Framing Textiles

Photo of museum staff preparing a textile for display
One of the most frequently asked questions is, "Should my textile be framed behind glass?" There is more than one answer to this question and opinions vary from conservator to conservator. Before you make a decision, consider:
  • Location: Will the textile be illuminated by natural daylight? If so, it is best to use a glazing material like Plexiglas® that contains an ultraviolet filter to reduce damage from at least that portion of the light spectrum.
  • Size: The standard size of a piece of Plexiglas® is 4’ x 8’ and it is difficult to obtain a glazing material beyond this size to protect your textile.
  • Environmental control: If dust and dirt are a problem, or there are smokers in your house, glazing is recommended. Without this kind of protection, a textile may need more frequent cleaning.
  • Drape: Handmade textiles are frequently somewhat irregular in shape and may tend to ripple as they hang on the wall. If this three-dimensional character is an important part of the presentation of the textile, it is best hung without framing.
In choosing a glazing material, it is usually preferable to use Plexiglas® rather than glass. First, Plexiglas® does not break easily. Irreparable damage can occur when glass has broken and torn through a textile. Second, Plexiglas® is significantly lighter in weight than glass, which can make it easier to handle and hang larger framed pieces. However, Plexiglas® has one drawback. Electrostatic properties can pull loose fibers of a textile onto the inside surface of the Plexiglas®. Therefore, it may be preferable to frame a very brittle piece, such as an archaeological textile, behind glass.
It is very important that glass never come in direct contact with your textile. In high humidity, mold can grow in areas where the glazing materials come in contact with the textile. Additionally, salts contained in the textile can transfer to the glass, absorb additional moisture, and cause increased degradation of the textile. Two materials to separate the glazing material from your textile are a window mat (like those used in mounting prints and drawings) or a Plexiglas® spacer constructed into the frame. A conservator or your framer can help you decide which method would be the best for a specific textile.
While it is generally not recommended that Plexiglas® be placed in direct contact with a textile, there is one exception. A pressure mount is sometimes used to frame very fragile textiles for display. In this instance, the textile is placed on a padded support. The frame exerts pressure on the Plexiglas® placed on the face of the textile, thus holding the textile in place on the mount. This type of mount is designed only for short-term displays, and a conservator should be consulted to evaluate whether or not this type of mount would be appropriate for a specific textile.
Unconstructed garments, like tunics or ponchos, or those that do not have set-in sleeves (such as kimonos) can be mounted on the wall on a padded rod. Either a Plexiglas® or varnished wooden dowel can be used. The rod should be padded with polyester quilt batting to round out the shoulder areas, and covered with a piece of washed, unbleached muslin. This is particularly important when using a wooden dowel. Make sure that there is sufficient padding to prevent the textile from touching the wooden surfaces.