JAIC 2004, Volume 43, Number 2, Article 5 (pp. 175 to 184)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 2004, Volume 43, Number 2, Article 5 (pp. 175 to 184)




Silk is known to last for centuries, but the long-term aging characteristics of the hair silk used in this context have not been determined. Therefore it is not recommended for long-term storage mounts. Yet, for the duration of exhibits, hair silk provides a soft, strong, safe, sensitive, reversible method for display of vellum and parchment leaves.

The hair silk has lent itself for mounting use with a variety of shapes and kinds of objects, from very irregular cuttings on parchment, where judiciously placed straps provided a secure system, to a hanging scroll, very small paper items in which corner threads or straps become invisible, leather artifacts, and temporary groupings of materials that need to be held together on a support without adhesive. Experience suggests that a greater range of conservation problems outside of the paper and textile arena could utilize hair silk for mounting, including some three-dimensional and ethnographic objects.

As for everything in conservation, needs must be evaluated case by case. Media must be secure, the support must be in good condition, and thoughtful consideration must be given to the positioning of hair silk straps. The flattening of spine folds, creases, or rolled scrolls is necessary, but flattening parchment does not guarantee that it will stay flat. Variables such as weight, thickness, degree of flexibility or brittleness, and whether the object is to be displayed flat or vertically determine if it may or may not be possible to safely support heavy large-format items with hair silk.

The purpose of the hair silk is not to control the object or deformations but to permit the parchment to exist comfortably on display, allowing for possible expansion and contraction. This aim explains why mounting holes are drilled slightly away from the edge of the art.

Only pre-existing holes in parchment are used for stitching to a support. If there are no holes or not enough holes in larger objects, hair silk straps may not provide adequate support, and some other system may need to be devised.

Some of the decision-making process is intuitive. It may be necessary to add extra threads for heavier or larger objects and to consider running a gentle thread strap in a vertical direction to reduce the tendency of the interior portion of pages to pull up toward the Plexiglas in a framed mount.

There are many advantages to using passive (nonadhesive) mounting systems. Hair silk is easily reversible, and it can be readily toned. It is not a perfect material for all objects, but it does provide unique advantages for illuminated manuscript leaves and in situations that require works to be held in a nonadhesive, nonintrusive system of display. It is hoped that these findings will encourage others to explore the use of hair silk when it is found to be appropriate, and to utilize and develop alternative passive mounting methods and materials when hair silk and other traditional systems do not best serve the object.


My sincere thanks to many people for their help and suggestions on this project: Barbara Boehm for presenting the challenge, and Marjorie Shelley and colleagues in the Sherman Fairchild Center for Works of Art on Paper and Photograph Conservation: Ann Baldwin, Martin Bansbach, Sarah Bertalan, Mary Jo Carson, Ross Chambers, Lee Ann Daffner, Alison Gilchrest, Akiko Yamazaki-Kleps, Pau Maynes, Rachel Mustalish, and Yana Van Dyke. Special thanks are also due to Metropolitan Museum of Art colleagues: Joe Bamberger, Nancy Britton, Mindell Dubansky, Christine Giuntini, Chris Paulocik, who introduced me to hair silk, and the Department of Textile Conservation. In addition, I am grateful to Karen Crisalli, who very generously supplied the piece of repair parchment for mock-up tests; Abigail Quandt; and J. Paul Getty staff: Thomas Kren, Liz Teviotdale, and Nancy Turner.

Copyright 2004 American Institution for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works