by Camille Myers Breeze
When the opportunity to purchase this 1837 New Hampshire sampler arose, I jumped on. The MTS study collection contains many such textiles that come into our hands in need of a conservator's attention.
Sarah R Hamilton sampler before conservation
Three lines of inscriptions read "Sarah R Hamilton born Oct 3rd 1825", "George L Hamilton born Dec 14th 1828," and the maker's inscription, "Sarah R. Hamilton aged 12."
The inscriptions have been tampered with over time
Close examination of these lines show several layers of intervention. Green silk thread had been used to go over parts of the two top lines. At an earlier time, all three lines were also traced in what appears to be pencil. Beneath these the original cross stitching appeared as a thin white silk thread.
Reverse of green over-stitching
The reverse of the sampler shows the later green threads and original white threads below.
We decided to remove the new green thread along with as much of the pencil as possible. This photo shows the front of the sampler after this has been done.
Inscriptions after over-stitching and pencil are removed
In the closeup below-left you can see that green ink was also used at some point to touch up the lettering. Spot cleaning of the stitching with deionized water was successful in removing this green ink, seen on blotting paper below right.
Ink before removal
Results of spot cleaning
The reverse of the treated area held one additional surprise for conservators. By unspinning some of the original white embroidery threads it became clear that these letters were originally turquoise blue, a common color from the time period. Chemical processed had caused the silk thread to deteriorate and the dye to fail not only where it was exposed to light on the front, but everywhere except the core of the thread and at some knots.
New blue over-stitching
In light of this new evidence, we decided to restore the inscriptions to their original blue color. We carefully matched the original dye with a new blue mercerized cotton embroidery floss.
New cross stitches were carefully placed over the deteriorated letters in these three lines as well as other places the same thread was used. The original thread was left in place and is now protected beneath the new stitches.
The final image below shows the sampler after it was humidified, mounted and framed by Conservation Assistant Cara Jordan. The restored lettering makes the sampler more legible and reminds us of the cheerful colors originally chosen by 12-year-old Sarah Hamilton for her sampler.
Sarah R Hamilton sampler after conservation
The restoration of deteriorated lettering on the Sarah R Hamilton was an unusual treatment for Museum Textile Services. Having performed this treatment on an item in our study collection, we can now offer a similar restoration it to a client should the circumstances call for it.
This sampler now hangs proudly in the Museum Textile Services conservation studio.