) Metal thread mounted for morphological ex-
amination, B) (some details from photo A)
Figure 2 - SEM image of a metal embroidery taken from
the woman’s dress, A) Metal thread mounted for mor- The corrosion is not uniformly distributed on the sur-
phological examination, B) Areas of the spot analysis face indicating selective corrosion in some areas. Howev-
er, the core fibre is in a fair condition when compared to
SEM examination performed on samples taken from the main textile fabric of the cloak. This may be attrib-
the dark green man’s cloak reveals important information uted to the protective effect of the metal to the fibre core
about manufacturing technology (Figure 4). The results (Figure 5).
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Omar Abdel-Kareem, Ziad Al-Saad

The results of SEM morphological examination of thin layer of corrosion products that cover the surface of
spangles from child’s suit are shown in Figure 6. It is clear the metal strips. There are obvious signs of damage on
that the spangles may have been produced by cutting the metal strip as it is broken and corroded and there are
from them from metal foil, since it is evident that there is a lot of corrosion pits.
an obvious sign of the effect of the cutting tool on the The results of EDX spot analysis of different areas of
edges of the spangles. The results show that the width of metal thread from the woman’s dress is shown in Table 1.
spangle is about 1020 Ìm, while the width of the inside The results show that the whole surface is covered with
whole is about 540 Ìm. There is noticeable damage to the metal corrosion products. It is noticed that the percentage
surface of spangle (see Figure 6 B is pitting in the surface of contamination elements C, O, Mg, and Cl are high. The
as effect of corrosion products). results indicate that the corrosion extent on the metal sur-
face is not equally distributed on the whole surface. The
nature and type of corrosion is slightly different from one
area to another. The contamination elements are the main
component of corrosion products commonly present on
silver. However, the results show that the corrosion and
dirt on the metal threads are localized. The spot analysis
clearly shows the extent of corrosion variation from one
area to another of the same metal thread. This uneven dis-
tribution of corrosion both in terms of type and extent is an
important factor that should be taken in consideration
when considering conservation treatment of such material.

Figure 4 - SEM Photographs for an embroidered met-

al thread taken from the black man’s cloak

Figure 5 - SEM Photographs for the core fiber of metal

thread taken from the black man’s cloak show that it is
cotton fiber

The SEM morphological examination of metal threads

from child’s suit are shown in Figure 7, which was a metal
thread made of a solid metal strip wound around a fibre Figure 6 - SEM Photographs for an embroidered metal
core. The thickness of the strip is about 264 Ìm. The strip circle piece (spangle) taken from the Child’s dress, A) a
may have been made by cutting from a thin metal foil. spangle mounted for morphological examination, B)
The results show that the strips were corroded. There is a (some details from photo A)
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Conservation Strategy of Metal Embroidery Threads in Textile objects

Table 1 also gives the results of EDX analysis of the Table 1 - EDX spot analysis of the chemical composition
cross section of metal thread from the woman’s dress. (Wt %) of different corroded surface areas and cross sec-
The results indicate that the main components of metal tion of a metal thread from woman’s dress
composition are silver (Ag) 91.71%. The results show
Element Area A Area B Area C Cross section
that the gold may have been used as a coating layer on the
C 3.29 3.15 25.43 -
surface as the percentage of gold in cross section sample
O 1.64 2.27 10.04 -
is about 5%, while the percentage of gold on the surface
Mg 0.72 1.04 0.71 -
is about 24% (see Table 1area B).
Au 14.63 23.85 12.07 5.59
S 6.48 1.83 4.95 -
Cl 0.92 0.38 1.88 -
Ag 70.78 66.29 43.5 91.71
Cu 1.54 1.19 1.43 2.7
The results of EDX analysis of the metal threads from
man’s cloak are presented in Table 2. The results show
that the percent of elements composing the corrosion
products are high. As the total percent of C, O, Na, Mg, Si,
S, Cl, Ag, Ca, Fe are about 65 %, while the percent of cop-
per is about 30% only. The results of EDX analysis of
cross section of the same sample indicate that the main
components of tested metal thread in man’s cloak are cop-
per (Cu) about 80%. The severity of the corrosion in these
samples is indicative of the unsuitable environmental con-
ditions in the display case where this object is exhibited.
Al-Saad and Khasawneh (2006) confirmed that the
relative humidity surrounding textile objects in Museum
of Jordanian Heritage is about 78% with fluctuations of
about 28% throughout the year [14]. Also there are dif-
ferent types of pollution sources in the museum. So the
corrosion products found on the metal embroidery are
most probably due to display these textile objects.
The results of EDX analysis of metal embroideries
(spangle and metal thread) from child’s suit are present in
Tables 3 and 4. The results show that this object has suf-
fered less corrosion when compared to samples taken from
both woman’s dress and man’s cloak. The main component
of chemical composition of both spangle and metal thread
may be the same as copper (Cu) forms main component.

