Wrapping up the cat mummy

Speaking of Abydos, let’s get back to our cat mummy, which was excavated from a cemetery there back in 1901-02. Our summer intern Anna O’Neill will describe how she carried out the conservation treatment on this very fragile object:

Hello again.  You may remember that last time I wrote about this cat mummy, I got a little distracted.  But this time I’d like to focus on the treatment process.  Many of our mummies are in remarkably good condition, with wrappings that are stable and that can withstand handling (albeit with care).  Not so with this cat.

cat mummy 1When plant-based fibers age, the cellulose that gives them structure decays and the fibers become brittle.  Badly aged linen can fall apart at the lightest touch, leaving loose fragments and powder on the surface of the object.  The linen on top of this cat mummy was torn and obscured by dust, but the real problem was underneath.  Prior to treatment, Molly and I carefully turned the mummy a little so we could see below—and quickly (but gently) put it back!  As you can see in the image below, the layers of linen were falling apart and the threads that had criss-crossed the layers were broken and hanging off.

cat mummy 2We decided to wrap the mummy in nylon netting, which would hold everything in place while keeping the surface visible.  This would be a non-invasive, completely reversible process that would allow the mummy to be safely handled and studied.

Before wrapping, I gave the mummy a light surface cleaning with a variable-speed HEPA-filtered vacuum.  Using a nozzle attachment fitted with a screen, I carefully removed the powder on the top of the mummy.  The linen—though torn—was still soft and flexible, like modern fabric.

cat mummy 3Then, I toned the netting to match the color of the mummy using acrylic paint.  Once the paint was dry, I positioned the netting across the top of the mummy and pinned it in place.  The flip was simple but nerve-wracking—we knew from our quick peek earlier that the underside was in bad shape, but we didn’t know to what extent.  With Molly’s help, I turned the mummy over so that all of the powder, torn linen and broken threads were now on top.

cat mummy 4Since the thick layer of compressed linen powder completely obscured the wrappings below, I again vacuumed the mummy, using a screen to filter out the powder while keeping everything else in place.  A vacuum may seem like an odd conservation tool (I got some weird looks as I hoovered the cat), but with the filter over the nozzle and variable suction control, there’s no danger of sucking up the entire object.

cat mummy 5

The underside of the mummy after cleaning. It may not look like much, but it’s better!

With the underside of the cat finally visible, I sewed the netting up the middle using a flat-felled seam.  As the name implies, this created a neat seam with a flat profile.

cat mummy 6

Overall view of the underside of the cat mummy (after treatment)

Overall view of the top of the cat mummy (after treatment)

Overall view of the top of the cat mummy (after treatment)

Now that the linen wrappings are encapsulated, the little cat mummy can be handled and studied, and it can (hopefully) be x-radiographed this fall.  It still may not have its head, but at least it won’t be losing any more of itself any time soon.

 

Preparing to “re-wrap” PUM I

It’s been a busy week in the Artifact Lab, and I was fortunate to have lots of help from our University of Delaware pre-program intern Melissa Miller and our summer graduate intern from Cardiff University’s conservation program, Anna O’Neill.

Anna O'Neill repairs the linen on one side of PUM I's body

Anna O’Neill repairs the linen on one side of PUM I’s body

As I’ve written about previously, I have been working on the stabilization of some of PUM I’s linen on his head, chest, and body. You can read a little more about it by following this link.

This week, Melissa, Anna and I continued to relocate and repair detached linen fragments from the outer shroud and the narrow bands wrapped around PUM I (thanks to Tom Stanley in our Public Relations office, there’s a great photo of us doing this work on the museum’s facebook page). Just to give you an idea of what is involved, here are some photos documenting the process:

From top left: detached linen before reattaching with strips of Japanese tissue paper (indicated by red arrows), after reattachment, and after rejoining with the rest of the surrounding linen

From top left: detached linen before reattaching with strips of Japanese tissue paper (indicated by red arrows), after reattachment, and after rejoining with the rest of the surrounding linen

All of this work is in preparation for the encapsulation of PUM I’s outer shroud using nylon bobbinett, or netting. Encapsulating the mummy with a sheer material like the nylon netting will help to hold many of these fragile areas together and will provide support and protection for this very deteriorated fabric, BUT because it is so sheer, it will still allow details of the linen to be seen. I used a similar technique to protect the linen on the “feet” of our falcon mummy (see our post about this here).

The nylon netting is white, so we need to tone it to a color similar to the linen before use. Yesterday, Anna worked diligently to find an appropriate color – here is a shot of her color matching and testing in progress:

PUMI toning nettingRe-creating the color of “mummy cloth” is harder than you’d think – the linen is not all the same color, so we need to find a color that will blend in well with the various shades.

In the upcoming weeks we hope to start “re-wrapping” PUM I and then begin the process to reassemble all of his various pieces. As usual, there’s always something exciting to see in the Artifact Lab!

 

Giving our falcon a little love

One of my favorite artifacts in the lab is a falcon mummy, which I described in an earlier post. While he is a fascinating object, this poor little guy hasn’t been able to be exhibited, or even handled very much, because some of his linen wrappings are quite deteriorated, brittle, and breaking apart, causing serious structural issues.

Overall shot of our falcon mummy

Recently, I worked to stabilize the linen wrappings on his feet, which were partially detached, and in some areas, barely hanging on by a few threads.

Side view of the falcon’s “feet” showing the fragile, partially detached linen wrappings

Before carrying out any treatment, I did a little bit of research and carried out some testing to determine what materials I might want to use to repair the textile. I knew that a stitched repair would not be possible, as the linen fibers are far too weak and this would likely cause further damage, so I started investigating different adhesives and support materials to use instead. As part of this process, I consulted with Nancy Love, a local conservator in private practice who specializes in textiles. Nancy recently visited me in the Artifact Lab, and among the other materials I was trying, she suggested that I experiment with nylon bobbinett, a heatset nylon net.

I did some experimentation with it, and I really liked how it behaves, both as a support fabric and as an overlay to protect fragile areas-it drapes well and can be toned easily with dyes or paint. After feeling satisfied with the results of some of my tests, I set out to repair the damaged linen over the falcon’s feet.

I started by toning the bobbinett with Golden acrylic paint. Then I backed the fabric that was dangling off the back of the foot with the toned bobbinett lightly coated with 10% methylcellulose in water. I then used the bobbinett support fabric to raise the partially detached fabric up into place, secured temporarily with pins.

After positioning the linen, I covered the entire back of the foot area with another piece of toned nylon bobbinett.

The back of the foot area with an overlay of the toned nylon bobbinett, after treatment

Finally, I tacked down the strip of linen over the top of the feet, which was also partially detached but otherwise fairly stable, using small beads of methylcellulose. Reattaching the linen over this area also hid the edge of the nylon bobbinett overlay.

View of the front of the foot wrappings, after treatment

I’m pleased with the results, and I can now breathe a sigh of relief that we’re not going to lose any more of the linen from this area. My next task will be to address the falcon’s partially detached head/neck area. Hang in there, little guy!