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Conserving the Suzani

Suzani
Uzbekistan (Bukhara region), late nineteenth century
Cotton, silk threads
Overall: 102 1/2 x 67 1/2 in. (260.4 x 171.5 cm)
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, 85.81

Condition Prior to Treatment
This suzani was in fair to good condition at the initial conservation examination, June 9, 2002. Each plain-weave embroidered panel is approximately 101” by 10–11.5” wide. Five of the six panels consist of two pieces of ground fabric joined at a horizontal seam. Some overall planar deformation was visible, the result of inherent condition aspects associated with hand-sewn techniques and from previous methods of display and use. Some creasing was noted, as were small losses along the previous display support edge. Several original seams were destabilized and open at random areas throughout.

Heavy deposits of airborne soils were present throughout the textile at the time of conservation examination. Large areas of dark staining, tide lines and dye migration associated with a history of water damage were noted.

The embroidery fibers were generally in good condition and were mostly intact throughout. Random losses associated with some black dyed fibers were noted. The visual integrity of the textile was intact in spite of disfiguring negative condition aspects.

Conservation treatment proceeded in preparation for display at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Treatment*
Following an in-lab examination and documentation, the previous (but not original) heavy, crudely hand-sewn cotton lining was removed as were all hand-sewn rings comprising the previous support system for display. The textile was then extensively cleaned by vacuum pressure. The superficial cleaning of the obverse and reverse of the textile included the use of specialized equipment and techniques as necessary. This was followed by testing for fiber stability as related to soil solubility. After curatorial consultation, a decision was made to avoid the potentially significant losses associated with complete-submersion wet cleaning. The textile had been greatly improved by the thorough superficial cleaning, and the risks associated with wet cleaning were considered too great.

One small, skilled hand-sewn repair, noted during examination, was left intact. Hand-sewn stabilization with and without support fabric, secured areas of small losses, tears, splits and open seams throughout.

A lightweight, polyester-blend, plain-weave lining with dust band and open bottom edge was hand sewn to the reverse of the textile. A Velcro support system was secured along the top, reverse edge, for display.

An Issue of Method Meeting Need is illustrated by the examination and treatment of this suzani for display at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Velcro support mounts are preferred for gallery installations of most DDFIA textiles. This method provides support while allowing for rotation between display and rolled storage. This suzani (85.81) has been rotated to storage and a second suzani (85.39) has been examined, treated and fitted with the Velcro support system. Other suzani from the collection will be prepared for future gallery rotation by the same method.

*The treatment outlined above may not be appropriate for other textiles.

Treated by Ann Svenson, Textile Conservator

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