Table 2 - EDX spot analysis of the chemical composition

Wt % of corroded surface area and cross section of a met-
al thread from man's cloak.
Elements corroded surface area Cross section
C 21.14 10.19
O 14.5 3.46
Na 13.66 -
Mg 0.58 -
Si 1.13 -
Figure 7 - SEM Photographs for an embroidered metal Au 0.68 -
thread taken from the Child’s dress, A) SEM image of the S 0.89 -
metal strip, B) The cotton fibre core Cl 7.29 -
Ag 0.35 -
K 2.95 -
Ca 1.12 -
Fe 0.88 -
Ni 4.63 7.28
Cu 30.2 79.06

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Omar Abdel-Kareem, Ziad Al-Saad

Table 3 - EDX analysis of the chemical composition % of one of the most common and safe methods that can be
an around metal embroidered from child’s suit applied in cleaning of metal embroidered textile objects
[16, 17]. However unregulated suction can be very dan-
Elements Cl Cu Ag Au
gerous, and must not be so strong so as to pick up the ob-
Wt % 0.79 92.65 1.24 5.33
ject by holding it against the nozzle [17].
The next step in the cleaning process is the removal of
Table 4 - EDX analysis of the chemical composition % of corrosion products from metal embroideries. The clean-
a metal embroidered thread from child’s suit
ing of metal threads should be undertaken with great cau-
Elements Cl Cu Ag Au tion; it is often considered better not to clean, or to limit
Wt % 0.61 98.16 0.53 0.7 the extent of cleaning rather than to subject metal threads
to potentially damaging treatments [16]. All metal objects
3. CONSERVATION STRATEGY are best left untreated until a conservator has had an op-
portunity to examine them. Cleaning involves the risk of
The analytical results show that both the textile core over cleaning, exposure to hazardous solvents and chemi-
and the metal threads have extensive dirt deposition. The cals, and the consequence of higher corrosion rates on
dirt accumulation is mainly due to air particulates and freshly exposed metal surfaces [3].
pollutants coming from the display case environment. In Wet cleaning processes are commonly used in remov-
addition, both the textile core and the metal threads suf- ing corrosion from metal threads [16, 17, 18]. In most of
fer from corrosion and deterioration caused by the sur- cases, some detergents and chemicals have to be added to
rounding environmental conditions. The aim of any con- water to enhance the ability of wet cleaning in removing
servation treatment of such objects should be focused on of corrosion stains. Some examples of the common added
dealing with the causes that led to the deterioration and materials are nonionic detergents, sequestering agent,
damage of these objects. The long-term preservation of the disodium salt of ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid
these objects can be achieved by eliminating and/or mon- (EDTA) [16]. In the case of the objects tested in this
itoring and controlling the deterioration factors. study, chemical cleaning may be used with extreme cau-
A conservation treatment that includes various con- tion as corrosion only partially covers the surface of the
servation measures is proposed. The proposed treatment metal. There is a danger of dissolving some of the original
composed of the following steps: (1) Cleaning of the tex- metal and activating more corrosion. So another study
tile core and the embroidered metal threads. This step in- will be done to evaluate some suggested materials and
cludes the removal of the corrosion products from metal methods that can be used safely in cleaning these objects.
threads using methods not harmful to metal threads, core
fibres or textile fabrics carrying these metal embroideries. 4.2 Isolation and Protection
(2) Isolation of the metal threads against deterioration. Protective coatings are often applied to metal objects
After cleaning of the metal threads it is vital to protect to prevent or reduce the possibility of corrosion from high
the metal by using protective film to reduce or prevent humidity, frequent handling and atmospheric pollution.
any future corrosion. (3) Consolidation of the textile fab- However, the selected coating should not be harmful for
rics. Reinforcement of the textile cores by lining them on both of metal embroideries, fibre core and the textile fab-
new fabrics with needle work to improve their strength rics carrying the metal embroideries. Also, it should be
during display. (4) Displaying the objects in proper show- not harmful to other components contacted with metal
cases in controlled environmental conditions.
threads such as dyes and pigments. Based on lab results
and experience of the others, 4% Paraloid® B-72 in
4.1 Cleaning
ethanol is recommended for protection of the investigat-
The aim of conservation cleaning is to remove harm-
ed objects. This polymer is widely used in conservation of
ful soils, which may be disfiguring or cause physical or
chemical damage to a textile. Selection of the appropriate both metals and textiles [19]. In our case there is necessity
cleaning method depends on the nature of the soil pre- to use protective coating layer on the surface of metal
sent, and on the materials, structure, and condition of the threads, because the objects are composite that contain
textile. Thorough testing should always be carried out different materials which require various range of RH for
first to determine the response of the textile to cleaning each type of material. The optimum RH needed to avoid
and to identify the most suitable method [15]. The initial re-corrosion of metal threads will cause dryness for textile
investigation carried out by this study showed that most fabrics (see recommended RH% for metals and textiles
of the dust can be cleaned safely using low vacuum suc- in NPS, 1999) [20].
tion cleaner. All particle soils should be removed from
both the face and reverse the textile objects. This process 4.3 Consolidation
should be applied through gauze or net fabrics under Consolidation treatments to stabilize damaged areas
binocular microscope. The procedure should be repeated and to provide additional strength for a weak textile is an
many times to ensure that all loose dust has been com- essential conservation step. This treatment involves plac-
pletely removed. The cleaning with low suction cleaner is ing a layer of new fabric behind damaged section or the
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Conservation Strategy of Metal Embroidery Threads in Textile objects

