Date of Award
Master of Science in Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design
Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design
Conservation is the practice of preserving material heritage through careful study, implementation of research-based treatments, and preventative intervention. Cleaning is often a crucial step in this process as the presence of soils and stains increases the risk of future harm through mechanical friction, catalyzing deterioration, and attracting pests; in addition to being being visually distracting. Options to remove these soils and stains include surface cleaning, localized cleaning, or immersion cleaning in water or another solvent. While surface cleaning involves mechanically removing soils deposited on the surface of a textile, immersion cleaning addresses the entire textile by submerging it in water or another solvent. Localized cleaning applies cleaning solutions to specific areas of a textile and can be applied as droplets, foam, with a swab, or with a poultice. Poultices are moist solution carrier masses with the advantages of increased contact time, increased control over diffusion, and the ability to treat larger areas at one time. Mirroring the growth of their use in other conservation specialties, gels have emerged as a core part of the textile conservator’s toolkit.
Though the use of gels in conservation began in the 1980s, almost every gelling agent introduced to the practice has been limited by their inclusion of water. While these gels have shifted the paradigm by providing water-limited cleaning options for water-sensitive artistic and historic works and played a role in the transition toward nontoxic water-based detergency to replace solvent use, there remains historic and artistic works for which even a small amount of water carries a risk of damage. For textiles especially, only a small pool of gelling agents has been tested and accepted for safe use in conservation. The purpose of this study is to identify water-free solvent gel systems for textile conservation by exploring gelling agents used in other areas of conservation and the textile industry.
This research was conducted through experimentation on cotton fabric samples prepared with solvent-soluble and water-soluble dyes to model soils and stains. Gelling agents identified from conservation and other industries were tested for gel formation according to published recipes and with three common textile conservation solvents: acetone, isopropyl alcohol, and mineral spirits. Successfully formed gels were selected for further testing. Cleaning performance was assessed by reflectance spectrophotometry and analyzed using the ∆ECMC 2:1 system. Residue clearance was observed by scanning electron microscopy (SEM).
Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) was confirmed to form a gel with γ-valerolactone (GVL) but was rejected from further study due to a lack of demonstrated poulticing ability. Acetate was found to form moldable gels with both acetone and GVL. These acetate-based gels demonstrated adequate cleaning ability on the hydrophobic dye and did not move the hydrophilic dye. When compared against the agarose gel and the agarose gel loaded with solvent, the acetate-based gels compared unfavorably. SEM analysis found a significant risk of residue for both acetate-based gels, which was reduced if the gel was allowed to dry; however, mechanical damage resulted upon removal. While these results indicate that these organogels are not yet recommended for use on textiles without further study to reduce the risk of residue deposition, this research still presents an important step forward for gel knowledge in conservation through the identification and testing of a novel organogelator. Acetate is a cheap, non-toxic, and readily available material. The identification of acetate-based gels is significant as an accessible organogel for conservation.
Leung, Michelle, "SOLVENT GELS FOR TEXTILE CONSERVATION" (2023). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 2436.
Available for download on Monday, January 19, 2026