A painted rayon souvenir handkerchief next to one of the options we considered for re-framing.
Rayon is a semi-synthetic fiber made of regenerated cellulose. Like naturally occurring cellulosic textile fibers—including cotton, kapok, linen, hemp, jute, and ramie—rayon is used for a wide range of fabrics for household textiles as well as fine and utilitarian fashions. Unlike its cellulose cousins, rayon has also been widely used to mimic fabrics normally made of fibers as wide ranging as silk and wool. It can therefore be difficult to identify rayon when it is found in museum collections.
This unusual (and large!) synthetic banner, recently conserved at MTS, feels similar to wool to the touch.
Rayon exploded in the 1920s as a popular fashion fiber, beginning with socks, lingerie and clothing. The variety of available fabrics and finishes meant that any women could now wear garment types once affordable only to women who could buy silk. By the end of the 1930s, rayon was six times as plentiful as silk in American clothing.
This French example from 1937 shows how rayon was adopted in styles that could have been silk.
World War II again caused a bump in the production of rayon, both for fabrics and for tire cord--a replacement for rubber, which was scarce. After WWII, rayon saw competition from other synthetic fibers such as nylon, acrylic and polyester.
This WWII jacket is part of the collection of American Women's Voluntary Services uniforms recently conserved at MTS.
Rayon is prone to stretching, sagging, and pilling. Despite these problems, trade brands such as Modal rayon became increasingly popular for use alone, or blended with cotton or spandex, for household textiles such as towels and sheets. Early viscose rayon was found to lose strength when wet, but high-wet-modulus (HWM) rayon was released in 1960 as an answer to this problem.
Part II of "Rayon Through the Years" will focus on the technological changes in rayon production... which help account for the many names the fiber goes by.
By Jennifer Nason
This week’s blog came about after Camille Breeze discovered some women’s military uniforms on a visit to the costume collection at Keene State College (see photo gallery below). After our recent AWVS uniform project, our interest was peeked by yet another example of women contributing to the WWII efforts. The Keene uniforms are clearly labeled as belonged to two ladies who served in the Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Naval Reserve, also known as Woman Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services, or WAVES.
The WAVES were created on July 30th, 1942, becoming the first women’s division of a U.S. military branch. It was also the first time in U.S. military history that women were paid and disciplined the same as men of the same rank and status. However it was understood from the outset that the WAVES would be a temporary division, and that it would dissolve once the war ended (hence the emergency part of the name).
Example of one of the same uniforms found in the Keene State College collection. US Navy Air Transport Squadron 12's WAVES Link trainer instructors, Naval Air Station, Quonset Point, Rhode Island, United States, Jul 1945. Courtesy of ww2db.com.
Nonetheless, the women of WAVES received ample training; there were schools throughout the U.S. for educating female midshipmen and officers. Within the first year of commission, there were roughly 27,000 women active in the ranks of the WAVES. Their duties were mostly clerical, yet some branched out into the medical, intelligence, and technological fields.
Image courtesy of Navy website.
The Women’s Reserve was never used for active combat, however they performed the essential tasks at home needed for a successful Navy and a safe America. They were just as important to the safety and well-being of America as any enlisted men. The WAVES also had their own official song which they sung proudly:
WAVES of the Navy,
There's a ship sailing down the bay.
And she won't slip into port again
Until that Victory Day.
Carry on for that gallant ship
And for every hero brave
Who will find ashore, his man-sized chore
Was done by a Navy WAVE.
Image courtesy of Navy website.
The Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Naval Reserve was never disbanded as predicted. On the 12th of June, 1948, the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act allowed women to permanently enter the armed services. The Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Naval Reserve became W9 Women's Officer Training and W10 Women's Enlisted Training programs of the U.S. Navy.
Image courtesy of Navy website.
As U.S. women begin to qualify for active combat duty we should all be grateful to trailblazers such as the WAVES for the role they played in protecting America.
By Camille Myers Breeze
In this third and final installment of our AWVS blog series, we hope to show how important even a simple textile conservation treatment is for long-term preservation of historic uniforms.
