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Internal Supports for Pliable Artifacts


The purpose of this technique is to provide soft, internal cushion and support for pliable artifacts that may deform under their own weight. It is well-suited for maintaining the shape of moccasins and leggings, and has applications for other artifacts, such as damaged or odd shaped baskets (Fig. 1).


Nancy Davis
Rochester Mus. & Science Ctr.
Box 1480
657 East Avenue
Rochester, NY 14603 USA
Tel (585) 271-4320
Fax (585) 271-5935

Illustrations: Nancy Davis

Publication: 1992

Figure 1. Moccasins can be padded with cotton orthopedic stockinet filled with polyester fiber then stitched closed at one end.


The internal support is a tube of 100% cotton orthopedic stockinet filled with polyester fiber batting. The polyester fiber support is well-suited for artifacts because it forms a softer and more exact contour than does tissue paper. It is less abrasive than tissue paper and won’t damage the object when placed inside or as it is removed from the object. Crumpled tissue paper will expand to fill space and in this process can exert some pressure on fragile artifacts.

Materials Tools Supplies

  • 100% cotton twill tape
  • Bone folder
  • Cotton orthopedic stockinet, 3in diameter, washed in hot water and dried
  • Cotton sewing thread
  • Needle
  • Non-ionic detergent
  • pH neutral paper card
  • Polyester fiber batting
  • Scissors


  1. Cut a piece of cotton stockinet tubing at least two and one-half times longer than the artifact length.
  2. Stitch closed one end of the tubing.
  3. Turn the tube inside out so that the seam is on the inside.
  4. Gently slip the tube into the artifact, using a bone folder, a chopstick or another blunt instrument to position the closed end of the tube into the artifact.
  5. Using small amounts of 100% polyester fiber batting, fill out the tube to the shape required to maintain the contour of the artifact.
    Do this carefully and gently, as over padding can distort shapes and will put strain on construction elements such as stitching and applied beadwork.
  6. Once padding is complete, cut off excess stockinet and close the end with hand stitching.


The stockinet comes in varying widths or diameters (2, 21/2, 3 and 4in) and in different grades of knit densities. It should be washed before use with a mild, non-ionic detergent and thoroughly rinsed. The 3in width is useful for adult moccasins, the 11/2in for child moccasins and the 4in for leggings and baskets.

Even the slight pressure of the polyester fiber batting can deform certain areas of some artifacts, such as the soles of moccasins which have a tendency to round upwards. To prevent this distortion, a piece of thin pH neutral card, such as folder stock, can be cut to an appropriate shape and slipped inside the tubing before padding out begins. This card provides rigidity and gives a firmer surface against which the form can be shaped. Unbuffered pH neutral card stock is preferred for semi-tanned skins and other protein-based artifacts.

Handling the polyester fiber batting produces a large amount of lint which must be kept off the artifact. Gathering a small handful of the fiber batting a few feet away from the artifact, instead of next to the object, will greatly reduce the amount of lint that could come in contact with the artifact. The tighter knits of the stockinet are more effective in containing minute polyester fibers.

Lengths of 1/2in cotton twill tape can be helpful to reshape distorted areas of a pliable artifact into a more realistic shape. For example, to reposition creased flaps and tongues of moccasins, the tape is positioned over the distorted area and tied, sewn to itself, or sewn to the stockinet (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Cotton twill tape stitched to the cotton stockinet is used to gently ease distorted areas back into a more original position.

Because considerable handling is required, the procedure is not safe for brittle, friable materials or artifacts with fragile interior surfaces. There is a considerable amount of manipulation involved in removing the stockinet support from the object. Therefore, it should be considered semi-permanent and every effort should be made to contour the shape and do the final stitching as perfectly and as neatly as possible, so that the object can be photographed and displayed without removing the support.

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