In this MTS blog we highlight a lovely day dress brought to Museum Textile Services by the Friends of the William H. Johnson House in New Jersey. The owners are in the early stages of determining what their new acquisition needs for long-term preservation and display. They elected to have a full conservation assessment followed by a Vac & Pack. The dress is now safely housed in archival materials and back at the William H. Johnson House while a conservation plan is finalized.
The hand-stitched day dress is constructed of pink and gray striped patterned silk with a glazed cotton lining. Based on the silhouette of the dress, it likely dates to around 1865 and may have belonged to William H. Johnson’s wife Sarah (the good condition of the dress suggests it was only worn a few times.) The dress has some small splits in the silk throughout, large splits on the proper left side of the bodice and sleeve cuff, and discoloration at the underarms. The lining is in less stable condition with evidence of past insect activity.
If you missed the introduction to our new Vac & Pack service, you can read it here. Vac & Pack, either with or without a conservation assessment report, provides a level of security for costume and textile collections that are in any condition. A conservator always examines the item/s for condition issues prior to surface cleaning and rehousing in brand new acid-free tissue, and a box or tube. The William H. Johnson House dress was carefully surface cleaned with a HEPA vacuum to remove dust and other particulates that can accelerate deterioration over time. Then the dress was packed in acid-free tissue into an archival storage box. The archival box was packed and shipped back to the museum.
If you have questions about your collection or you would like an estimate for a Vac & Pack, please contact our Studio Manager, Samantha Alarie.
A private client brought their grandmother’s embroidery to Museum Textile Services for conservation late in 2020. The embroidery was started by the client’s grandmother and later finished by their mother. The embroidery depicts the client’s grandmother’s family, who were held at an internment camp in the Philippines during World War II. The internment camp was at the University of Santo Tomás in Manila from January 1942 until February 1945.
The lettering around the perimeter of the embroidery reads “Santo Tomas Univ. ‘Food and clothing for three days’ Internment camp Manila. Jan. 6, 1942; Feb. 3, 1945.” At the center is a family portrait under a tent with the internment camp in the background. There are faint lines of handwriting in the upper-left corner, of which the last word is “Philippines.” There are two miniature figures on either side of the top line of cross stitch that appear to be agricultural workers.
This embroidery provides a snapshot into a young girl’s life during a tumultuous period in history. After conservation, it can now be shown for years to come.
Preserving historic textiles includes safely packing and storing them in a way that suits not only the artifact but also your available space and budget. Museum Textile Services' new Vac & Pack options provide a quick assessment, surface cleaning with a HEPA vacuum, and packing in an acid-free museum storage box, all for one lower price. Vac & Pack is an ideal solution for clients who do not need a conservation report or who aren't ready to commit to conservation at this time.
Before your textiles are put in their new storage boxes, textile conservators perform a quick assessment to identify any pests, microbial activity, water damage, or other emerging condition issue. Next we carefully surface clean the textile with a high-efficiency filtered collections vacuum that adjusts to a safe level of suction for any textile. Different approaches are taken depending on the fiber content, weave structure, and condition. These videos show a micro-vacuum attachments being used on the front of a silk patchwork quilt, and a standard flat attachment being used on the solid, cotton backing.
After vacuuming, textiles are packed in unbuffered, acid-free tissue in one of eight available sized museum storage boxes. Prices range from $200 to $600, including all materials. All Vac & Pack items can be easily shipped back to you after treatment for an additional charge. To use our convenient Vac & Pack inquiry form, click here. A member of the MTS staff will be in touch within 5 business days.
The shifting of the excelsior stuffing inside the body of the bear left a void at the back that caused the head of the bear to lean forward and to the side. The seam on the back of the body was opened and the original hump reformed with more batting encased in cotton stockinette. All seams were invisibly closed with hand stitching. The tears in the arms and areas of loss on the face of the bear were stabilized with hand stitching and cotton fabric patches. Nylon net patches were placed over areas on the arms and face that remained vulnerable after repairs. The net wasmasked by gently pulling some of the mohair pile through the net structure. The small loss in one of the button eyes was in-painted with gouache paint.
The client requested a storage solution that would also allow the bear to remain on view. An archival box was purchased from Hollinger Metal Edge. We cut one side out of the box and replaced it with 10 mil Mylar, making a window the bear could be seen through. A custom Ethafoam tray was carved with a depression matching the footprint of the seated bear. This tray was covered with polyester batting and cotton jersey. Cotton twill tape handles were attached to the tray to make the bear easily removable from the box.