The Wheaton College
AWVS collection consists of 20 uniform pieces and accessories, plus spare buttons and badges, a ribbon, a hat band, and some notes on paper. One of the notes reads "Ginnie Scripps Pace's hat--uniform sold to Barbara Owen." To date the identity of the two women is unknown. The uniforms and accessories appear to span a wide date range, based on their materials, which you can read more about in our last blog
Uniform accessories after conservation.
The hats, caps, pocketbooks, ties, and belt were conserved by micro-vacuuming and humidification. They were then finger pressed back to shape. Even a cool iron was avoided because the complexity of the constructions and evidence of prior scorching from an iron. For the time being, the accessories are padded with unbuffered acid-free tissue to hold their shape. Ethafoam and Volara forms are recommended for display and long-term storage.
Accessories archivally packed for storage. Archival box and unbuffered acid-free tissue from University Products.
The dress, jackets, and skirts all benefited from conservation wetcleaning to remove deterioration products, rehydrate the fibers, and realign the creases and folds. Each was first tested for washfastness, since a variety of cotton and rayon fabrics are represented in the group. The jackets and two of the skirts appear to be made of the same heavy rayon plain-weave that gives off a reddish color in warm water. The decision was made to wetclean these in cool deionized water with a single application of a .3% solution of Orvus WA Paste in water.
Dress before conservation.
After conservation and packing.
The remainder of the garments were wetcleaned the same way but with warmer water to facilitate in the cleaning and dispersion of the Orvus surfactant. Each garment was rinsed thoroughly until the water was free of suds or discoloration and then lightly toweled to remove excess water. The uniforms were padded with nylon net and hung to dry. Once dry, the decision was made to lightly iron each garment inside out to remove any remaining creasing. We were discourage from ironing on the outside of thick areas like cuffs and collars by evidence of the same scorching from repeated pressing seen on the garrison caps.
Skirt before conservation.
After conservation and packing.
The conservation of the AWVS collection from Wheaton College was distinguished more by what it was not than by what it was. It was not a complex treatment requiring hours of tedious stitching to highly damaged fabric. Instead it was an exercise in modesty that met the needs of the collection and made it available for safe study and display. Above all, the AWVS collection provided an opportunity for learning about history through the intimate media of clothing and textiles.
Click here for Part I
and Part II
of this blog.
by Tegan Kehoe and Camille Myers Breeze
In last week's post
, Jen Nason introduced you to the American Women’s Voluntary Services and the collection of WWII uniforms and accessories we are conserving for Wheaton College
. Today we will take a closer look at the garments themselves, and what we they tell us about fashion and rationing during WWII.
This dress shows evidence of wartime economy, with its eight-gore skirt. Gores, or panels, in a skirt add fullness while getting the most out of the piece of fabric they are cut from. All images courtesy of Wheaton College.
1940’s women’s fashions for daily wear were heavily influenced by the war, even outside of the armed forces and support organizations. Women favored tailored blouses, jackets, and knee-length skirts. They were practical, sturdy, and used relatively little fabric, but had feminine details such as shoulder pads and higher hemlines than 1930’s styles. These fashions were sometimes called utility fashion
, named after the Utility Clothing Scheme, one of the rationing schemes used in the UK. An exhibit on this topic, entitled “Beauty as Duty,”
came to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 2011.
An assortment of details from the Wheaton College American Women's Voluntary Services uniforms.
An indication not only of the war-time economy but also of the long duration of the conflict is the variety of fabrics found in the Wheaton AWVS collection. Among the collection, we find two pocketbooks, two ties, one belt, five garrison caps, two hats, three skirts, three jackets, and one dress. There are no fewer than 5 different fabrics represented, from 100% cotton plain weave to different styles or types of rayon.
AWVS skirt made of cotton. Before conservation.
The light-blue cotton skirt, belt, and hat could perhaps be the earliest in the collection. Sgt. Burgess Scott's 1945 article Clothing and the War
states that cotton was extremely difficult to come by and rayon was the most common substitute. A manufactured cellulosic fiber, rayon is neither a synthetic nor truly a natural fiber. It can mimic the characteristics of silk, linen, and cotton but rayon has poor elastic regain and was best dry cleaned.
Woman's rayon jacket with metal buttons. The buttons, as well as signs of hard wear, may indicate this is an earlier jacket.
