Heritage & Conservation Collaborations

Capturing and Sharing Traditional Methods in Textile Preservation in Southeast Asia

Programme Category: Conservation in the Tropics

Type/Category: Forum/Conservation and Collaboration

Date/Duration: 23 – 25 August 2016

Venue: Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles (QSMT), Bangkok, Thailand

Textiles have long been an integral part of Southeast Asian cultures since they are the physical manifestation of each society’s beliefs, traditions, aesthetics, and artistic ability. Some textiles are held sacred, while others are made for daily use, and require different methods of care and conservation.

In the past, textiles were stored and preserved using various local materials and methods since they were usually made from organic materials, and were rather fragile and subject to deterioration caused by pests, unsuitable environmental conditions, and wear-and-tear. However, the traditional knowledge in the preservation of textiles is not properly documented and researched.

Much of textile preservation training and practices in Asian museums today is fully based on imported and taught models and materials from Europe and North America. Little has been done thus far to gather individual histories and practices, and to place a value on local practice. While so called ‘modern’ methods and materials are applicable for textile conservation, the traditional ways may optionally present innovative and parallel or replacement preservation approaches for museum textiles professionals.

Chronicling the traditional and indigenous methods and materials used for textile preservation helps develop a new methodology for the study and care of textiles, and places a value on the importance of local heritage and traditional knowledge. These approaches can be low-cost, locally available, and environmentally sustainable. As a result, local community-based research on traditional methods in textile conservation could shape the present-day and ongoing model of museum conservation practices and of a growing number of Southeast Asian textile custodians and historians.

SEAMEO SPAFA’s flagship programme, “Conservation in the Tropics”, under its 6th Five Year Plan, includes both training and research components.

Following the activity “Training Workshop on Contrasting Textile Conservation Methods in Southeast Asia” (in collaboration with the QSMT), held in November 2012, it was apparent that there are many traditional materials used in textile care and conservation for cleaning, storing, and pest mitigation or control. However, traditional materials and methods used in these processes have not yet been properly documented and researched, and thus are on the verge of disappearing, resulting already in the loss of invaluable traditional knowledge.

In October 2013, SEAMEO SPAFA and QSMT embarked on establishing a pilot project and template for a broader ASEAN-wide programme. SEAMEO SPAFA and QSMT conducted preliminary fieldwork for this project, collecting traditional textile preservation methods in Phrae Province, northern Thailand. Following this preliminary research trip, QSMT continued with more comprehensive fieldwork, gathering research data from two regions and the royal court of Thailand. The research findings to date are summarized and published by ICOM CC 2014 Congress proceedings.

This Thailand-based research has formed the foundation, data collecting protocol and working template for a larger and ongoing Southeast Asia-based research project.

This project is designed precisely to collect, document and share this important traditional textile preservation knowledge. The goal is to collaborate with Southeast Asian textile conservators and museum professionals in compiling traditional knowledge on Southeast Asian traditional textile preservation practices in cleaning and stain removal, and the associated plant materials, in the aim of shaping and contributing to current Southeast Asian museum conservation practices.

The objective of this programme would be to engage museum professionals and/or textile conservators from the Southeast Asian region to conduct preliminary research on traditional methods in cleaning and removing stains from textiles in their respective countries. SEAMEO SPAFA will coordinate with museums in the region and with the participants from its previous textile conservation workshop to help identify potential researchers and participating museums, [and will provide funding to support the initial phase of research in each country (subject to funding availability)].

To launch this project on a regional level, SEAMEO SPAFA proposes the development of a preliminary research project, to be conducted by textile conservation/collections professionals or textiles historians in the museum community.

1. Cleaning

  • How to clean textiles traditionally?
  • What plants/materials/methods are or were used for cleaning?
  • What are the recipes for different ways to clean silk, cotton, other textile fibres?

2. Stain removal

  • How are or were stains removed from textiles?
  • What kinds of plants/materials are or were used to remove stains?

3. Traditional knowledge and beliefs

  • What beliefs/superstitions/protections/traditional knowledge were associated with the textiles or the care of textiles?