whole textile, and securing it in place with conservation cloak. A covered dowel will be placed inside the shoulder
stitching or selected adhesives. The fabrics and threads seams and the top of the sleeves. The cloak will be hung
used should be sympathetic in appearance, colour, and then from the exposed dowel at the neck opening. The
weight to the original fabric, and the support treatment dowel should be covered with cotton cloth. The dowel
should be unobtrusive while remaining apparent to an ex- should be extended to within a few centimetres of the end
perienced eye [15]. of the sleeves to ensure that the sleeves are fully support-
The loose metal threads should be secured with silk ed. The cloth covering should extend over the ends of the
threads. The silk threads should be dyed with colours to dowel and be secured so that the dowel ends are fully cov-
match each area. The loose metal threads have to be re- ered. This prevents any abrasion of the textile when the
sewn in proper position with dyed silk threads using dowel is being inserted in place. The cloth should be of
couching technique. The smallest numbers of stitches washed cotton. The dowel is least obtrusive on display if
necessary to keep the metal threads firmly in their posi- the cloth matches the basic colour of the textile. The dyes
tion should be used. The new stitches should be sewn must be non-running. To insert the dowel, place the cloak
through the original holes. There is various consolidation flat on the table and insert the dowel from the end of one
methods for treatment of weakened three dimensional of the sleeves.
textile objects embroidered with metal threads [18, 21, 22, For displaying the child’s suit, the study suggests to as-
17]. The results of the present study confirm that a com- semble both of the two parts (jacket and trousers) on a
plete lining attached to the back of the textile objects is new model. This new model can be made from undyed
very important to stabilize loose elements, and to support cotton fabric and padded with polyester fibres. The final
the textile objects while on display. The complete mount- layer of the model can be made from cotton fabric dyed
ing carries the overall stress and strain of the weight of with suitable colour adapted to the original colour of the
the metal embroidered threads while hanging during dis- suit. Then the child’s suit can be displayed on a stand
play. The study suggests to inserting and stitching new made of Perspex in showcase.
dresses made from linen fabric with the textile objects.
Finally the three textile objects should be displayed in
separate showcases, which will make it easier to create
4.4 Display
the appropriate environmental conditions for each ob-
The display of costume presents a range of curatorial
ject. The objects should be periodically inspected for any
and conservation challenges, often necessitating compro-
signs of physical or chemical deterioration [23].
mise to achieve an appropriate balance between presen-
tation and preservation. The vulnerability of costume
means that damaging factors must be eliminated or re-
duced as far as possible. For this reason costumes are not
1- Metal threads in our case study suffer deterioration as
kept on display for extended period [23]. Careful and ap-
SEM morphological showed that there are obvious
propriate mounting provides a textile with additional
overall support, reduces the tension on weakened areas, signs of damages. The metal threads are too dirty,
and enables it to be displayed and handled with the mini- broken, corroded and there a lot of corrosion pits.
mal amount of stress. Three dimensional textiles can be 2- The proper conservation approach for both fabric and
supported onto specially shaped forms made of soft inert metal threads should be include various steps such as
materials [15]. cleaning, isolation and protection coating, consolida-
The study suggests displaying the woman’s dress on a tion and display methods.
mannequin. However, mounting costume on mannequins 3- The study confirmed that there is a lack of research on
or other shaped forms requires skill and time. What mat- composite materials such as textile objects decorated
ters is that the form be made or adapted to meet the with metal threads.
unique shape of each garment [23]. It is very important 4- It is necessity to carry out further research to evaluate
that the materials selected to prepare the mannequin materials and methods used in cleaning of metal
should be good and do not cause any harm to the textile threads, so as to determine the most appropriate and
objects and metal threads [24]. A mannequin can be con- effective approaches and methods for removing cor-
structed to the appropriate size to support and display the rosion from metal threads without harming the textile
woman dress. The mannequin should be dressed with an fabrics.
unfinished molleton (thick, soft flannel). Its visible parts
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