Adequately characterising the physical condition of historic textiles, and understanding the microstructural changes that occur in these materials, is essential when considering appropriate conservation, display and storage strategies. Our work has concentrated on developing non-destructive or micro-destructive methodologies that will permit this for one of the most important historic fibres, silk. We have been able to demonstrate that correlations can be drawn between the physical deterioration of silk samples and certain measurable spectroscopic, chromatographic and chemical signatures. Understanding the way in which these signatures arise then allows the microstructural changes within the crystalline and amorphous content of the fibres to be investigated and more fully interpreted. The techniques developed by our group and by other researchers in the field include polarised FTIR-ATR (Pol-ATR) and near infrared (NIR) spectroscopy, HPLC microsampling analyses and pH measurements. The results of these analyses correlate to measurable mechanical properties and thus suggest that the physical state of historic silk fabrics might be adequately characterised for conservation purposes by such indirect micromethodology.
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