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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Small Wonders: Tiraz Textile Fragments

by Obie Linn, Associate Conservator of Textiles

1/4/2024

CAMConservation , tiraz textiles , textile conservation

Check out some small wonders from the world of textile artwork! Tucked in a corner of a display case in the JoLynn and Byron Gustin Gallery of Islamic Art (G146) you will find a fabric-covered panel highlighting a piece from the museum’s collection of tiraz fragments, inscribed textiles from the early Islamic period.

This small, easily overlooked corner display offers a peek into the ancient world via textiles. The piece here rotates every six months, so there is a new fragment of ancient fabric to see and think about often, including this newest installation which arrived in December. Tiraz fragments, such as this one, don’t undergo much conservation; their extreme age and fragility mean it is usually best to leave “as they are” and appreciate them as excavated fragments.

The newest installation underwent a little passive humidification using a barrier of Goretex© which allows water vapor but no liquid to reach the textile and help it to relax. I used glass weights and flat tweezers to help ease some folded pieces of the fragment into improved positions. I also found some old “cotton wool” clinging to the fragment! Unspun cotton was sometimes used to pack and protect delicate objects, such as this, at archaeological excavations. It is not original to the object, so I removed it with tweezers, which counts as “surface cleaning” in conservation. You might say the fragment was “cleaned and pressed,” though not in the way the phrase is usually applied!

The tiraz fragment on display in Gallery 146.

The tiraz fragment undergoing “passive humidification.” The “sandwich” of materials includes a damp blotting paper (unseen here), a piece of Goretex© barrier (the white stuff under the object), the fragment, a glass weight to gently press it down and hold the fragments while they relax due to the humidity provided by the blotting paper.

Held in a flat tweezer is a fragment of “cotton wool,” a material probably used to pack and protect the fragment decades ago.

Tiraz border fragment, 1300–1399 CE, Egypt, Mamluk period 1250–1517, linen, Gift of JoLynn M. and Byron W. Gustin, 2016.393ab