This Steiff Teddy Bear barely survived its long life as a beloved toy. After conservation, it is now stable and almost as handsome as the day it was purchased.
A private client brought their father’s teddy bear to Museum Textile Services for conservation in late 2019. The bear had blond mohair fur on a cotton ground, excelsior (wood wool) filling, and shoe-button wooden eyes. The bear was characteristically similar to early teddy bears made by Steiff and Michtum. All we had to go on was the father's birth year: 1923.
To determine the manufacturer of the client’s bear we first closely examined its materials and construction. The fine blond mohair pile and cotton fabric on the paws is seen consistent on the majority of Steiff bears. The earliest of these were stuffed with excelsior and sometimes kapok (a traditional futon filling). Steiff bears have an internal skeleton consisting of cardboard disks and metal pins that allow the head, arms, and legs to move. We could feel the round disks connecting the head, arms, and legs to the body of the bear.
History of Steiff Teddy Bears:
Margarete Steiff was born on July 24, 1847 in Giengen an der Brenz, Germany. She went to sewing school to became a seamstress. Steiff worked as a tailor and eventually founded a felt clothing business selling garments and household articles.
For more information about Steiff Teddy Bears and Margarete Steiff check out the Steiff Museum. Stay tuned for a future blog about the conservation treatment of the teddy bear.
As the art conservation field grows and gains more of a scientific footing, our understanding and concern increases for artifacts that date from the last 100 years. Many of these items contain modern materials (i.e.man-made paints and plastics, semi-synthetic and synthetic textile fibers, digital media.) Modern materials can deteriorate rapidly due to their manufacturing and proximity to/mixture with other materials. The inherent vices in these materials can be exacerbated by inappropriate storage and display conditions. Two new MTS Handouts written by MTS Conservator Kayla Silvia are now available to download and distribute:
Modern Materials in Textile and Costume Collections & Assessing Modern Materials.
Modern materials can be identified using non-destructive and destructive means. The simplest non-destructive techniques are to use the appearance and odor of the artifact and its parts to identify its composition. Examine the material’s look, feel, surface, weight, pattern, style, sound when gently tapped, and smell when rubbed. However, odor given off by modern materials can be subjective (see Assessing Modern Materials handout). FTIR is a non-destructive analytical technique that has been commonly used to identify the polymers in modern materials. Other analytical techniques that can be used are GC-MS, XRF, SEM-EDX, and FT-Raman.
The chart below will help in the identification and assessment of modern materials.
Due to the risks to museum collections from modern materials used in fabrics and clothing accessories, you should consider storing them separately from other textile materials when possible.
Visit the Resources section of the MTS Website for more helpful MTS Handouts.
An early 19th-century pictorial embroidery came to Museum Textile Services from the New England Historic Genealogical Society late in 2019. It is a mourning embroidery made by Caroline Jackson when she was nine years old. The pictorial embroidery depicts a young woman wearing a bonnet and period dress standing in a landscape of fields and trees. The trees, grass, woman’s gown, and bonnet are embroidered in satin stitches of polychrome silk. The sky and woman’s face, skin, and hair are painted in watercolor. The silk taffeta ground fabric was sewn to a linen prior to embroidering. The linen is folded around a wooden stretcher and tacked along the sides with metal tacks. It has reverse-painted glass and a gilded frame.
Based on a literature review and testing carried out at MTS, Conservator Kayla Silvia selected a treatment using the adhesive Klucel G® (hydroxyproylcellulose,) due to its lack of sheen and ability to be reactivated with solvents. Losses in the painted silk were first infilled with patches of silk haboutai that was painted with gouache and coated with the adhesive solution, 4% Klucel G in deionized water. The silk haboutai patches were positioned between the linen and painted silk, and the adhesive reactivated with solvent vapor for several minutes. Reactivation of an adhesive this way minimizes potential damage to the fragile silk that can occur with heat reactivation.
Then the pictorial embroidery was remounted on its wooden stretcher with an archival board acting as a barrier and support to the back of the embroidery. The board and stretcher were encased in fabric and the pictorial embroidery stitched to the mount. Upon return to the New England Historic Genealogical Society, conservator Todd Pattison reframed the embroidery in its original materials.
This was the first collaboration between the New England Historic Genealogical Society and Museum Textile Services. We look forward to more opportunities in the future.
