Research team

Expertise

Natalia Ortega Saez has expertise in materials science and materials research, degradation and conservation of organic materials such as; interior textiles, archaeological textiles, fashion and costume, natural dyes, leather and early synthetic materials. Within her thesis research she developed an interdisciplinary methodology to approach textile conservation from both the human and exact sciences. In particular, the methodology combines the interpretation and reproduction of historical technology as documented in written sources (e.g., recipes) on the one hand, and the material-technical characterization of historical objects on the other. To this end, recipes for wool dyeing were reproduced in a laboratory environment and artificially aged to assess various degradation phenomena such as the reduction of tensile strength and the fading of dye colors. This integrated study of the history, technology, and practice of textile dyeing was conducted with the specific goal of increasing our understanding of the long-term behavior of historic textiles and developing appropriate conservation strategies.

Heritage of colors: Textile dyeing in the Low Countries (17th century): understanding historical technology and ensuing conservation issues. 01/10/2022 - 30/09/2026

Abstract

This research focuses on the historical technology used to dye textiles in the heydays of the textile production in the low countries (i.e. 16th-17th century). Being the most important industrial sector from the middle ages up to and including the first industrial revolution, the manufacture and dyeing of textiles plays a prominent role in the history of technology. Dyeing must have been crucial for any impact craftsmen had on the scientific revolution, as it involved intimate knowledge on a broad range of raw materials and chemical processes in order to obtain a wash and light-fast finished product. However, until now, literature mostly focused on the economy and trade of textiles, while the underlying technology that was necessary for its production was largely neglected. Therefore, we propose a multifaceted approach, involving human and natural sciences, that will bring to the surface ideas that are latent in strictly text based approaches. In particular, we propose expanding the knowledge on practical dyeing customs by deciphering and assessing historical recipes, followed by the reproduction of historical materials and this in order to (a) understand all aspects of the process of making and (b) study degradation parameters. The latter is done through artificial ageing and testing of the reproduced materials. Finally, the characterization (by chemical analysis) of historical well-dated textiles will allow evaluating how closely practical dyeing and recipes are aligned.

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  • Research Project

SAFESILK: Understanding, preventing and treating metal salt-induced silk degradation in heritage collections. 01/01/2022 - 31/12/2025

Abstract

Although silk, due to its superior qualities, has been a high-end material since its earliest use, this biopolymer is highly prone to environmental degradation. In the 19th c., a treatment with metals salts was introduced for dyeing and increasing weight. The presence of these reactive substances in close proximity to the vulnerable base material resulted in a significant number of degrading silk objects in present-day heritage collections. As to date no conservation treatment proved effective, metal-induced silk degradation is a major concern for museums. This research aims at understanding, preventing and treating affected objects by combining the partners' expertise on chemical analysis, historical technology, collection management and conservation treatment. We propose unraveling the degradation pathways and assessing the influence of various harmful internal and external parameters. This will be done by producing self-synthetized and artificially aged equivalents of historical material, followed by their chemical characterization. The validity of the insights obtained on these 'mock-ups' will be benchmarked by analysis of a number of historical study objects. The results will be incorporated into a hands-on decision tool for the everyday collection management of a museum, via the development of a 'damage function'. Finally, the aptness of two enzyme treatments, recently developed for industry, will be evaluated for the consolidation of degrading historical silk fabrics.

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  • Research Project

Exhibition DRESS.CODE 01/09/2020 - 30/09/2020

Abstract

A missing jacket button, a brightly coloured fitted dress, a hidden pocket in a waistcoat, a dress with full leg-of-mutton sleeves, and a custom wool suit: what stories do these garments tell? The dresses, hats, jewellery, and shoes at the Fashion Museum Hasselt were carefully chosen, worn, and cherished by their owners and are intimately linked to memories, emotions, and adventures. They form a tangible testament to individual histories and lives lived. For DRESS.CODE., the Fashion Museum Hasselt delved deep into its extensive archives in search of these hidden narratives.

