On April 2, 2011, Doug Klingensmith,
a materials research engineer at the University of California at Santa Barbara, gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program, here at The Textile Museum in which he talked about:
1) his adventures in attempting to repair or conserve rugs and other textiles, and
2) his beginning exploration of the application of some materials testing methods to wool.
He explained that he is a novice collector with minimal experience in the textile world, since most people in California collect personal electronic devices rather than antiques.
Doug was in town because he was conducting some experiments for his department, using Bureau of Standards (aka NIST) facilities and equipment.
He said that he felt like he’s spent much of his life, listening to dull, tedious technical presentations and that he was determined not to conduct another.
His first slide suggested that he could deliver. It said:
Never Mix Engineers and Old Wool
That was a good start: no dull, technical stuff so far. So we listened up.
Doug said that he inherited his engineering tendencies legitimately, that his father had them too.
He shared this picture of his dad tinkering with a 1928 Austin in England during WWII.
Dad said he kept it because the engine always died in front of a pub.
He blamed his dog Yogi for his weaving obsession.
There was a major home remodel about 10 years ago.
He recommends projects like this as a relaxing and inexpensive way to bring a family closer together.
He removed the acoustic ceiling and replaced carpet with hardwood floors.
When the dog barked the house rang like a bell; this led to an innocent search for a few area rugs -just to reduce the noise of course – and the journey to textile obsession had begun.
In a short while he had gravitated to tribal carpets and flatweaves.
Things became more complicated when his engineering impulse emerged. During a Thanksgiving visit, he noticed a rug on the floor of his in-laws’ house. It looked old and beautiful, but battered and disintegrating.
His mother in law complained that it required frequent vacuuming since little bits of yarn were continually falling off.
He posted some photos on the Turkotek website and was advised that the rug had merit and was worth repairing.
The owners were not at all interested in spending the estimated repair cost, and decided to simply leave the rug on the floor until it finished decomposing.
Unwilling to see that happen, and full of naive enthusiasm, Doug offered to “fix it”. How hard could it be?
Like all good engineers he looked for a repair manual, and found Peter Stone’s excellent book on repairing oriental rugs.
After a lot of clumsy trial and error, this is how it turned out.
Encouraged by this result, he next tried his hand on a $19 bag face he had found on Ebay,
This repair required adding length to the warps along the bottom edge.
Stone’s graphic, showing how one extends a missing area of warp, is, Doug said, one of the most useful things he has encountered in this excellent book.
Again, here is the piece after repair.
Doug next showed how he used Stone’s warp extension method on a rug with lots of “chickens” in its design, that had a “bite” out of one corner.
The corner of the rug is stapled to a small wooden frame.The pile has not yet been trimmed. That is the fun part.
The warp extensions can be inserted with a needle while the piece is unsupported by a frame.
He said that it’s critical that the warp material you are adding, in the area supplemented, be the same diameter as the original warps.
After rewarping Doug stabilizes the piece by attaching it to a frame and pulling the warps taut, before beginning the repiling.
Doug has also done some repair of flatwoven pieces, something Marla Mallett has told me requires distinctive skills.
Here are some images of a Shahsavan mafrash side panel before repairs.
Doug said that, although it can’t be seen in the image above, this repair job was an occasion for a real beginner’s mistake on his part.
He did not wash this piece before repairing it and, in fact, went to the trouble of darkening (with tea) the materials he was using to repair the “white star” because the original white cotton was a little dingy
He decided to wash the piece after repair; the original cotton cleaned up nicely, leaving the carefully tea-stained repair on its own…
Marla gave him a tip that has proven golden- when repairing damaged white cotton in soumak pieces it is much easier to use wool yarn of the same tone and size.
Below is another Shahsavan mafrash panel before Doug’s repair of it.
Here is one area of particular need.
And this is the piece after repair.
The next piece was a sumak mafrash side panel with corners that needed work.
Here are the repair steps.
And here is an after repair image of this piece.
Doug talked next about a phenomenon that is occurring in the rug world at the moment and drawing some attention.
Over the last several years the number of antique Caucasian tribal rugs in excellent condition has increased remarkably.
He listed some typical descriptions of a few pieces being offered in large numbers each day the on the web .
The sudden huge inventory of classic pieces seems too good to be true. Here is an array of eight of the 21 “eagle Kazaks” that were recently offered on the same day:
Many people in the textile community doubt the authenticity of many of these new arrivals. He said that he knows of some antique rug dealers who say they have stopped buying such rugs because they can no longer tell what they are. It is widely believed that many have been recently made.
A material properties engineer would naturally wonder if there are systematic differences in the physical characteristics and behavior of new wool vs. old.
He came across a reference on the Turkotek website to an article by someone who had used mechanical properties test techniques to investigate the age of textile fibers : Randall R. Bresee, a now retired materials research engineer, from the University of Tennessee.
Mr. Bresee’s article is available on the web. You can read it at:
Doug has contacted Mr. Bresee, who is now an accomplished landscape photographer. He is interested in the work Doug is beginning to do and offered some advice and suggestions .
Doug took advantage of the good nature and curiosity of Kirk Fields, the head mechanical test engineer at UCSB, and began a few preliminary tests.
The new wool “control group” was provided by Marla Mallett in the form of recently acquired un-dyed wool from the Bergama area.
The old wool for comparison was taken from some antique pieces from the collection of John Howe (that’s me) .