Another interesting feature of this collection is that two of the three jackets have wooden buttons that are painted a gold color to look like metal. During WWII, metal was in short supply, so it was considered patriotic to use substitutes whenever possible and donate metal to scrap drives to be recycled for military purposes. The Wheaton College collection has extra sets of buttons, apparently salvaged from other garments.
Both the faux-metal wooden buttons, above, and the metal buttons, right, bear the letters AWVS
Metal buttons are found on one jacket and the dress in the collection.
Wheaton's AWVS collection is in very good condition and had probably been dry cleaned before going into storage decades ago. Stay tuned for our final AWVS blog, a show-and-tell of the uniforms before and after conservation.
By Erin Halvey
This year, you may have noticed a small group of athletes in the Olympic Opening Ceremony walking behind the Olympic flag. They were three of four athletes given special permission to compete as independent Olympic athletes or IOAs. Three come from the Netherlands Antilles which were partially absorbed by the Netherlands, and one is from South Sudan. Neither country has a National Olympic Committee so they cannot represent their home countries. The IOC is allowing them to complete as independents.
It has only been a relatively recent phenomenon of IOAs competing. Either, it's a way to get around sanctions (in Yugoslavia's case in 1992) or a way to allow athletes who have been training to work around the political turmoil of changing governments or newly found independence.
Part of the requirements placed on these athletes is that they must compete under the Olympic flag and wear neutral, white uniforms. In 2000, the IOAs from East Timor and in 1992, the IOAs from Yugoslavia and Macedonia were both required to procure white uniforms themselves.
By choosing a white uniform, the IOAs are stripped of any hint of national flags or political statements. White is the color of neutrality; it is both the absence of color (in pigment or dye) and the combination of all colors (in light). The white uniforms allow the IOAs to represent no country and yet all countries at the same time.
Nike has created the uniforms for this Olympics' IOAs. They took pieces of their current collections and customized them with the Olympic logo, the designation of IOA, and made shoes that incorporate the five colors of the Olympic logo. You can read about the specifics of the uniforms
(such as the exact model in Nike's collection) at Freshness. They even talk about a special scarf made for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and how it relates back to a Nike program.Photo credits: Nike via Freshness.
If you liked this article, you might like our other Olympics-related posts
Erin Halvey is a collections management intern at MTS, is an art nerd, and she also has a website devoted to the art and food she encounters at home or on her travels called A Sense of Place
by Sarah Berlinger
"The most important thing is not to win but to take part!"
Coined by International Olympic Committee founder Pierre de Coubertin, this phrase has served as a motto of the Olympics since 1908. We at Museum Textile Services were very excited to receive several items of Olympic memorabilia for conservation from the Middlesex School
in Concord, Massachusetts. An alumnus of the prep school, one Gordon Smith, donated his jacket, cap, and hockey pants from the 1932 Olympic Games to the school’s collection, and they have elected to have it conserved as an important piece of American Olympic history.
Gordon Smith was a member of the 1932 and 1936 United States Olympic ice hockey teams. The 1932 games, where these objects were used, took place in Lake Placid, New York. That year, the team won the silver medal. In the only game Smith played in that year, he scored a goal. In the 1936 games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen,Germany, the team earned the bronze medal. Smith played in all eight games, and also scored one goal that year. Undoubtedly, Gordon and his team believed in de Coubertin's maxim.
The objects submitted to MTS for conservation include the jacket and cap used during the Opening Ceremony and worn by athletes throughout the games, as well as a pair of hockey pants that were most likely worn during competition. The objects have piqued interest in the studio, as several of us are avid hockey fans. It has been wonderful to learn the history behind such unique and meaningful items in the Olympic History of the United States.
to see an image of Smith and the U.S. ice hockey team from the 1936 Winter Games.
In recent months, stories of America’s WWII heroes have come to the forefront at Museum Textile Services. Our work often reminds us that few things can convey the horror and bravery of warfare more intimately than historic clothing and textiles.
In August, 2009, Museum Textile Services received for examination an extraordinary Japanese flag. The small white square of cotton is emblazoned with a red rising sun encircled with inscriptions in ink. The flag also has a variety of stains and remnants of paper at two corners from which it once hung.
Image courtesy of Boston Marine Society.
