Bead embroidery "By the rivers of Babylon"

Title Bead embroidery "By the rivers of Babylon"
Date 1840-50s
Material Beads, linen, wood, plaster, paper, canvas, silk and cotton threads
Size 33,5 х 40 cm
Conservator(s) Sergey Nikitin
Olyesya Popova
Maxim Tolstyakov
Workshop Objects Conservation

In 2015, we began conservation treatments of E. Makaseeva's collection, which was donated to the Private Collections Department in 2004. Most of it - beadwork (paintings, purse blanks, handbags, purses, bellpull) - had already been conserved. The heavily soiled and crumbling beads and loosened frame construction caused concern about further storage of the item.

There were difficulties in cleaning the beads, which had never happened before. When looking closely under an optical microscope it was noted that the silk threads attached to the beads were very loose and brittle. We do not know how the composition of glass and metal beads can affect the preservation of silk. Silk threads are a solidified secretion of special caterpillar glands; the physical properties of the threads are firmness, elasticity and hygroscopicity. But during their manufacture these properties are reduced by 30-45 %, possibly also the content of impurities harmful to the threads in the beads can have a bad effect on their preservation.

Before cleaning, solutions are tested to remove surface dirt from the beads. At the slightest physical contact with the embroidery, the beads would fall off, tearing the silk threads of the tacking. Therefore the usual techniques of bead cleaning could not be applied. In the course of lengthy discussions with conservators of glass, porcelain, ceramics and stone it was decided to try cleaning using new detergents for removing persistent surface soiling developed by specialists from the Kurchatov Institute in the process of researching complex contamination of marble reliefs from the museum's collection.

The optimum detergent for cleaning the beads was chosen. The prepared solution was applied to cotton swabs, which were spread on the beads' surface. After some time, surface contamination was easily removed. As it was not possible to make any chemical-physical investigations during the work, the cleaning was carried out under a microscope. Besides, the following work was carried out: dismantling, dedusting, removing paper from the back of the embroidery, removing old décor from the frame, taking impressions for lost frame fragments, making plaster décor, replenishing losses in the woodwork, cleaning persistent surface dirt off the beads, spot reinforcement of crumbling beads, cleaning of the canvas, on which the embroidery is stretched, mechanical cleaning of surface dirt from the frame, covering the upper and lower edges of the embroidery with a painted linen cloth, repairing the frame decoration, masticating, retouching with a protective layer of paint, mounting the embroidery in the frame and replacing the glass with a Plexi.