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  • Research Project

Unraveling the origins, technical history and sciences behind the colouring of textiles, Conste des ververs, 1619-1623. 01/07/2020 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

This research will focus on Conste des Ververs a unique and rather unknown Flemish dyers manuscript kept in the archives of Leuven. Dated 1619-1623 and written by Henricus Coghen a dyer who lived and worked in Leuven. Wool silk, linen and feathers were the materials to be dyed. Human and natural sciences will be involved unravelling the research on the origin of the dyeing techniques used in early seventeenth century in Brabant, Leuven. In order to better understand the used techniques, ingredients and materiality. The manuscript will be transcribed and the historical recipes will be reconstructed. This project focusses on the origins and dyeing techniques used in the manuscript. Relations between the manuscript Conste des Ververs and an existing recipe corpus from fifteenth to seventeenth European recipes books will be explored. This will enable to shed a light on the circulation of knowledge in the written and printed historical recipes during the seventeenth century. Although a substantial part of this research will focus on the historical making processes and the partly forgotten source materials and techniques that were known by craftsman. This will be done by 're-working' the transcribed recipes from the manuscript Conste des Ververs. This research wants to generate and address salient research questions that would not have been raised by text-based analysis alone. The purpose of this study is to understand the process of making, and the partly forgotten source materials and techniques, by unravelling historical recipes and reconstruct them in order to understand technique and materiality. In addition this method of working develops a new methodology and procedure to study historical coloured textile materials.

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  • Research Project

Conservation and research of two banners 01/10/2019 - 30/06/2021

Abstract

Conservation and research of two nineteenth century banners. This project focusses on the preservation and future deterioration and damage of two flags from the Sint-Joris guild. Both flags are made of silk and are extremely fragile therefore they require a conservation treatment.

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  • Research Project

Preliminary investigation textile collection in the Castle from Gaasbeek 03/04/2019 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

Work: Preliminary discipline textile Domeain: Castle Gaasbeek Adress: Kasteelstraat 40 1750 Gaasbeek, building number: P23010 Number: 2019/HFB/OBW/ B00234 Material and technical research of valuable textiles textiles. Conservation advise for tapestries, chimney textiles, curtain caps and wall coverings in the castle of Gaasbeek. This preliminary research consist in a material description and advice for conservation. Following textiles were studied, 12 tapestries, 3 Chimney textiles, 6 curtain caps and 3 wall coverings.

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  • Research Project

Conservation of two banners 01/01/2019 - 30/06/2020

Abstract

Conservation and material research two 19th century banners. One banner is painted. In the first place a material and historical research will be caried out by the students. The identification and the morphology of the silk fibres will be investigated with the optical microscope. The silk and the painted parts in the second banner will be cleaned and fragile parts will be supported. A tube will be provided to store the unpainted banner. The painted banner will be stored on an acid free cardboard.

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  • Research Project

Conservation of a banner from Sint-Sebastian 01/01/2018 - 30/06/2019

Abstract

Conservation and material research of a 19th century silk flag from Retie. In the first place a material and historical research will be caried out by the students. The identification and the morphology of the silk fibres will be investigated with the optical microscope. The silk will be cleaned and fragile parts will be supported. A tube will be provided to store the object.

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  • Research Project

Conservation treatment of a nineteenth century banner from the Sint-Michiels church in Antwerp 15/09/2017 - 12/07/2018

Abstract

Conservation of nineteenth century banner of the Sint Michiel church in Antwerp. The conservation treatment consist in the cleaning of the metal threats and the consolidation of the deteriorated silk medaillons.

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  • Research Project

Conservation of an 18th century costume collection Mergelynck 01/10/2015 - 30/06/2017

Abstract

In this project a 18th century costume collection is studied and conserved. The study focusses on historical and material research such as fibre analysis, a technical research of the used techniques and a pattern study.

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  • Research Project

Study Collections a challenging context within universities and museums. 15/07/2014 - 01/10/2016

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand the Flemish Public Service. UA provides the Flemish Public Service research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

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  • Research Project

Black dyes used in the textile industry from 1600-1856: historical sources versus objects. 01/01/2010 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

This project aims to understand the use of iron compounds in black dyeing of textiles and the implications on the degradation, conservation (early modern period, Antwerp). Our hypothesis is that despite the prohibition on the cheap and bad dye processes by the crafts, in practice it was much more used than historical sources suggest. Our approach is technological history, as reflected in written sources come forward to confront research on ancient textiles.

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  • Research Project