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 Tegan Kehoe
This lovely sample of wartime-era yarn was recently donated to the Museum Textile Services study collection by Mig Ticehurst of Keswick, Cumbria, England. Ms Ticehurst emailed us about her old yarn, saying "It seems wrong to throw it away. Is it possible that it would be of interest to you?"
The company that made this yarn has gone by several names, but at the time, it was Robert Glew & Co, Ltd.
We love the slogan on the label of this yarn – “Reliable rayon for dainty garments.” Mig quipped that she had this on hand and unused because she’s:
“...not that keen on making ‘dainty garments'. As children, knitting was taught in school and we were all obliged to knit as part of the war effort. Our family thing was scarves for merchant seamen which were garter stitch and at the time seemed absolutely huge but probably were about two feet wide and about six feet long. I learned to knit and read by the time I was eight as it was the only way to do any reading. There was also a great deal of inventive making of things."
The pink rayon yarn we were given would be perfect for this toddler dress, in a pattern sold by Robert Glew & Co.The robin on this leaflet cover is the symbol of the yarn company.
This pastel yarn is not just for baby clothes--any women who wanted to make “dainty garments” for themselves could afford rayon. The pattern below is probably from the 1940s or 50s-–note the milkshake glass in the woman’s hand! The pattern specifies Robin Perle, which is what’s in our little yarn stash. “Perle” describes any high-sheen, two-ply twisted yarn like this or mercerized cotton.
The hand-tinted black-and-white photo on the front of this pattern leaflet uses a common style of the time, in which only the brand information and the garment are colored.
The company logo on our donated yarn indicates that it was manufactured in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England. Bradford has been a textile hub for centuries but became a boom town early on in the Industrial Revolution, achieving prominence as the “wool capital of the world” by the mid-nineteenth century. Products included mohair, alpaca, cotton, and silk textiles. By the early twentieth century, however, Bradford’s hold on the industry had begun to slip, so some companies stayed current by producing the new synthetics.
Robert Glew & Co. later spawned Robin Wools Ltd. of Greengate, Bradford. This pattern features two-ply "Ny-lona," another remarkable 20th-century synthetic fiber.
Rayon is still being modified and produced today, and it shows up more places than you might think. Stay tuned for the next two weeks for more blogs about rayon and some other remarkable 20th-century fibers that MTS has been conserving.
By Courtney Jason
On December 10, 2012, a shipment of 20 flags arrived at the MTS from Fort Knox, KY. These flags have a particularly interesting history, as many hail from the personal collection of General George Patton. They belong to the General George Patton Museum of Leadership
, which is undergoing a major renovation and reinterpretation.
Camille Myers Breeze examining the Nazi flag on site at the Patton Museum in September, 2012. Image courtesy of the General George Patton Museum of Leadership.
The Ft. Knox flags range from a 11.5" x 17" Confederate Calvary guide on to an 80" x 130" Nazi flag. The collection also includes several WWII Army flags, and a North Vietnamese flag that was recovered from a booby-trapped location. The collection is here to be cleaned, stabilized and mounted for display when the Patton Museum reopens later this year.
Gen. Patton wrote on many of his flags. This note explains that this is the first Nazi flag ever captured by US forces, on Nov 11, 1942. Image courtesy of the General George Patton Museum of Leadership.
So far we have vacuumed the flags with a HEPA filtering vacuum to remove any particulate matter. Next we will humidify those with planar distortions using the Gore-Tex system described in a previous blog
about the Orra White Hitchcock textiles from Amherst College.
This two-star flag bears the initials of the Western Task Force. Wrinkles and folds will be relaxed using the Gore-Tex humidification system. Image courtesy of the General George Patton Museum of Leadership.
The majority of the flags will be mounted on aluminum solid-support panels manufactured for us by Small Corp, Inc
in Greenfield, MA. Each panel will have a layer of 1/4-inch Polyfelt from University Products
in Holyoke, MA, covered with khaki-colored cotton poplin from Phillips-Boyne
in Farmingdale, NY.
Gen. Patton's inscription on the WTF flag, stating that it landed with him on Nov 8, 1942. Image courtesy of the General George Patton Museum of Leadership.
All of the flags except for the Nazi flag will be pressure mounted on a solid-support panel. They will be centered on the panel and hand stitched to the cotton using a curved needle. Only minimal stitching around the perimeter, along several strategic points in the body, and along the fringe, is required.
