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Textiles Lab

This lab is widely known for its expertise in the field of textile identification and degradation. Our specialists have studied many absolute masterpieces, from questioning and analysis to the presentation of their findings at (inter)national symposia. In doing so, they often work together with partners in Belgium and abroad.

Our focus

You can contact our experts for a complete material-technical analysis of textile objects:

  • Identification and research into the degradation of natural (organic) dyes and the first synthetic organic dyes
  • Identification and examination of degradation phenomena in fibres (e.g. wool, silk, cotton and flax)
  • Composition of metal threads used in textiles (e.g. gold and silver threads, woven-in laminates)
  • Identification of additives such as mordants and weighting agents.

We mainly focus on textiles of significant artistic and historical value and fabrics likely to boost the general knowledge of materials, techniques or degradation phenomena.

In line with the increasing demand, we have also built up expertise in the study of contemporary synthetic textile items in recent years.

Textiles as the key to the past

Textiles are a very perishable part of our archaeological heritage. Our research aims to rediscover, revalue and preserve them for the future. At the same time, it provides insight into the knowledge and skills of textile production in a particular place and time.

Ina Vanden Berghe, head of the Textiles Lab: "Some dyes were only used in a certain region or during a specific period. The identification of the dyes not only tells us how the textile was made, but it can also teach us something about the geographical origin or period in which the object was made, the trade routes and relations between peoples in a particular period and even the social status of the person to whom the textile belonged."

Textile degradation

Another important aspect is the study of the degradation of the various materials. Ina Vanden Berghe: "Our solid expertise in this field allows us to examine even severely damaged textiles, such as the textiles from the Tomb of a Prince in Poprad (Slovakia), or the numerous Northern European textiles found in marshland. We can identify dyes in textiles that are completely blackened or almost completely mineralised. And we can identify fibre types from their imprint in another material or, if necessary, by analysing the amino acid composition. Our expertise in dye and fibre research is unique in Belgium and quite rare internationally."

"In addition, by studying degradation patterns, we also gain an insight into the current condition of textiles. That provides valuable information for their conservation or restoration."

In recent years, the demand for research into modern textile objects, which often become damaged or age rapidly, has increased. For this reason, we are also expanding our knowledge to include the identification of synthetic fibres and dyes and the analysis of their stability over time.

High-tech analysis techniques

The lab has an extensive range of analytical techniques at its disposal. We always choose to limit the intervention on the textile to a minimum. Therefore, we prefer to use non-invasive techniques, which do not even require a sample to be taken. When this is not possible, a micro-sample is taken. Both non-destructive and micro-destructive techniques can be applied. With the former, the sample remains usable; with the latter, only a single analysis is possible. The most appropriate analysis strategy is chosen depending on the nature of the task.

Non-invasive techniques:

  • Macro-XRF: macro X-ray fluorescence scanning

Non-destructive techniques:

  • MRS: micro Raman spectroscopy
  • FOFS: fibre optic fluorescence spectroscopy
  • FORS: fibre optic reflectance spectroscopy

Micro-destructive techniques:

  • HPLC/UHPLC - DAD: High and Ultra High performance liquid chromatography with photodiode array detection
  • HPLC/UHPLC - FL: High and Ultra High performance liquid chromatography with fluorescence detection
  • SEM-EDX: scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray detection
  • OM: optical microscopy
  • EM: electron microscopy
  • GCMS: gas chromatography with mass spectrometry.

Interdisciplinary approach

Our research is characterised by its interdisciplinary approach. Ina Vanden Berghe: "We work closely with colleagues within the Institute, such as the Radiocarbon Dating Lab and the conservation studios.

Together, we examined the mitres of Jacques de Vitry as part of the CROMIOSS project. We often join forces with the Preventive Conservation Unit, for example for the Enclosed Gardens in Mechelen. But there is more. For small and large projects, we frequently set up fruitful collaborations with external partners from Belgium and abroad, such as archaeologists, art historians, universities, museums and private collectors."

Do you have any questions? Contact us for an initial assessment or a free estimation.

Ina Vanden Berghe
Ina Vanden Berghe
Head of the lab

Our experts

Alexia Coudray
Marina Van Bos
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Maaike Vandorpe
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We will be pleased to guide you in the choice of the most suitable analysis technique or study.

Request a free quote by e-mail or telephone.

Consult our price list

For complex studies, we come on site in advance to determine the price.