An influx of crazy quilts helped to keep Museum Textile Services warm over the recent holiday season. Crazy quilts consist of irregularly shaped patches of many different fibers and weave structures that are pieced together like a jig-saw puzzle. Many makers cut patches from worn out garments. The pieces ware frequently sewn together into squares before the completed sections were sewn together. Many crazy quilts have rich velvet boarders and printed cotton backing fabric. They came to fashion during the aesthetic period of the late 19th-century and continued into the early 20th century.
After working on so many crazy quilts, we have become curious about the individuals who made them. The Dudley Farm crazy quilt, now housed in Guilford, Connecticut, is predominantly wool patches including numerous plaids. At least three women contributed to its construction. Like many of their contemporaries, the makers included dated ribbons, or embroidering names and dates on blocks. One square has patches that read, “Anna,” “Waterbury,” “February 20,” “1893,” and “Blizzard.” Another block is signed "Wolcott Feb. 13 1893." A third reads “Fair Haven Feb. 25 Leila Wade.” How did these three women know each other? We concocted a romantic story of three friends or cousins stitching the quilt during the hard winter of 1892 to 1893.
MTS conservators also had the opportunity to treat a pair of crazy quilts brought to us by a private collector. The two quilts were likely made around the same time and perhaps by the same woman or group of women. Although the same finished size, one quilt consists of just twelve blocks of the same vintage as the other, plus eight blocks made at a later date or by a less skilled quilter. Both quilts had some identical patches, including miniature silk appliqué American flags, printed cigarette silks, and memorandum ribbons commemorating the death of Ulysses S. Grant on July 23, 1885. The maker or makers of these quilts was an accomplished embroider and painter on fabric.
Crazy quilts often are brought to us for conservation in very bad condition due to the interaction of the varied fibers and weave structures, the presence of weighted silks, and the practice of re-purposing fabrics that were already worn. The three crazy quilts mentioned in this blog were all stabilized to prevent additional loss of textile fragments and allow safe display. The Dudley Farm quilt was completely encapsulated in sheer nylon net in order to protect the deteriorating fabrics on both the front and back. The private collector chose a different approach for her two quilts. Instead of a full nylon net overlay, we covered only the most deteriorated patches with different shades of sheer nylon net. The pair of quilts will be display in the future, so we also installed twill-tape sleeves to accommodate a magnetic hanging system.
During a recent search through Director Camille Myers Breeze's family textiles, we came across the identical American flag ribbon found in one of the recently-conserved crazy quilts. The label accompanying the ribbon tells us that they were worn by Camille's grandmother and great aunt on "Decoration Day," more commonly known now as Memorial Day. Another way to see crazy quilts, therefore, is as fabric scrap books containing memories of clothing worn, and historical and personal events.
This past year was a year of achievements for the Museum Textile Services staff. Three of the staff completed their Master's Degrees in 2016, with research in three very different areas of museum studies.
As a conservator at Museum Textile Services, I have had the opportunity to work on many Chinese and East Asian object, including a Qing dynasty ceremonial umbrella cover belonging to Wheaton College and a embroidered panel from Wesleyan College.
feasible for the Museum to keep its doors open. Now that I have finished graduate school, I continue to contract for Museum Textile Services while looking for a full-time museum position.
Through my thesis, I made an argument for a deeper understanding among conservators and museums about how choice of informatics software can impact the free and open access of data that is crucial to the future intellectual growth of the conservation field. I am currently pursuing a master's degree in Textile Conservation with the Centre for Textile Conservation at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.
In Part I of this blog we told the remarkable story of the Bacheler coat, which was given to the City of Gloucester by Albert Bacheler. The former high school principal received the life-saving garment from an African American after escaping from the notorious Libby Prison in Richmond, VA, during the Civil War.
After eighty years folded sideways and pressed into a narrow frame, the coat needed multiple rounds of humidification to relax creases and folds, and correct long-ingrained distortions. Realigning the torn fabrics then allowed us to determine which tears and holes posed a threat to the overall stability of the coat, and which could be left to bear testimony to the arduous journey Bacheler took to reunite with his battalion. Hand stitching and a minimum of cotton support patches were employed before the coat was deemed fit for display.
The coat will be installed at Gloucester High School in 2017, and the legacy of principal Bacheler will live on. Museum Textile Services wishes to thank the Gloucester Committee for the Arts, the City of Gloucester, Charles and George King, and the many donors who made this preservation project possible.
Since 1934, generations of students, faculty, and staff of Gloucester high school in Gloucester, Massachusetts, passed by a frame holding the tattered remains of a coat. A photo inside the frame is of former principal Albert William Bacheler, who brought the coat back from the Civil War. His story reads like a novel and is made all the more poignant by the survival of this fragile garment.
Bacheler was born in Balasore, India, in 1844 to missionary parents. He enlisted as a teenager in Company E of the 12th Regiment, New Hampshire volunteers and was promoted from private to corporal, sergeant, and finally first lieutenant. Bacheler fought in every battle the regiment engaged in except for Cold Harbor. He received injuries at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and was captured by Confederate forces on November 17th, 1864. Bacheler was held as a prisoner of war at the infamous Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia where he and another soldier were able to dig to their freedom. During the three weeks between escaping and reuniting with the US Army, he was sheltered by African-Americans. One of them gave Bacheler this coat.
Returning to New Hampshire after the war, Bacheler earned his degree from Dartmouth College. The coat went with him when he became a teacher at Gloucester high school. After his retirement it was given to Roger W. Babson, Gloucester high class of 1894. Babson gave the coat to the school in 1934, at which point it was framed. The following year, a photograph of Albert W. Bacheler along with his heroic story, were printed in the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition of Gloucester High School Cadet.
