Access is a challenge often faced by conservators caring for three-dimensional objects where parts may cover other parts. At the time of creation, the artist worked in a specific order, layering the pieces together, which covered up or limited access to earlier stages. This apron-like leg covering (or haidate) from a set of Japanese armor is a good example: the lacquered metal tiles were attached like roof tiles, with each row covering up the top of the row below it where the pieces were stitched to the base fabric. When the stitches aged and broke, those hidden points of attachment needed to be accessed to repair them. Here, you see the solution currently being used in the textile lab. A wedge of conservation foam (that white block in the picture) has been cut to temporarily lift the row above the area to be repaired. You can see the sewing needle on the right side edge of this row. Working in this narrow gap, the conservator stitches through the holes in the tiles and the base fabric, realigning them to the original stitch holes. The rows below the one undergoing treatment in this picture were all loose too, but just as the artist did at the time of creation, the conservator worked in order, layering the pieces together from the bottom up, so that each higher row covered up the attachment points of the row below it.
Japan; Suit of Armor, Arm and Armor; Gift of Mrs. Enoch T. Carson through Women’s Art Museum Association; 1881.152