Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textile Society of America 2014 Biennial Symposium Proceedings: New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future, Los Angeles, California, September 10–14, 2014,


Copyright 2014 by the author(s).


Museums with textile collections face challenges in providing meaningful public access to these cultural objects. Textiles can only be displayed for limited periods to minimize damage from light and exposure, and the fragility of most textiles requires careful handling to prevent deterioration. Textile exhibitions and special visits to storage areas provide opportunities for public engagement with textiles. However until recently, the close study of materials and techniques required direct access to the object.

In recent years, the advent of the World Wide Web, digitization, and other technologies have afforded global access to museum textile collections, and enabled those interested to engage with the objects virtually in a variety of ways. Beyond the museum, viewers now have the ability to zoom in on a digital high resolution photo, and explore the complex weave structures of a fine cloth, or marvel at the technical brilliance of a pre-Hispanic woven tunic. On-line collection databases provide a rich and comprehensive resource for researchers and others worldwide, furthering serious scholarly inquiry and promoting discovery.

Presenting textiles in on-line exhibitions and themed web projects provide opportunities for further user-directed exploration. The public can engage in the narrative content associated with textiles as social objects, and can contribute their own textile related stories and thoughts to the conversation through posts, blogs, and other social media, all without stepping into the museum.

Inside their walls, museums nowadays are integrating technology and media in the galleries as an interactive interpretive tool, using new digital and mobile technologies to teach, captivate, and immerse visitors in the objects they are encountering. This paper examines recent efforts in these directions at the Textile Museum of Canada and other museums, and discusses both the challenges and the outcomes.