The coat might have remained in its frame at the high school had concerned Gloucester parent Kim Minnaugh not noticed mold growing on the inside of the glass. Minnaugh brought the problem to the attention of the Gloucester Committee for the Arts, and Museum Textile Services was hired to assess the coat. We developed a proposal for deinfestation, cleaning, stabilization, mounting, and displaying the coat inside an existing display cabinet at the high school. Initially they contracted us only to unframe and deinfest the coat while the City of Gloucester pondered how to pay for the full treatment.
In the next blog, we will outline the conservation, mounting, and re-installation of the Bacheler coat.
A collection of kill flags was sent to us earlier in 2016 by the grandson of Captain James Williams Blanchard. A 1927 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Blanchard served in the Panama Canal Zone before taking command of the submarine USS Albacore (SS-218) in 1943. Blanchard left command in late September of 1944, roughly one month before the Albacore was last heard from, presumably striking a mine before sinking with all hands on board. He was awarded the Navy Cross and two Silver Stars for his three war patrols.
David Blanchard has become an expert on his grandfather’s military history and the flags he inherited. The seven small rectangular kill flags weren’t army issue, but were instead made on board the submarine, possibly by the quartermaster. Four flags featuring a red sun with white and red rays commemorate four surface cargo ships struck by the Albacore. Two flags with the rising sun on a white ground were made in celebration of the Japanese surface combatant ships hit, the destroyer Sazanami and the Cha-165. One kill flag is all red, and was made after the Albacore struck the Taiho, Japan’s first steel-deck aircraft carrier. Accompanying the kill flags is a battle streamer, which was traditionally flown above the US Flag off the submarine’s fan tail. The pennant reads “USS Albacore SS218 8-9-10 War Patrols Dec 43 Sept 44” in cross stitch. The words “USS Albacore” appear to have been stitched at a different time than the rest of the writing. The hoist binding at one end is stamped, “No. 6.”
Captain James Williams Blanchard relinquished command of the Albacore in September 1944 to Commander Hugh Raynor Rimmer, taking with him the flags. The submarine left Pearl Harbor on October 24th, 1944 and stopped at the Midway Islands to refuel four days later. This was the last sign of the submarine and she was never heard from again. It is believed that the Albacore struck a naval mine off the shore of Hokkaido on November 7th, taking with her the entire crew of eighty-five men. This set of kill flags is believed to be the only existing set of kill flags from a US Sub that was lost with all hands.
During the winter of 2017, Museum Textile Services will be conserving the eight flags in this collection. The goal is to reduce the adhesive, and to suction cleaned with deionized water to reduce deterioration products, staining, odor, and generally improve their preservation level. After conservation, the owner will decide how he wishes to display the flags in the future.
Changes are afoot on the MTS Website. One of our most popular areas for visitors from all over the world is our Resources page. We now have all of our MTS Handouts, published articles, online resources, and videos organized by category to make it easier for you to find the information you're looking for.
The MTS study collection recently acquired a copy of the battle flag of the USS Barb. The Barb was a Gato-class submarine built in Groton, Connecticut. During her seven patrols in the Pacific, the Barb is credited with sinking seventeen enemy vessels totaling 96,628 tons. She is also famed for the only ground combat operation that took place on the main Japanese islands when the sub blew up a
railroad train during its final patrol. A full description of the flag and the accomplishments of the Barb can be found in the collections database record of another crew copy located at the Mariners' Museum & Park in Newport News, VA.
A printed label on the back of the flag indicates it was made by Carleton Company in Rochester, NY. The flag is screen printed onto cotton canvas. The red, black, yellow, turquoise, and green were printed first, and then the navy blue background color was printed last. At some point in time, thick white paint was placed around the perimeter to imitate the white border of the original flag. The greatest challenge we face in conserving this flag will be preventing further losses along the edge where the heavy white paint is putting strain on the thin ground fabric.
Stay tuned for an update on conservation of this flag, as well as our next blog about kill flags from the USS Albacore.
Museum Textile Services recently completed the conservation of a war bond banner that will be featured in the Manchester Historic Association's fall exhibit, "It's Showtime! A History of Manchester's Theaters," on view from September 17 through December 19, 2016.
According to the National WWII Museum website, the US Treasury produced a series of war bonds that Americans could purchase during the war. A war bond cost $18.75 and ten years later could be redeemed for $25, making it an investment in both the country's and the buyer's future. Posters and other advertisements such as the Manchester banner could be seen everywhere. Celebrities participated widely in the effort to encourage sales of war bonds—war-time shows by Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Bette Davis, and Marlene Dietrich are still legendary.
Ipswich, Massachusetts, paintings conservator Lisa Mehlin then took the banner to her studio, where she carefully laid down flaking paint and infilled the top corners using a product called BEVA Gesso. The infills were toned to match the surrounding area using acrylic paints. Lisa also painstakingly coated a dozen rare-earth magnets with enamel paint so that they will be camouflaged against the variegated tones of the weathered banner when used to display the banner.
In a side-by-side comparison of the top-right corner before and after conservation, it is clear how much work was done to clean, flatten, consolidate, back, infill, and tone this area of damage. Without the combined efforts of textile and paintings conservators, this banner would hot have been suitable for inclusion in the exhibition. Thanks to all who contributed to this satisfying project.
This summer, MTS welcomes two new team members and two returning friends to our diverse staff.
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