I was recently contacted by journalist Carrie Hayward, host of the Disney Wedding Podcast and author of PassPorter's Disney Weddings & Honeymoons. Carrie was excited to interview me on how to care for your wedding gown without being scammed by gown preservation companies. Click here to listen to the Podcast, called How to Preserve Your Wedding Gown.
Where you store your gown is as important as how you store it. Never keep your gown on a hanger or in a garment bag. If you want to preserve your gown for future generations, it needs to be placed in an archival box after it is cleaned. The box should be kept in the part of the house where you are comfortable living—not the basement or attic. It should be in an area where the temperature and relative humidity are stable without the highs and lows that encourage dimensional change and pest activity. A spare closet, or even under a bed, are both good places. Inspect your archival storage box every year for signs of pest activity or mildew—late spring and late summer are good times. If you notice any change in the appearance of your wedding gown, consult a textile conservator.
For these and all MTS Handouts and Slideshows, visit the Resources section of our website and follow the link for Individuals.
By Camille Myers Breeze and Tegan Kehoe
The name “rayon” was coined in the 1924 as a generic term for regenerated cellulose fiber. The “Father of Rayon,” Frenchman Count Hillaire de Chardonnet, discovered in the 1880s that nitrocellulose from rags or wood pulp could be turned into fiber, thread, and fabric. Rayon was the first manufactured fiber, but because it is derived from cellulose, is not considered to be a true synthetic but a “semi-synthetic.” “Artificial Silk” made by the Chardonnet process was popular for decorative fabrics in the early 20th century.
At the same time, the Courtaulds Company in England commercialized a method of regenerating cellulose fiber, resulting in a new fiber called “viscose.” (so named because their process used a highly viscous solution.) Courtaulds forming a subsidiary in America called American Viscose Company, who began producing rayon in 1910.
A third method of extracting usable fiber from natural cellulose was developed by Swiss brothers, Doctors Camille and Henri Dreyfus, resulting in the 1905 invention of cellulose acetate. The Dryfus brothers turned their new material into cellulose acetate film and plastics before producing usable continuous filaments of acetate yarn in 1913. By 1918 acetate rayon was being manufactured at the British Celanese plant in Derbyshire, England, which lends its name “Celanese” to some of the resulting rayons.
By the turn of the 21st century, 24% of the rayon produced in the world is from Grasim of India, by far the largest manufacturer. Other countries making rayon today include Germany, Brazil, Austria, China, Laos, Canada, and the US. Some critics of the fiber will point to sustainability concerns as well as dirty manufacturing processes. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has banned the manufacturing of cuprammonium rayon, sometimes found under the trade name Bemberg, but it is still made in Italy. Tencel rayon, also known by its generic name "lyocell," was developed in Courtaulds Research in the 1980's as a “non-polluting” alternative.
Today, many rayons include bamboo instead of wood pulp. Because bamboo is fast-growing it is often seen as ecologically friendly, but most bamboo rayons are made with the "dirtier" viscose process. The Federal Trade Commission has charged several clothing companies as falsely advertising their rayon as bamboo, partly because it is not clear that the cellulose they use is entirely from bamboo, but also because the FTC feels that the process alters the fibers too much to be considered plant-based. Currently, lyocell is often made with wood pulp from Eucalyptus trees.
We hope you have enjoyed our recent efforts to better understand the history and chemistry behind our recent boom in rayon textiles treated at Museum Textile Services. Please contact us if you have something to add to this discussion.
By Camille Myers Breeze
This beginning of this story may sound familiar to some of you. From a young age, I started absconding with cool things my parents had in their houses, in my case the textiles. When they both downsized after I went off to College, they passed on to me everything I could find space for. By the time I was 35 and Museum Textile Services had moved to its own home, I had a bona fide study collection filling several archival boxes. Since then, family members have sent me everything from wedding gowns to souvenirs and, more recently, we have begun accepting the occasional donation.
I should stop here and make something perfectly clear. We are not a museum. We're not even a non-profit. Museum Textile Services is an independent conservation laboratory with a growing client base and a popular internship-training program. When someone contacts us about making a donation, we make it clear that we can't appraise their items or provide a tax receipt. Nevertheless, donors tell us, they are grateful to have found a place where their clothing and textiles will be cared for and put to good use.
Mike and Midge Burnham were referred to me late in 2012 by my friend Dana, who runs a vintage shop in Newmarket, NH, called Concetta's Closet. Dana had purchased much of their family's 20th-century clothing but knew that the older items were museum quality and not suitable for wearing. Was I interested, the Burnhams asked, in a donation of several boxes of 19th- and early 20th-century clothing? The size of the donation concerned me at first but what eventually convinced that it was destined for MTS was the Oberlin connection.
Some of the oldest donated items belonged to Mike's great-grandmother Cassandra Vernon Washburn Burnham. Cassandra (1849-1935) was a graduate of Mount Holyoke Seminary. She outlived her husband, the Rev. Michael Burnham (1839-1905), by 30 years, and during her widowhood she became innkeeper at Grey Gables in my college town of Oberlin, OH. Exactly how long Cassandra ran Grey Gables in not clear but in 1930 the college acquired it for student housing. In 1952, Grey Gables became just the second of Oberlin’s still-vibrant student co-ops but it was demolished in the 1960s during a wave of large-dormitory construction.The land on which Grey Gables stood became the Grey Gables parking lot.
Cassandra and Michael Burnham had five children, of whom two survived to adulthood. The couple is buried in Spring Street Cemetery in Essex, MA. Their son, the Rev. Edmund Alden Burnham married the highly successful contralto Ruth Thayer in 1895. Ruth Thayer Burnham's spectacular wedding ensemble, along with other outfits of hers, were also donated to the MTS study collection and will be the subject of future MTS blogs.