This is a rug that many of you have seen images of before. Its age has been variously estimated as early 19th century, 18th century, and one experienced person thinks it might be even older. It is, I think, likely the oldest pile piece I own.
I had also given Doug samples from a Turkman chuval fragment (what we used to call “Ersari”)
with an ikat design that has always seemed “old” to me on the basis of the drawing of the “throat” of the ikat gul and the “lit from within” color of one of its ground reds. He tested these fibers as well.
Preliminary efforts have been limited to taking individual undyed warp wool fibers from these groups and conducting tensile elasticity tests. A few single fibers were carefully removed from the central part of the warp yarns in an effort to minimize unavoidable effects of light and wear.
Total elasticity is a fundamental mechanical property – simply the percentage of original length a material will stretch before failure.
Doug showed movies of several of the tests which we cant include in the format of this post. Instead we show a few frames that demonstrate the difference in elongation between the new & old materials.
When my wife and I were driving around western and central Turkey in 2005, we encountered, as we came into the Cappadocia area, what I assumed was an obligatory “tourist” camel along the road.
I took photos and, since it was moulting, gathered some of its hair, which I subsequently passed on to Doug.
He tested fibers from this sample, too.
Doug said that at one point he had a rug with a Caucasian design
that a knowledgeable friend described as typical “Soviet era” production from the first half of the 20th century.
Doug took samples from this rug as likely of a middling age between his “old” and “new” samples.
He conducted tests on these samples as well.
He conducted 8-10 elongation tests on: 1) the new Bergama wool, 2) the wool from the “old” Anatolian village rug, 3) the seeming older ikat “Ersari” chuval fragment, and 4) the “Soviet-era” Caucasian rug.
He summarized his results in the bar graph below.
Average Percent Total Fiber Elongation: 8 to 10 Tests Per Rug
Doug did not draw any specific conclusions from these tests. Although there are clear systematic elasticity differences between new wool and older wool it is not known how the life events in older wool or how efforts to age wool artificially may affect test results.
For me, as a clear “man-on-the-street,” is was interesting that the results from the fibers of the “older? “Ersari,” with the ikat guls, seem noticeably lower than those from the Anatolian village rug that is generally rated “old.” It is also interesting to me that the fibers from the “Soviet era” Caucasian rug produce a “middling” result that might be expected for them.
Doug had two other side-by-side bar graphs, depicted the multiple individual test results from the “new Bergama” fibers, as compared with those from, the “old ‘Ersari'” chuval fragment.
While there is clear variation between tests of the fibers for each of these pieces, the basic relationship of results is confirmed by each individual test.
Doug believes that it possible that the fracture patterns of rugs of different ages may contain information that could help in age estimates.
He has only begun to work with this aspect, but had two electron microscope images of two different new Bergama wool fibers.
Here is the first one.
Here is the second new Bergama wool fiber.
These fibers are smaller than a single human hair. Unfortunately no fracture images from old wool were available in time for this presentation.
Some other ways to “mess around” with old wool were discussed:
Doug has a complete flatwoven mafrash transport bag of which the image below is a detail.
He has built a “toy” box, fashioning a panel of beautifully-grained wenge wood for its top and trim, and has used this complete mafrash bag as the covering for its sides and bottom.
Since most folks who use complete mafrash bags as coffee table covers put them on the table upside down, with the bottom of the bag over its wooden top, Doug was asked how he keeps the sides of the mafrash on his toy chest from sliding down.
He said that although the box was built to fit the bag, rather closely, there is a little space into which he has stuffed cardboard in places to tighten the fit. In addition, he said, the lip around the top has a little space that permits him to tack the piece at its top (the lip then hides the tacks) if that is needed. A member of the audience pointed out that art board would be a safer/more inert material for padding the sides of the box.
Doug had a couple more before & after examples of pieces he had worked on.
Doug noted the alternatives to extensive repair of a damaged piece. Many collectors choose conservation strategies, often couching the damaged piece, as is, onto a contrasting backing fabric.
Here are a pair of panels mounted in the “as found’ condition
Sometimes partial repair of a damaged textile is an option
Only the corroded brown field in this old chanteh was rewoven
He leaves to you the estimate of whether this partial repair strategy is best in this instance.
Doug said that most of his textiles are displayed in a single room of their house.
A few years ago, Wendel Swan gave a TM “rug morning” in which he offered a typology of textile display strategies. It included at least three, that I can remember. First, was a “museum” approach, then there was a “decorating” one, and third, was one he described as the “yurt” approach to display.
Doug said that he suspected that his dedicated room falls into the “yurt” display category.
He invited folks to visit him and his wife Leslie in Santa Barbara and said that this (there is a roll-away underneath) is where you will sleep.
While Doug’s dedicated display room projects the intensity of a “yurt” approach to display, I think he may pay a bit too much attention to good lighting to qualify fully.
Doug and Leslie own a chocolate Labrador Retriever, named “Yogi” who thanks you for your virtual attendance at Doug’s TM session, and who sends you good “ruggie” wishes, here at the end.
Doug answered questions,
and adjourned the session and the “after” conversations started up.
Doug’s wife, Leslie, had come with him on this trip.
I thank Doug for presenting this program, and for his very real help in producing and editing this virtual version of it.
I hope you have enjoyed Doug’s sharing of his adventures in personal textile repair and his suggestions about some directions the study of physical characteristics of wool might take in aiding age estimates.
R. John Howe