Hanging antique Kimono- How?
February 2, 2006 10:15 PM   Subscribe

How do I hang a 40 year-old silk kimono on a wall without damaging it?

My mom recently entrusted us with a kimono given to my grandfather for representing the proprietors of the San Francisco Tea Garden after the Japanese internment during WWII. I guess my mom likes us a lot because this kimono is beautiful and irreplaceable. We hung it on the wall with a dowel and put a shelf underneath (where the bottom hem falls) to protect it 1) from stress and 2) from our kitten.

This afternoon it looks as though there are several new small tears near the center (waist height) of the kimono, which we can only assume come from the stress the fabric is putting on itself.

Barring going to a professional art-mounter, can anyone tell us who we should talk to about how to display the kimono without destroying it? Or even how we can find out who to talk to? I tried google but it was stupid.
posted by Jeff_Larson to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Call the textile preservation division of a major museum near you. Are you in SF? You might try the Asian Art Museum or the Palace of the Legion of Honor (they frequently have textile exhibits).

I hate to tell you this, but you may well end up having it professionally mounted after all is said and done. I have an 1880's silk pieced quilt top with a beautiful graphical tumbling blocks pattern in a lot of dark and jewel colors (probably bits of suit linings and ties originally). It is wonderful -- pieced using pieces of old letters and newspapers as templates that are still visible from the back side. It was never finished, and I have the feeling the quilter passed away while finishing it.

The black pieces were rotting because of the iron used in the dyes. I ended up paying $$$ to have it mounted in a deep frame with acid free materials. It's against a black background so the holes don't show. I had it mounted by a professional framing outfit that works with SFMOMA and is used to handling textiles (Museum West, now under the name Chandler Fine Art, phone 415.546.1113). They did a beautiful job. Since I found it abandoned in an antique shop for almost nothing, I justify it by reasoning that the total cost evened out.

Good luck.
posted by Saccade at 10:38 PM on February 2, 2006

Here are some display ideas, all apparently involving a dowel or curtain rod. (Other links when you Google "kimono stand.")
posted by rob511 at 11:01 PM on February 2, 2006

rob511: Right that's how we originally hung the thing, but it was putting too much stress on the fabric.
posted by Jeff_Larson at 11:11 PM on February 2, 2006

Might be costy, but what about sandwiching it between two pieces of glass, or a wooden/pressboard/other backing, covered with a nice background cloth or mat board? I've seen picture frames where a front sheet of glass is clipped onto a backing, and something similar to that (though on a much bigger scale) would solve the weight issues.
posted by cmyk at 11:26 PM on February 2, 2006

cmyk, I've done this too, with molas (Panamanian appliques). It works well, and as you say, the pressure applied by the glass top clipped all around keeps the fabric in place. Good idea, provided a sufficiently large piece of glass could be found.
posted by Saccade at 12:30 AM on February 3, 2006

Only problem then would be the weight. I can't imagine a big sheet of glass + a backing that can withstand the weight of the sheet of glass + the matting on the back would be easy to hang. So... hmm. Maybe find the studs in the wall, hang it from hooks in the back, and bolster the weight with extra support on the bottom?

Or, just turn the whole thing into a freestanding objet d'art and rig it up in a frame with feet, same as a freestanding full-length mirror. (Bonus if you can reuse a nice old mirror frame.)

Re: something to put behind the kimono, go with acid-free archival mat board, which is found in giganstrous sheets at framing and art shops.

... now I want an old kimono to show off.
posted by cmyk at 12:50 AM on February 3, 2006

You could easily use acrylic instead of glass, if weight is a concern.
posted by odinsdream at 5:17 AM on February 3, 2006

saccade is right. Talk to a pro.
posted by desuetude at 6:11 AM on February 3, 2006

Fortunately, you have pro's on ask.me.

