Chinese Silk Paintings ...........


PFG, Picture Framing God
Apr 12, 2001
Destin, Florida
I had to turn down a job this week because I really didn't know how to handle the repairs in a manner that would be safe and non-harmful to the art.

A Chinese lady brought in a painting on very sheer silk that was part of a collection that was bequeathed to her by her grandfather. They were all passed down through her family and were all in excess of 100 years old.

The problem with the piece that she brought to me was the framing that somebody else had done. They laid the silk painting against a piece of regular foamcore and then placed it directly on the inside surface of the glass. This was done about 15 years ago. The silk absorbed enough condensation to form untold small buckles in the surface of the silk and she wanted me to take out the ripples and frame it correctly. This piece was thinner than a sheet of tissue paper and was about 16" in width and about 3' long. There was no evidence of mildew on this piece and it was in beautiful condition other than the ripples all over the surface of the silk.

I really didn't know how to handle such a delicate piece of silk and I told her I would try to find out how to deal with the ripples. She suggested that I iron it. I suggested that, if she wanted it ironed, she should do the ironing herself as I didn't feel comfortable ironing such a sheer piece of silk. (Heck, I don't even iron heavy cotton shirts very often!!)

Has anybody had this type of Oriental art in their shops?

How would you mount this type of sheer silk?

What would you do to remove the ripples in the silk?

These pieces are traditionally framed without mats so I would have to mount them in such a manner that I could use spacers to keep them off the surface of the glass. She was OK with all the materials that I suggested using for the best archival framing of this piece but I am stuck with how to remove the ripples safely and with the mounting of the piece so that I can use spacers without it sagging into the frame opening.

If I can get some good suggestions, I will follow up with this woman because she has an entire collection of these pieces to frame and she knows the value of each one. She wants to properly preserve them and I want the business. But I don't want to damage such rare paintings with "try it and see what happens" tactics.

Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

Since the client has expressed an interest in
preserving these items, she may be open to the
suggestion that they be stored in the dark. Silk
loses half of its strength after exposure to 220
hours of sunlight. Even the best filtration and
lowering of light, will only forstall the degradation of the silk. If they have lasted this
long, one would suspect that they have only been
in frames for a small number of years. One way in
which they might be stored would combine conservation quality folders and blotter paper.
The blotter could be laid in the folder and the
silk could be smoothed onto its surface. The
slightly nappy quality of the blotter surface could help to keep the silk in place, while the
smoother surface of the folder would have less
grip. Her collection could be housed, flat, in
a storage box and organized in such a way that
it could be easily taken out for viewing. Rebecca
may have more ideas about handling such material.
Since framing has shown that it causes the silk
to cockle, and it will cause these items to grow
weaker, well-designed storage seems wisest.
Such storage is essential to Oriental collections
and one suspects that her ancestors took part
in that tradition. The caution that inspired this
post is laudable, materials such as these can
generate an infinity of headaches for even the
best and most careful framers.

Hugh is right about the fragility of silk of course, and dark storage will make them last much longer.

Since it is a largish collection, one compromise might be to do some sort of standard storage system, with rotating exhibition in a dim display area. You guys might be able to work out a system whereby she can easily change the paintings in the frame.

She could also use a beautiful Chinese silk "draw curtain" that would protect the painting on display when no one was in the room to view it, but could easily be drawn back to allow viewing when the room was in use.

I have some ideas on flattening and mounting, but it would be easier if you could post a picture of the one you have.

Thanks much, guys,

I appreciate the help. I will forward this thread to my shop and show it to her when she comes in next time.


I will try to get the piece back into the shop and take some photos of it and email to you. She is fairly strong on displaying some of these paintings so I will have explain to her what risks are involved with doing this.

Thanks again, Rebecca and Hugh.