benleroux@comcast.net | 303-232-7504

©Ben Leroux Navajo Textile Restoration. 

CLEANING

Prior to the use of chemically dyed yarns, the Navajo cleaned their textiles by placing them around tree branches and cleaning with a paste from the crushed root of the Yucca plant. Once the textile was clean, the Navajo would rinse the textiles by rinsing them with creek water.

 

With the introduction of chemically dyed yarns, natural cleaning techniques like this became problematic. Early chemical dyes are not color fast and the improper rinsing of the wool after cleaning resulted in colors running or bleeding. Modern times have further complicated the cleaning of Navajo textiles with modern types of staining (ammonia based pets stains, drinks spills, etc.) and generic chemical cleaners causing additional and often much more severe color bleeding to occur.

 

The unique materials and manufacturing of Navajo textiles require a specific cleaning process conducted by an expert well versed in the unique characteristics of these textiles and has an understanding of the age and providence of the textile's materials. These textiles can’t just be taken to the neighborhood dry cleaner or cleaned at home with a steam cleaner rented from the neighborhood grocery store. Traditional chemical or steam techniques will negatively interact with the original dyes and wools resulting in sever color bleeding and shrinkage.

Each Navajo textile has its own story which requires a unique approach in its cleaning. Unlike other so-called cleaners, we don’t apply the same approach to every textile we clean. We don’t mindlessly put items into a machine hoping that it will do the job. Each Navajo textile is unique and requires a cleaning method as unique as the design on it. In the thousands of hours I have worked on Navajo textiles I have developed a proprietary cleaning approach that effectively cleans the textile without damaging it.

 

Before I start the cleaning process I begin with a through analysis and evaluation of the textile to determine its condition and to decide if the item is salvageable. As part of this analysis I determine the type(s) of staining and develop a course of action for the cleaning. This includes determining what spotting and drying techniques will be the most effective, if stretching is needed and the approach to the removal of any color running. This up front analysis and planning makes sure there are no surprises during the cleaning process. I clean each Navajo textile entrusted to me completely by hand ensuring that the cleaning process is of the highest quality. This hand washing approach allows me to adjust the cleaning based on the specific condition of the item. If there is an area that is delicate or damaged, I work accordingly to make sure that the cleaning process doesn’t further damage the piece. Each cleaning I undertake follows the same approach:

 

  • Evaluation of the condition of the item.

  • Development of a cleaning strategy.

  • Preparation of a cost estimate based on the unique condition of the item and the risk factors associated with the cleaning.

  • Once the scope of the project is agreed upon, I begin by pre-treating all problem areas.

  • I wash each textile by hand. Your item will never be handed off to an apprentice.

  • Each item is individually laid in our custom washbasin and soaked with water until fully wet.

  • Once wet, I hand scrub both sides of the item using a neutral ph balanced paste detergent that is gentle to the sensitive fugitive dyes found in Navajo textiles.

  • After the first cleaning pass I revisit each problem area to make sure that the pre treating has worked. If it has not I continue to work on each problem area.

  • Once the textile is completely clean, the item is gently rinsed by hand with water paying particular attention to sensitive areas to make sure that weak or damaged areas are free from over handling.

  • Once all cleaning agents are removed from the textile, a wet vacuum, the first and only mechanical tool used in the cleaning process removes as much water as possible from the textile.

  • The wet vacuum does not remove all the water, so I lay out the textile in our drying basin for air-drying to complete the drying process. I use a series of fans to speed up the drying process.  The use of fans in conjunction with Denver’s dry climate ensures that the drying process is quick and free from color running and mold growth.

     

This process may seem simple and something that anyone can do, but is actually a delicate and intricate process honed and refined by years of experience. I have developed proprietary approaches and materials that are secrets of the trade. The cleaning of Navajo textiles isn’t as much a process as it is a science, a science that requires experience and understanding to do correctly and effectively.