From the Pacific to Andover, the flag endured unknown travails to arrive at this point in time. Accompanying letters tell us of a young U.S. Merchant Marine, Captain W. H. Senior, who discovered the soiled and torn flag on a battlefield at Guadalcanal. His widow donated the flag to the Boston Marine Society, which promised that the flag and its story would be preserved. MTS staff cleaned, mounted, and framed the flag, fulfilling that promise.
Commonly known as a Kamikaze Flag, inscribed rising sun images were known to have been carried into combat by a Japanese pilots. The inscriptions are said to be spiritual words relating to Shinto beliefs. Shinto teachings were used to reinforce nationalist beliefs and encourage the pilots in their suicide attacks. Official Kamikaze bombing raids began in October 1944 after traditional warfare was proving ineffective against Allied forces. However the use of inscribed flags as good-luck charms to bolster a soldier’s spirits is a time-honored tradition. Sometimes scarves or simple lengths of silk were printed with the rising sun motif and inscribed.
The Canton Historical Society, in suburban Boston, has an impressive collection including at least ten military uniforms dating to the WWII era. A pristine US Navy uniform bears a patch identifying it as belonging to a sailor on the USS Finback, which was commissioned in January, 1942, and just four months later patrolled the seas during the American victory in the Battle of Midway. The Finback sailed twelve Pacific patrols during WWII before being decommissioned in 1950. What makes this uniform most curious is the colorful machine embroidery and silk dragon patch. The bright stitching doesn’t appear to be a later addition because it is incorporated into the seams of the uniform. Likewise, the dragon patch is sewn beneath a label reading “Tailored Expressly for Esquire Uniform Co Norfolk, VA.” The owner of the uniform, as well as the nature of the decorative stitching, will be the subjects of future research.
Images courtesy of Marine General Willis Neal collection, Canton Historical Society
Also in the collection of the Canton Historical Society is a Japanese “sniper vest” (figure 5). Made of coconut fiber and string, and bearing a label that reads “Examined in the Field Passed by Joint Intelligence,” the vest was brought home from the Pacific Islands by Canton’s General Neil. The vest has large arm openings that would have allowed a sniper to easily climb a tree and handle a gun while remaining camouflaged in the Pacific jungle. Its condition is fragile, however archival storage and safe handling will allow for continued research and occasional exhibition.
Also in the collection of the Canton Historical Society is a Japanese “sniper vest”. Made of coconut fiber and string, and bearing a label that reads “Examined in the Field Passed by Joint Intelligence,” the vest was brought home from the Pacific Islands by Canton’s General Neil. The vest has large arm openings that would have allowed a sniper to easily climb a tree and handle a gun while remaining camouflaged in the Pacific jungle. Its condition is fragile, however archival storage and safe handling will allow for continued research and occasional exhibition.
The European theatre of operations during World War II was a vast offensive that began with Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and ended on V-E Day, May 8, 1945. In Italy, Army Air Force Technical Sergeant Rocco Boscaglia flew bombing raids with his fellow air men. He wore a standard-issue brown leather “bomber” jacket bearing his name, wings and the American flag. After the end of the war, Sergeant Boscaglia embellished the back of his jacket with an impressive emblem commemorating the dozens of raids he flew and survived. The tooled leather image depicts US planes in action flying past the names of ten European nations: Germany, Hungary, Albania, Jugoslavia (sic), France, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Greece and Italy. Both the patch and US flag on the sleeve retain trace evidence of paint, leaving us to image the jacket in its full color.
Sergeant Boscaglia’s jacket arrived at MTS with other minor condition issues. Covered in a mildew bloom, the leather had hardened and the knit cuffs were frayed. After fumigation, the jacket was meticulously cleaned by hand in small sections and the frayed cuffs were stabilized. With the mildew removed the jacket once again has the sheen of a well-worn leather replete with wrinkled sleeves and homemade patches that marked the time of one man’s service in war.
Our connection to World War II continues later this year with the preservation of a forty-eight star American Coast Guard flag that was flown over Guadalcanal. Made of wool bunting with cotton stars, the faded and wind-whipped flag bears witness to the seven months of fighting necessary for the Allies to take the small island from the Japanese. Conservation will stabilize the flag’s various components and provide a safe display mount so that the flag can be put on public display.
Images courtesy of Coast Guard Historic Collection.
The Coast Guard Museum flag was completed in July, 2011.