The Second Corps Flag has a heavy bullion fringe that will require thorough stitching before pressure mounting. Image courtesy of the General George Patton Museum of Leadership.
A sheet of UV-filtering acrylic will provide the rest of the support for the mount. The museum has chosen Small Corp's powder-coated aluminum frames to complete the mount system. The first batch of eight flags will undergo this process through mid to late April, before being shipped back in early May by US Art
of Randolph, MA.
Gen. Patton wrote "II Corps Tunesia 43" on the hoist binding of this flag. Image courtesy of the General George Patton Museum of Leadership.
The Nazi flag will receive a different treatment due to its large size. A future blog will highlight this highly-technical process. We hope you're looking forward to seeing more of these flags as much as we're looking forward to working on them.
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 Jennifer Nason
This month Museum Textile Services is lucky enough to work with a prized piece of American history. We are conserving a large group of WWII women's uniforms and accessories for the permanent collection at Wheaton College
Three World War TWO AWVS members in uniform.
The American Women’s Voluntary Services, or AWVS, was founded in January 1940. Its founders were intelligent and wealthy international socialites that based the AWVS on an English counterpart of the Women’s Voluntary Services. The founders believed that the United States would surely enter the ever growing war, and thus they formed the American Women’s Voluntary Services as a way to prepare the country for the war. The formation of the group was believed to be premature, as the AWVS was originally thought of as suspicious and an alarmist group.
A line of women displaying all of the clothing and accessories in the Wheaton College AWVS collection.
Nonetheless, when Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 the AWVS already had about 18,000 members. During the war years the number of AWVS members increased dramatically to 325,000. The members provided a variety of services and support; they sold war bonds, and delivered messages, they drove ambulances, trucks, cycle corps and dog-sleds, they also worked in navigation, aerial photography, aircraft spotting, and fire safety.
AWVS promotional advertisement.
When the War ended in 1945, the American Women’s Voluntary Services was disbanded. It had accomplished its goal as a service and support provider throughout the war. Most of the members were normal women that spent large amounts of their time away from their homes and loved ones. However, some of these women had famous names, such as Hattie McDaniel
, Joan Crawford, and Betty White
. Regardless of who these women were, their part in the American Women’s Voluntary Services changed the face of the American home front.
Chesterfield cigarette ad featuring a well-dressed AWVS volunteer.
Stay tuned for another blog about our conservation treatment of Wheaton College's AWVS collection.
On the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, MTS conservators are remembering a very important flag we recently treated that flew on a US Coast Guard ship the USS Centaurus, which serviced Pearl Harbor and other sites in the Pacific theater.
The USS Centaurus flag prior to conservation
The USS Centaurus was an attack cargo ship which was at the battle Okinawa in April and June, 1944, and supplied Guadalcanal in the fall of 1944. Guadalcanal is located in the Solomon Islands, and was won back from the Japanese during a six month campaign from August 7, 1942 to February 8, 1943.
The Guadalcanal flag during conservation
Together with a second U.S. Coast Guard Museum flag from Guadalcanal, the Centaurus flag was removed from the old backing fabric, vacuumed to remove any particulates, and humidified to remove wrinkles and folds. Both flags have signs of insect damage and are tattered at the fly ends from use. The Guadalcanal flag has such extensive fraying that servicemen had tied the strips of wool into large knots. Some of these knots were untied by conservators prior to mounting but the others could not be loosened.
Guadalcanal flag after conservation
Both flags were pressure mounted in order to minimize the amount of conservation stitching required. Quarter-inch archival Polyfelt from University Products
in Holyoke, Massachusetts, was used to create a soft surface. The padding was voided beneath the knots and thick binding edge to provide a more even pressure mounting. The padding was placed on a solid-support panel from Small Corp, Inc.
in Greenfield, Massachusetts, and covered with cotton fabric. The flag was then hand stitched to the fabric-covered mount around the perimeter and along several stripes. A small Corp UV-filtering acrylic box was used to complete the pressure mount.
Camille Breeze & Courtney Jason mounting the Centaurus flag
The conserved WWII flags returned to the US Coast Guard Museum in summer, 2011, and are among the favorite items requested for display at ceremonies and other Coast Guard events.
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.