Museum Textile Services does not actively seek items for the study collection--we don't have the space or staff, for starters. But the stories these objects tell, and the opportunity for learning that they present, are priceless. For more stories from the MTS study collection, select "study collection" from the search bar on the right-hand side of this page.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stay tuned for another blog about our conservation treatment of Wheaton College's AWVS collection.
by Camille Myers Breeze
Our choice for favorite project from 2012 has to be the conservation of a baseball uniform belonging to the great Negro league player William "Cannonball" Jackman. As we learned from Sarah Berlinger's March 12th, 2012, blog Will "Cannonball" Jackman Comes to Life, he was perhaps the greatest player you've never heard of.
Prior to the completion of this project, Boston globe writer Joel Brown paid Museum Textile Services a visit to learn more about the project. His article, entitled "Preserving the Fabric of History," appeared in the April 19, 2012, issue of the Boston Globe North. Joel's article was a wonderful opportunity for us to let the public know about textile conservation and as a result we have seen a huge increase in the amount of sports memorabilia brought to MTS. In response, we launched a new Sports Memorabilia page in the Conservation section of our web page.
You can see some more images of the conservation of "Cannonball" Jackman's uniform in this short slideshow. Many thanks the Museum of African American History, Boston, and to all who worked on this project, including Cara, Courtney, Katey and Sarah.
by Camille Myers Breeze
For nearly a week, the Beard & Weil Galleries at Wheaton College in Norton, MA, was the scene of great collaboration and ingenuity as students of ARTH 335 Exhibition Design installed their Fall 2012 show, "100 Years 100 Objects." The exhibit showcases an object for each of the 100 years since Wheaton Female Seminary became Wheaton College.
Camille Breeze was hired to participate in two days of teaching and exhibit prep thanks to funding from the Art/Art History Department and the Evelyn Danzig Haas '39 Visiting Artist Program. After a short presentation about careers in conservation, Camille broke students into teams according to what remained to be done to install a pair of priceless textiles conserved by MTS.
The first team underwent the final framing of a silk embroidery depicting "Hagar and Ishmael are Cast Out by Abraham" (Genesis Chapter XXI), by Eliza Wheaton Strong (1795-1834). This exquisite textile is very fragile but together the team cleaned the framing materials, placed the embroidery behind the custom mat, and backed the new frame with Marvelseal before hanging it in the gallery.
The remaining student teams addressed tasks related to the mounting of the c 1780 costume of the Duchesse de Choiseul, which had been conserved at Museum Textile Services in 2012. You can read about this project in intern Gabrielle Ferreira's first and second blogs.
Josephine Johnson '13.
The bust of the custom manikin was covered with show fabric by senior Josephine Johnson, who is planning for a career in conservation. The base for the manikin was assembled by a team including senior Morgan Bakerman, who is writing her thesis about the dress.
A third team addresses the skirt support, which originally was accomplished with rigid paniers. Students started with a replica of the skirt made by Cara Jordan from cotton muslin. Next, they machine sewed 3-inch twill tape in two rows across the skirt and threaded flexible polypropylene tubing through the channel. The tubing provided the shape of the paniers, and additional pieces of twill tape tied across the underside created the correct, flat silhouette.
During the final push on Saturday afternoon, the base was attached to the exhibit platform, the manikin bust was installed, the paniers were tied to the manikin, and finally the costume was dressed.
Working with an academic institution like Wheaton College is one our favorite jobs at Museum Textile Services. Many thanks go out to Leah Niederstadt, Museum Studies Professor and Curator of the Permanent Collection, and Zeph Stickney, Archivist and Special Collections Curator, for asking Camille to help in this intense and rewarding project.
by Tegan Kehoe
In vibrant blues, greens, reds, and yellows, intricately embroidered motifs rich with symbolism cover this Chinese silk jifu from around 1900. It reflects a style introduced by the Manchu in the 1600s when they arrived in China, a style which continued to be influential throughout the Quing dynasty. The garment would have expressed the wearer’s Manchu ethnic background. The Manchu style includes elements that suggest the garment could be worn while riding a horse, such as the split front and the crescent shape at the ends of the sleeves, which protect the back of the hands.
Of course, a fine robe such as this one would not actually have been worn for riding. A jifu is a semi-formal garment made to be worn at important government functions. The robe is made of a deep blue silk satin, and lined with a pale blue lightweight silk. The decoration is hand-embroidered silk and some metallic thread used for the bodies of the dragons. The choice of embroidery rather than woven designs is one of the clues that it is from around the turn of the 20th century. Another elegant detail is the several metal buttons that close the front of the robe.
This jifu is decorated with a number of Buddhist symbols and others from Chinese culture. For example, the peonies symbolize prosperity, and the small red creatures are stylized depictions of bats, symbolizing happiness. The association between bats and happiness has its origins in a pun, as the words for “bat” and “happiness” are pronounced identically in Mandarin Chinese.
The main symbols on the robe are dragons, appearing on the chest, torso, shoulders, and collar. In the Chinese tradition, dragons represent imperial authority, which is appropriate for a robe designed to be worn for government occasions.
The dragons take the center on a background that represents the visible universe, including rocks, clouds and water that cover most of the robe. The prism-like design at the corners represents the earth, surrounded by the universal ocean, represented in the robe’s border. The wearer of the robe completes the cosmology symbolized in the designs. The wearer’s body represents the axis aligning earth and heaven, while the neck opening in the garment represents the gate of heaven, and the wearer’s head represents the realm of the spiritual.
This jifu was given to the family of the current owner by the man who originally wore it. At Museum Textile Services, we are surface cleaning the robe and will be performing needed repairs, then creating a system for displaying the robe safely for years to come.
For more about the Conservation of Asian Art at Museum Textile Services, visit our website.