Fashioning the Future Preservation of Poly (vinyl chloride): A Preliminary Investigation into the Effects of Cool Temperatures on Embellished PVC to Inform Storage Parameters for Modern and Contemporary Dress in Museum Collections
Leanne Tonkin

Drawing on the results of a collections survey conducted at the Costume Institute (CI) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2015/16, which focused on the issues of plastics contained in modern and contemporary fashion collections, this poster will present the influence of various temperature-controlled storage environments have on the shrinkage of a set of model and naturally aged plasticized poly (vinyl chloride) (PVC) samples. PVC is a problematic plastic material for conservators because of its short life-time as a product and is known to show degradation after only several years after manufacture. It is a common plastic material found in many modern and contemporary fashion collections in museums and it presents a wide range of condition issues when considering safe storage environments to extend the exhibition life of the material. The process of degradation of PVC involves the migration of the plasticizer from the bulk material to the surface and can be identified as a tacky feel to the plastic, encouraging embrittlement and subsequent dis-colouration of the PVC. This process of degradation is known as de-hydrochlorination and contributes to the common phenomena of yellowing in clear PVC. The consequences of the different deterioration processes can interfere with the aesthetic value and functional aspects of a fashion ensemble which is expected to look visually arresting for major fashion exhibitions at the CI.
Cooler environments to store plastics present in museum collections has shown that the degradation process can be slowed down. This prospect allows objects made from short life-time manufactured plastics such as cellulose nitrate and cellulose acetate to remain stable for longer periods of time. These kinds of cool environments help to extend the exhibitability of objects made from malignant plastics.
Square-shaped model and naturally aged sample pieces made from plasticized PVC film were prepared in similar dimensions. Various embellishments and stitch applications, commonly found in PVC fashions collected by the CI, were applied to both sets of test samples and placed in the four different temperature-controlled parameters housed in the off-site storage facility used by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The different temperature parameters that were tested are 0°F (- 17.8°C), 40°F (4.4°C), 40/60°F (4.4°C /15.6°C) and 50/70°F (10°C/21.1°C). This poster will present the dimensional and mechanical changes that occurred in each temperature-controlled environment and results will be discussed concerning shrinkage and tensile strength.