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Toile Tales: Conservation of European Printed Textiles

March 30, 2002–June 1, 2003

This installation from the department of Costume and Textiles shows how curators and conservators preserve printed textiles in the museum’s collection. The display focuses on two projects: conservation of the Ormerod Bedcover, one of the most important pieces in the museum’s collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English textiles, and treatment of the Henri Clouzot collection of seventeenth- to nineteenth-century French textiles. Painstaking conservation procedures protect the pieces’ value as works of art and as documentation of social and industrial history.

Colorful, lightweight printed textiles, which came to be known as toile or chintz, first appeared in Europe in the mid-seventeenth century as imports from India. By the late eighteenth century, for the first time in history, all levels of society—from washerwomen to Empress Josephine Bonaparte—were using washable, bright, colorfast fabrics for clothing and decorations for their homes. The huge market for printed cottons was the catalyst behind the mechanization of the textile industry, a major element of the industrial revolution.

Main Building


Sara Reiter, Assistant Conservator of Costume and Textiles

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