For thousands of years golden threads have been woven into textiles and used for embroidering clothes. As part of a comprehensive project undertaken by the Museum Conservation Institute to better define and characterize all types of metal threads used in textiles, this work specifically focuses on metal threads made with an animal-based organic substrate. Starting in the 11th c., the use of “organic” metal threads to enrich textiles became very popular. These threads were made by gilding/silvering organic materials (leather, parchment, animal membranes or paper), often with the help of an adhesive medium (animal glue, egg, bole), cutting them into narrow strips and using these strips either flat or wound around a fibrous core. This component of metal threads has been overlooked in the past, due to the lack of appropriate analytical methods to study it. The introduction of proteomics to cultural heritage studies has brought a new set of techniques to characterize protein fibers and other protein-based elements of textiles and is thus particularly well suited for the identification of the protein components in complex and multi-layered organic threads  Organic metal threads from medieval Spanish, Italian and Middle East textiles from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum are being investigated to characterize materials and manufacturing techniques by combining optical microscopy, Scanning Electron Microscopy/Energy Dispersive X Ray Spectroscopy (SEM/EDS), and  proteomics techniques.


Scibe, C., C. Solazzo, I. Tosini, T. Lam, E. Vicenzi, and M.J. Gonzalez Lopez. 2020. Gilt leather threads in 11th-15th century textiles, in Proceedings of the 11th Interim Meeting of The Leather & Related Materials Working Group, 6-7 June 2019, Paris (France), pp. 162-169.

Solazzo, C., C. Scibe, and K. Eng-Wilmot. 2019. Proteomics characterization of "organic" metal threads - First results and future directions. in Research and Technical Studies Specialty Group Postprints from  the 47th Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation in Ne England, May13-18, 2019, Vol. 7, McGath, Molly, ed. Washington, DC: The Research and Technical Studies Group (RATS) and the American Institute for Conservation (AIC), pp.78-82.

Related studies:

Cheung, Angela, Caroline Solazzo, and Wai-shan Tsui. 2021. Unveil the Gold - Revealing Metal Threads and Decorative Materials of Early Twentieth Century Traditional Children's Hats, Studies in Conservation, 66(6): 357-374. DOI: 10.1080/00393630.2020.1845922

Popowich, A.K.., T.P. Cleland, and C. Solazzo. 2018. Characterization of membrane metal threads by proteomics and analysis if a 14th c. thread from an Italian textile, Journal of Cultural Heritage 33: 10-17.