Brianna Mckeen

Breech in Time: Identifying and Dating Historical Textiles using ATR-FT-IR and HPLC-UV/Vis

April 4, 2021   /  

Name: Brianna McKeen
Majors: Chemistry, History
Advisors: Dr. Karl Feierabend, Dr. Madonna Hettinger

Textile fibers are used in making most everyday items: clothing, carpets, furniture, ropes, and bags. The identification of these fibers is important as they form a significant part of cultural heritage. The best way to identify textiles is using a nondestructive method, such as ATR-FT-IR which is used in this study. Additionally, it is important to date textiles as they can give great insight into the past and the way people interacted and moved throughout society. Dating textiles also ensures that the history being told about a textile is accurate. This ensures that information presented to the public in museums is accurate and truly reflects the historical garment being presented. Without proper dating, museums often have to rely on the information that was given about a historical garment at the time it was donated. This information can be hard to confirm or research as it is most often a small amount of information presented on a note card. This problem with dating garments is most present at small museums that rely on volunteers for research. Dating textiles can be done in a non-destructive manner using mathematical ratios between ATR-FT-IR peaks. However, a more accurate date range can be found by identifying dyes found on a textile using HPLC-UV/Vis, which destroys a small part of a textile sample. In this study, both ATR-FT-IR and HPLC-UV/Vis will be used and to identify the textile used in and date a pair of breeches believed to be from the Revolutionary War.

Brianna will be online to field comments on April 16:
10am-noon EDT (Asia: late evening, PST: 6-8am, Africa/Europe: late afternoon)

38 thoughts on “Breech in Time: Identifying and Dating Historical Textiles using ATR-FT-IR and HPLC-UV/Vis”

  1. A wonderfully interdisciplinary project, Bree! Congratulations and brava on this inspiring and creative work!

  2. Those breeches look…really uncomfortable! I’m interested in your FT-IR data. Do I see evidence for a carbonyl signal? A sample like yours is far more complex than the “simple” ones we use in Organic Chemistry lab, but I’m curious to what extend you were able to make connections between IR data, functional groups, and chemical structure / composition of the sample.

    1. I’m sure the breeches were uncomfortable! They were very stiff when I was taking samples from them. I was mainly looking for points of comparison between my known samples and my historical samples, so I didn’t take as much note of the functional groups or chemical structure. I mainly used the IR data to determine the date of the pants based on mathematical relationships from previous research.

  3. Interesting work Bree! It is interesting to see your bridging of fields. Do you have a sense of potential classes of dyes that may be in this piece?

    1. From my research, I believe that the dye present on the pants would be a Flavonoid; specifically, Luteolin. However, I was not successful in extracting a high enough concentration of dye to confirm this.

  4. This is a very interesting project. Can mass spectrometry assist in the dating of the fabric?

    1. Since mass spectrometry can help identify any dye that might be present on the pants, it would be helpful in dating the fabric! After a dye is determined it can help narrow down the range of dates that the pants would have been produced as it would need to line up with when the dye was being used.

  5. This is a really interesting project. I love how you’ve taken a problem in one discipline and thought across disciplines to develop new ways to bridge our gaps in knowledge.

  6. What are your plans post-Wooster? Do you intend to continue this type of work identifying and preserving historical artifacts? Were you able to get any hands on experiences while at Wooster in museums? Thank you for sharing your interesting research.

    1. Post-Wooster, I plan to get an internship or job in the field of museum conservation. Eventually, I would like to go back to school and get a degree in museum conservation. Last summer, I was able to volunteer at my local historical society, but that is all the experience I’ve had working at museums. Most museums were closed due to COVID, and the previous summer I did the Wooster Summer in Tuscany Program! I did get to visit many museums on with the Wooster Summer in Tuscany trip, which inspired my passion for museum work.

  7. This project is so cool! I would love to know more about the extraction method you ended up using. What procedure did you use, and what sorts of challenges came from it?

    1. I ended up using two different extraction methods. One was a four step process to using 1) methanol, acetone, and water; 2) pyridine and water; 3) DMSO; and 4) HCl. For the second process, I only used the first three steps. The main issue I ran into was figuring out if there was any dye present in the sample and if the extraction samples were concentrated enough. I only used 1mL for each step, so there wasn’t a lot of material to work with. Additionally, this method was only used on silk before which created a problem as my sample was wool, so I didn’t know if the method would work at all.

  8. An excellent combination of History and Chemistry Bree!

    I’m intrigued about the method used to date the extract you took. Is it possible to explain in layman’s terms how your process dates the sample?

    1. Thank you Cormac!

      The IR method that I used to date the pants was based on previous research. They had determined that different parts of the spectrum change with age while other areas stayed the same. Because of this relationship, I was able to use a mathematical formula to compare the two areas and determine a date range for the pants! I also tried to see if I could identify the dye present on the pants. If I was able to do this, I would have been able to look up when that dye was used to determine a range of dates that the pants could have been made in.

  9. Congratulations, Bree! If you could go back and offer advice to your Junior IS or fall self, what would it be?

    1. Thank you Dr. Morris!
      I would tell myself not to worry so much about the outcome of IS or getting all of the answers because the process and what you learn along the way is more important.

  10. This is so cool! I’d never considered how important chemistry can be in the field of history. I’m so impressed and proud of you!

    1. Thank you Holly! I think my favorite part was getting to learn how to use different instruments to collect data. I had never really used the HPLC-UV/Vis in depth before. It was really cool to get to see the data in a 3-D format!

  11. Congrats, Bree! I think it’s really cool how you were able to combine your two majors.

  12. Bree, It’s exciting to think of how your work could have an impact on not only the preservation of historical textiles, but also on the way museums and historical societies can build a compelling story around textiles and clothing. Nice work!

  13. Hi Bree!! This looks so interesting. Do you have a favorite fabric from this project that you would want to wear in real life?? Congrats <3

    1. Thank you Rachel! I’d love to wear some of the historical pieces that the historical society has! Most of them are cotton or linen, so nothing too different from what I wear today. Unfortunately, most of the clothing archives from the historical society are small and damaged, so it wouldn’t be a good idea to wear them. However, I am always on the hunt for vintage clothing!

  14. Congratulations Bree! So happy to see how you tied together Chemistry and History!

  15. Congrats Bree! Your poster looks great. What was the most fulfilling part of this project for you?

    1. Thank you Camille! I think the most fulfilling part of the project was being able to get real results from my research in the lab! It was also really exciting that the IR dating method dated the pants in a range where they could be from the Revolutionary War.

  16. Really cool project Bree! I’m really impressed with the way you combined History and Analytical Chemistry!

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