Digitizing Textiles

Photographing textiles was an interesting part of our two year IMLS digitization grant we just finished up which focused on ancient and world cultures. Not all objects fit on a table top on a small easel. In fact, shooting ten foot tall Indian temple hangings and enormous African blankets was a bit challenging for the digitization team. The Indian temple hangings, for example, are usually rolled up and hung from the ceiling in art storage making them difficult to access, but now we have images of them in our collection database. Now viewers can zoom in on the images and appreciate the level of detail and the variety of beautiful colors at any time of day from the comfort of their own homes.

We spread out the African textiles on large pieces of paper in an empty gallery, and Stephen Petegorsky, the photographer, shot them from above on a Genie. The second photographer, Jim Gipe, and art handler, Sean Riley, straightened the textile, while I wrote a report on its condition since it so rarely gets unrolled.

Photo by Jim Gipe/Pivot Media

Richard Miller and Greg Smith started out the process of photographing the Indian temple hangings by unrolling them.

Photo by Jim Gipe/Pivot Media

This one in particular was so oversized that all we could think of to do was to nail clips into the wall over ten feet up on the gallery wall and carefully secure the textile with the clips.

Photo by Jim Gipe/Pivot Media

The photographers set up lights at various angles so that we could get the best image possible. Stephen Petegorsky shot the temple hangings from the top of a ladder.

Photo by Jim Gipe/Pivot Media

After we shot them I tried to quickly write reports on the condition of the objects. They are watercolor on cotton, so they are actually very fragile.

Photo by Jim Gipe/ Pivot Media

And finally we are left with beautiful images of pieces that are very cumbersome to transport and unroll.


The process was not easy and it was not fast, but these images can be used for years to come. Actually, one of these temple hangings was featured in a text book in black and white, and we were able to give the publisher a new updated color image for a new edition.


2 Responses to Digitizing Textiles

  1. Marilyln Vorce says:

    Fascinating and interesting to see the process of an ancient textile unrolled!

  2. Ben says:

    Really interesting to see the process, would be good to see a video of this on YouTube too.