There are a number of ways to safely display a textile. These guidelines will help you choose the best option for your piece based on its size, weight and condition. You can also bring your textile to the museum during an Ask a Curator, Ask a Conservator program for personalized recommendations, or refer to the American Institute for Conservation's "find a conservator" service to find a conservator in your local area.
A variety of systems can be used to hang textiles and rugs for display. A VELCRO® mount is the technique of choice for most conservators for these reasons:
However, the VELCRO® mount method is not appropriate for all textiles. Evaluate your textile carefully to see if it can truly support its own weight. If in doubt, consult a conservator to select an appropriate hanging method. The VELCRO® mount method is most often recommended for sturdy blankets, quilts and rugs. It is not appropriate for thin or fragile textiles, such as silk, or for textiles with heavy surface embellishments like beads.
Garments with simple construction, such as tunics, ponchos and kimonos, can be mounted on the wall on a padded rod. Either an acrylic rod or a wooden dowel covered in Marvelseal® can be used. Pad the rod with polyester quilt batting to round out the shoulder areas, and cover it with a piece of washed, unbleached muslin. This is particularly important when using a wooden dowel.
If your textile is not sturdy enough to be hung safely from a VELCRO® fastener strip, it can be mounted one of several other ways.
Large textiles that are not strong enough to hang from one end can be mounted on a support, ideally one that is chemically inert, such as an aluminum honeycomb panel, over which mounting fabric has been stretched.
Small textiles can be mounted to a fabric-covered archival matboard. This type of mount is generally only appropriate for textiles that will be framed, as the matboard easily absorbs moisture and can warp if not restrained within a frame. You carefully sew the textile to the stretched fabric in such a way as to provide overall support to the textile. Sewing tension and position of stitches have to be carefully selected and executed.
Textiles that are too fragile to bear stitching may be pressure mounted, a system where contact pressure alone secures the textile. This complex mounting system should only be attempted by a conservator. The textile itself should never be stretched around the edges of the strainer. Depending on its size, the mounted textile can be framed or glazed.
It is important to use the appropriate materials for your mount. Try to avoid wooden materials. If wooden supports need to be used, the wood should be sealed with Marvelseal® (an aluminized polyethylene and nylon barrier film) to seal in wood acids. Mounting fabrics must be pre-washed to remove excess dyes, finishes and sizings. The best choices for mounting fabrics are 100 percent cotton or cotton/polyester blends. Linen is not an appropriate mount fabric because it easily absorbs moisture from the environment, causing sagging and distortion. Wool also sags easily, and along with silk, is susceptible to insect attack.
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Should a textile be framed behind glass? This is one of the most common questions when considering how to display textiles, with more than one answer. Before you make a decision, consider:
In choosing a glazing material, acrylic is usually preferable to glass. Acrylic does not break easily. Irreparable damage can occur if glass breaks and tears through a textile. In addition, acrylic is significantly lighter in weight than glass, which can make it easier to handle when hanging larger framed pieces.
However, acrylic glazing has electrostatic properties. These can pull loose fibers of a textile onto the inside surface of the acrylic unless it has an anti-static coating (e.g., Tru Vue StaticShield® acrylic). In addition, acrylic surfaces are more easily scratched than glass.
Glass glazing is sensitive to temperature change. When glass is in direct or close contact with your textile, differences in temperature can cause condensation. Salts or fatty acids in the textile may transfer to the glazing creating a clouded appearance. The presence of moisture (condensation) could also be conducive to mold growth on the textile itself.
To separate the glazing from your textile, a window mat (such as those used in mounting prints and drawings) or a spacer made of archival materials (e.g., acrylic or archival matboard) should be included in the frame. A conservator or framer can help you decide which method is best.
Pressure mounts are an exception to this rule and can be used to frame fragile textiles. The textile is placed on a padded support, and a sheet of acrylic is placed directly on top. The frame exerts gentle pressure on the acrylic, holding the textile in place on the mount. A conservator should be consulted to evaluate whether this type of mount is appropriate for a specific textile.