One of the most frequent questions we get is, How do I become a conservator? In this frank and funny interview, MTS volunteer Marya Van't Hul asks associate conservator Morgan Blei Carbone how she decided to enter the field, how she has risen to her position of authority, and what her favorite textiles are to work on.
How did your education and past experiences prepare you for this job?
As an undergraduate at Grinnell College I attempted to study pre-med but also had a strong interest in Art and Art History. Eventually I realized that there were “art doctors” called conservators. I chose to take courses that would enhance my likelihood of getting into a conservation graduate program, including art history, studio art, organic chemistry, anthropology, and several languages. Upon graduating Grinnell with distinction in Art History, I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. I received my Master of Arts in Fashion and Textiles: History, Theory, and Museum Practice. At FIT I received a comprehensive education in fashion and textile history, world textiles, conservation treatments, costume mounting, decorative arts, and so much more. While attending FIT we toured the best textile conservation labs in New York City, including the Met’s Costume Institute. We got hands-on experience at the Textile Conservation Laboratory of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and put on an exhibit at the Museum at FIT. I had the opportunity to intern at the Museum at FIT surface cleaning, sewing accession labels, and making padded hangers and storage mounts for new acquisitions. In addition to my formal experience at the educational institutions I attended, I also have a strong background in retail and sales. Developing the ability to interface with clients and predict their needs is crucial to my success as an associate conservator at MTS. These skills have made me better at multitasking and balancing a supervisory role while also being a practicing conservator.
What do you like best about your job?
I jokingly call it “History’s Mysteries with Morgan.” I love doing a deep dive into the history of an artifact, and sometimes if I’m lucky I get the chance to confirm or dispute claims of an object’s origin.
What is something that you do at your job that would surprise people?
I deal with a lot of poop! There’s bug poop, mouse poop, dog poop, bat poop. There is so much poop in textile conservation!
What’s the strangest/weirdest object or condition problem you’ve encountered?
The strangest object I have conserved would probably be the costume worn by Shirley Temple in the movie The Little Colonel, when she sings Love’s Young Dream. Theatrical costumes are unique because they are not made like traditional garments. They are worn very few times, and are often made hastily and made of subpar material. This costume was shattering to the touch, causing it to look like the bottom of a bag of potato chips! This behavior is reminiscent of 19th-century weighted silks, suggesting that this material was already old when it was used in 1935.
Of all the textiles you’ve worked on, do you have a favorite? Why?
My favorite project was the flag made by Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt that was presented in 1909 and belongs now to the Manchester Historical Association. Replicas of flags are not technically legal, so the flag is not actually an official US flag. It is made of ribbons sewn together, and the size, location, and positioning of the stars in the canton is unusual. Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt ran an embroiderers guild in the town of Oyster Bay, NY, and she and the women stitched this incredibly lifelike emblem and portrait of George Washington on the flag. I grew up in Oyster Bay, and I love that this object connects to my hometown and local history.
What’s the one thing you wish were more widely known about caring for textiles?
One of the things that I wish people understood is that as Americans, we have a cultural idea of what cleanliness is when it comes to textiles in our collections. We place higher value on textiles that are cleaner, but every textile, dirty or clean, is important!
It's that time of year again. No, not the holidays, we mean the MTS Magazine has arrived! It is a whopping 60 pages long and full of textile stories, resources, travel adventures, and more.
The MTS Magazine is produced by our administrator, Leah Cereillo, and for the first time we are sponsored by some of our closest friends and business associates. We couldn't do our jobs without the services and materials these companies provide, and we encourage you to learn what they can do for you.
On behalf of all of us here at Museum Textile Services, I'd like to thank you for a rewarding 20th-anniversary year of projects and people, and wish you a warm and relaxing holiday season.
We are very excited to announce the schedule for the 2020 season of the Museum Textile Services Learning Lab. With the help of participant feedback, we are introducing two new classes, as well as repeating 2019's sold-out Photographing Museum Textiles and Fiber and Fabric Identification classes.
Our other new class. Costume Mounting Techniques, will teach participants how to determine the display needs of a garment, to establish the correct silhouette, and determine when something is not in good enough condition to be displayed on a manikin. We will practice retrofitting commercial store mannequins and dress forms to adequately support museum costume. Finally, participants will be introduced to our Andover Figures® display forms, which are a reversible, archival, and customizeable costume mounting system.
Registration is now open for all LL 2020 classes through our website at www.museumtextiles.com/LL.
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