The first thing you need to understand is that by putting it out on display you are damaging it. No exceptions. Your best bet is building a semi-stiff form for the inside, covering it with a bleach-free muslin, and then hang the kimono at an angle (5 degrees will probably help a lot). You should also sew the kimono onto that board in a few, appropriate places - which will probably require a pro seing it. My email is in the profile if you need any more, specific advice.
posted by jmgorman at 6:49 AM on February 3, 2006

A useful starting point might be to have a read through the following Guidelines for the Care of Textiles.

I'd recommend not allowing any part of it to be in direct contact with untreated wood due to the risk from organic acids, and use padding as much as reasonably possible to eliminate strain. Finally, common sense precautions like don't hang it near a source of heat such as a radiator, as the temperature (and thus humidity) cycling will put undue stress on the materials.

And lastly, make sure it's clean - bodily residues (delightful) can wreak havoc on textiles in the long term and provide food for pests.

Basically, if it means that much to you, take it to a textile conservator. If you do choose to do that, read the "when to consult a conservator" section in the above link for help obtaining a list of qualified people.
posted by BishopsLoveScifi at 8:20 AM on February 3, 2006

As a person going to school to be a textile historian, I would try to talk you out of displaying such an irreplaceable textile. Textiles are incredibly perishable and displaying them shortens their lives. If I had a kimono like this, I
would consider donating it to a museum where it could be stored in the ideal climate, humidity and conditions. Yeah, I know that's not the answer you wanted to hear....

If you are convinced that you want to display this kimono, I recommend hanging it in a place that doesn't get a lot of light (sunlight or artificial). Light is one of the most damaging elements to an antique textile.

I think you could still hang it on a wooden beam, but first, coat the beam with a couple of layers of polyeurethane to seal it. Then, cover the wood with a bunch of polyester batting and sew unbleached muslin cover over it. You don't want the wood to touch your textile at all, as it is notorious for off-gassing...which will not only cause the fabric to deteriorate, but can cause discoloration.

You do NOT want anything that is wooden, metal or plastic to touch your kimono. I'd also recommend when you handle it, if it is fragile, either wash your hands really well or wear white cotton gloves. Handle the kimono as little as possible.

A lot of old silk starts to shatter because of a lead additive that used to be added to silk to give it a crisp texture. There's unfortunately nothing you can do about this, but you can stabilize the damaged areas by sewing a bit of cotton gauze to the underside with silk thread.

Never, ever take an antique silk textile to the dry cleaners....it will pretty much disintegrate.

When and if you decide to contact a textile conservator, you should consider contacting one of the colleges that offer degrees in textile conservation. Some of these colleges provide textile conservation services for a fee.
posted by tinaguppie at 10:41 AM on February 3, 2006

Could you be satisfied not displaying the entire, full-length kimono?

I'm thinking that after consulting an expert, you might just decide the thing is too fragile. If so, how about folding it (in a safe manner) and nestling it in an attractive box. You could have a glass or plexi lid, or even a non-transparent lid that's easy to open when you want to admire the fabric.
posted by wryly at 11:26 AM on February 3, 2006

If you do go the wood route, make sure the poly-coating is water-based and at least 3 layers thick.
posted by jmgorman at 11:50 AM on February 3, 2006

Those of you w/experience, please correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't folding a big no-no in fabric preservation?
posted by desuetude at 1:06 PM on February 3, 2006

There are a lot of situations when it's necessary to fold a large textile, quilts and kimonos are prime examples. The key is to fold the item, but avoid creating a sharp crease. You should also make thick rolls of archival, acid free tissue and place them where the fabric is bent. Then, periodically, you will need to take the garment out of it's box and refold it along different fold lines. You can get big archival boxes that will hold a kimono folded in half or thirds with the sleeves tucked inside of it.

That said, I kind of like the idea of displaying the kimono in some kind of box with maybe an angled, fabric covered foam-core platform underneath it.
posted by tinaguppie at 2:33 PM on February 3, 2006

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