The objective of this research project is to gather some very basic and broad information on the history and on the traditional and regional sources of the care of historic textiles in each country.

Participants will be asked to research locally, and produce three contributions in the English language:
1. FIELD RESEARCH: The researcher must interview a minimum of TEN (10) different people.
2. RECIPES: Researchers will submit minimum two (2) recipes for making a detergent, cleaner, or stain remover, or other method to protect historic textiles.
3. SHORT REPORT: Researchers will submit a 500-800-word summary of the history of textile care and preservation in their respective country.

After receiving the research submissions, participating researchers/conservators will be invited to join a regional forum on the history of textile preservation, past and present, based on the collective
findings. This forum will be held in Bangkok, Thailand, on 23-24 August 2016 to present the collected research and data about the history of textile preservation in each country, past and bygone methods and stories, current practices, and traditional recipes for the preservation of textiles. This forum will establish the protocol and priorities for ongoing research, identify the most useful information for today’s museum’s textile professionals, and enable the exchange of knowledge. The research summaries and fieldwork reports presented at this meeting will be compiled and published by SEAMEO SPAFA and QSMT.

1. Identify, study, document, collect and compile traditional methods and materials used in textile preservation, specifically in cleaning and stain removal, from the Southeast Asian region.
2. Encourage new and innovative locally-based studies in textile conservation and preservation by Southeast Asian professionals and scholars.
3. Enhance the knowledge in conservation among Southeast Asian museum professionals by building a regional database of resources and methodologies for the continued expansion of the field of textile history and preservation.

• Regional forum organized in Bangkok, Thailand, which will tentatively be held on 23-24 August 2016 in Bangkok, Thailand, at QSMT. The tentative programme would consist of:
1. A one-day meeting held at QSMT during which each researcher presents his/her research findings, followed by a collective discussion led by SEAMEO SPAFA and QSMT, and
2. One day of hands-on activities held at and organized by QSMT during which participants will have the opportunity to try out recipes using QSMT’s laboratory facilities
• Publication of preliminary research reports on the history of textile care and preservation and recipes on traditional textile conservation methods in Southeast Asia
• Establishment of a core group of textile focused researchers and professionals, who will collaborate and form the foundation of the larger research project

• Documentation of traditional methods in cleaning and removing stains from textiles
• Heightened awareness and enhanced knowledge on the application of traditional methods and materials in textile conservation

This research project will increase interest and knowledge in traditional methods in textile conservation in the museum and conservation fields in the region. The research findings will be disseminated widely, thus creating an impact and a pool of knowledge on the subject, which will encourage further systematic studies, and possibly the reinvention of traditional techniques.

The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Centre for Archaeology and Fine Arts (SEAMEO SPAFA) and the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles (QSMT) are committed to the safeguarding of cultural heritage (both tangible and intangible) through documentation and conservation, and to the protection of the rights of the indigenous/local peoples and/or community of practitioners of traditional knowledge.

As organizations dedicated to the field of education, SEAMEO SPAFA and QSMT have jointly produced this publication and coordinated the project “Capturing and Sharing Traditional Methods in Textile Preservation in Southeast Asia” for research and educational purposes only. This publication is thus aimed at documenting traditional knowledge, educating the general public, and providing sustainable and affordable textile preservation solutions for museum professionals caring for textile collections and for the general public in caring for their personal textiles.

The recipes and methods contained herein related to the care and preservation of textiles are the intellectual property of the local and indigenous practising communities located in Southeast Asia (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam) as documented and specified by the researchers affiliated to this project.

SEAMEO SPAFA and QSMT hereby recognise that other communities may share the same or similar recipes and methods, and therefore do not hold the opinion, belief or view that the communities specified in this publication are the sole intellectual property right holders of these methods and recipes.

SEAMEO SPAFA and QSMT recognise the importance of promoting understanding of and respect for these traditional recipes and knowledge. The purpose of this project is strictly educational. It is understood that no parties in the project can profit, market, trade, or sell for commercial purposes the findings of this project and research. SEAMEO SPAFA and QSMT will review all submissions with the research parties during the review and publication period, to determine any further restrictions to the use or dissemination of traditional knowledge.

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