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Picture Framing and Art Preservation/Using Fabric for framing. / matting

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Question
Hi, I am considering making strip quilted matting/ frames for artwork and would like some advice.  Are most fabrics considered "Acid Free"? Are some fabric materials more acid than others?  Are there any issues of fabrics contaminating certain art materials... or encasing artwork in glass with a fabric mat? if so, could you tell us?  

Thank you, I can find info on framing fabrics, but nothing on fabrics suitability for the frames themselves.

Answer
Hi Chris,

Thanks for asking about this; it's something a lot of people don't consider.

There are some fabrics that, because of their chemistry, are more or less suited for use in fabric wrapped mats. Silk, for instance, is inherently acidic (low pH) and therefore would not be good to use in close proximity to artwork. Aside from that it becomes very brittle with exposure to light and would start to degrade fairly quickly. As another example wool contains high amounts of sulfur. If you were to use wool fabric as a background in a shadowbox for silver objects they would tarnish very quickly, and the sulfur would also affect traditional photographs. Cotton on the other hand is naturally lignin-free and therefore pH neutral and is very durable.

The good news for us though is that the big names in fabrics for framing are all aware of these issues and adjust accordingly. Many of the "silk" fabrics are actually made of more durable and chemically stable fibers such as polyester.

Another question to consider is how much preservation you want. If you look at a museum environment or very preservation-minded framers you will see that they use natural cotton or linen pretty much exclusively. There are no dyes, starches, sizing or other chemicals to worry about, but even then they will be washed multiple times in water only just to be sure. The idea is to get as close as possible to natural fiber and nothing else.

To the second part of your question, when you place artwork and other materials in a frame under glass some effects will be amplified. If the fabric you used has some dyes that are offggassing they will be somewhat trapped inside the frame environment. The best way to avoid an issue like this is to simply use better fabrics to begin with. Sticking with sources for the framing industry will help you with this. Some of the bigger names, in no particular order, are:

Framing Fabrics: https://www.nnigroup.com/framingfabrics
Frank's Fabrics: http://www.franksfabrics.com
Raphael: http://www.raphaelstoday.com

If you happen to visit a local fabric store stick with undyed cotton or linen, and be sure to wash it multiple times with only water as mentioned before.

By the way, if you're a framer I hope to see you at the WCAF in a couple weeks!

Picture Framing and Art Preservation

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David Lantrip, MCPF, GCF

Expertise

I can answer questions about all aspects of framing, with special emphasis on preservation framing. Categories of artwork include works of art on paper, needlework, textiles, paintings on canvas and three-dimensional objects. Components of framing includes frames, glass/glazing, mats, mounting, their features and how to select them.

Experience

I have been a professional picture framer and educator in the field since 1994, including framing education for a major franchisor encompassing three brands and the Professional Picture Framers Association, and writing and teaching for DECOR Magazine.

Organizations
Professional Picture Framers Association (PPFA) > Board member, PPFA > Member, Certification Board > Member, Chapter relations Committee National Society, Sons of the American Revolution (NSSAR)

Publications
DECOR Magazine, 2005 - 2010 PPFA For Members Only newsletter Member of the PPFA Guidelines task force, assisted in writing PPFA Guidelines for Framing Works of Art on Paper and PPFA Guidelines for Framing Works of Art on Canvas, and PPFA Guidelines for Framing Textiles and Needlework. Picture Framing Magazine, 2012

Education/Credentials
Georgia State University, many classes as a student and educator through the Professional Picture Framers Association and DECOR Magazine. Current member of the PPFA guidelines task force and certification board.

Awards and Honors
Earned Certified Picture Framer (CPF) designation in 1996, Master Certified Picture Framer (MCPF) designation in 2004 and Guild Commended Framer (GCF) status in 2008.

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