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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Production and validation of model iron-tannate dyed textiles for use as historic textile substitutes in stabilisation treatment studies

Helen Wilson12*, Chris Carr1 and Marei Hacke2

Author Affiliations

1 Textiles and Paper, The School of Materials, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK

2 Department of Conservation and Scientific Research, British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG, UK

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Chemistry Central Journal 2012, 6:44  doi:10.1186/1752-153X-6-44

Published: 22 May 2012



For millennia, iron-tannate dyes have been used to colour ceremonial and domestic objects shades of black, grey, or brown. Surviving iron-tannate dyed objects are part of our cultural heritage but their existence is threatened by the dye itself which can accelerate oxidation and acid hydrolysis of the substrate. This causes many iron-tannate dyed textiles to discolour and decrease in tensile strength and flexibility at a faster rate than equivalent undyed textiles. The current lack of suitable stabilisation treatments means that many historic iron-tannate dyed objects are rapidly crumbling to dust with the knowledge and value they hold being lost forever.

This paper describes the production, characterisation, and validation of model iron-tannate dyed textiles as substitutes for historic iron-tannate dyed textiles in the development of stabilisation treatments. Spectrophotometry, surface pH, tensile testing, SEM-EDX, and XRF have been used to characterise the model textiles.


On application to textiles, the model dyes imparted mid to dark blue-grey colouration, an immediate tensile strength loss of the textiles and an increase in surface acidity. The dyes introduced significant quantities of iron into the textiles which was distributed in the exterior and interior of the cotton, abaca, and silk fibres but only in the exterior of the wool fibres. As seen with historic iron-tannate dyed objects, the dyed cotton, abaca, and silk textiles lost tensile strength faster and more significantly than undyed equivalents during accelerated thermal ageing and all of the dyed model textiles, most notably the cotton, discoloured more than the undyed equivalents on ageing.


The abaca, cotton, and silk model textiles are judged to be suitable for use as substitutes for cultural heritage materials in the testing of stabilisation treatments.

Graphical abstract