As cellulosic textiles age, hydroxyl groups (-OH) are converted to carbonyl groups (=O), which contribute to a dingy brown or yellow color. The chemical process known as reduction adds electrons to the cellulose fibers, stabilizing their molecular weight and returning carbonyl groups back to colorless hydroxyl groups. The combination of dissolved soils and cellulosic degradation often turn the wash bath the color of strong tea. The reaction of the sodium borohydride with water is also produces hydrogen gas bubbles, and the bath may give off a smell reminiscent of sulfur or chlorine. It is important to agitate the wash bath regularly to allow all sides of the textile to come in contact with the surface of the water where the chemical reaction is taking place.
If you are a textile conservator with experience in wet cleaning and bleaching historic artifacts, you may be interested in our MTS Handout, Bleaching Textiles with Sodium Borohydride, available on the MTS website.
In order to center the mounted embroidery into the frame, someone had taped it to the back of the gold window mat. MTS conservator Cara Jordan was able to be remove most of the tape mechanically with limited loss of silk. Small areas of tape that were more difficult to remove were humidified, allowing Cara eventually to lift the tape from the silk.
In order to remount the embroidery, the orange lacing had to be removed. The thread was cut in a few key spots, after which it was easily unlaced from the silk ground. The orange thread was too weak to reuse, so it was returned to the client. To our surprise, the back corners and an area of deterioration on the front had been glued to the board. Cara successfully released these adhered areas with acetone.
We hope that you are as excited to see this embroidery at the McMullen as we are!
The signatures “BO’BRIEN” and “Lily YEATS” are stitched at the bottom corners of the embroidery. Brigid O'Brien is credited as the designer and Lily Yeats was the maker. Yeats had been involved in the Arts and Crafts movement for many years by the time she made this embroidery. She studied embroidery under May Morris, daughter of William Morris, starting in 1888. In 1902 Lily, along with her sister Elizabeth and friend Evelyn Gleeson, founded the Dun Emer guild in Dublin. Dun Emer focused primarily on tapestry and carpet making. In 1908, the group separated and Lily and her sister founded Cuala Industries which ran a printing press and an embroidery workshop. The embroidery that MTS conserved was created in the Cuala embroidery workshop around 1915.
The Boston College embroidery has several condition issues, including fading due to light exposure, an area of unidirectional loss to the right of the figures, and gummy adhesive tape holding the back of the mounted textile to an acidic paper mat. Stay tuned for our follow-up blog on the textile conservation treatment by Cara Jordan.
By Camille Myers Breeze
Museum Textile Services and the Buttonwoods Museum will host a Sampler Study Day at the 240 Water St, Haverhill, MA, on Saturday, August 2, 2014 from 10-12. To reserve a space please call the Buttonwoods Museum at 978-374-4626 or email email@example.com. Drop-ins are welcome and will be accommodated as time permits on a first come, first served basis.
This event is for individuals who own antique needlework samplers and pictorial embroideries and would like to learn more about the condition, significance, and proper care of these textiles. Members of the public are invited to bring their samplers to the Buttonwoods Museum on Sampler Study Day for a professional evaluation. The fee to participate in this program is $30 per sampler.
Camille Breeze will evaluate the condition of each sampler brought to the event and provide participants with a one-page conservation worksheet with a cost estimate for conservation. She will also discuss potential conservation issues and make recommendations for the appropriate mounting and framing of these heirlooms. Buttonwoods Museum staff will share information related to the age, decorative motifs, and overall style of each sampler. They will also provide resources for researching the history of a sampler's maker.
Museum Textile Services staff will be help participants complete a short survey to include their samplers in a searchable online database administered by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. The goal of the NSCDA Sampler Survey is to inventory all extant samplers and pictorial embroideries in museums and private collections to promote the preservation and study of this important art form.
If your historical society or museum is interested in hosting a Sampler Study Day, please contact Camille Myers Breeze at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 978-474-9200.
by Josephine Johnson
Some images in the art world are made and forgotten, while others are repeated over and over again in many different mediums. A popular image of Fame Decorating Shakespeare's Tomb recently found its way into Museum Textile Services' studio in the form of embroidered and painted silk.
The embroidery depicts Fame as a woman decorating the tomb of the great William Shakespeare. The image was originally created by English painter Angelica Kauffmann in 1772. Kauffmann ranks among the first successful female European artists. The painting is a small metal roundel that may have been part of a large decorative scheme in a room. Her decorative images can be found all over furniture, porcelain, ceilings, walls, and as we've seen, embroideries.
Kaufman's painting was made into an etching a decade later by the English printmaker Francesco Bartolozzi. Converting a painting into an etching was a common way to reproduce an image before photography was invented. The etching of the painting is probably what inspired the embroideries because an etching can circulate to a much bigger audience. Notice how the tomb in the embroidery matches the shape of the tomb in the etching, not the painting!
The embroideries follow the tradition in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries of needlepoint created by school girls, who would have had much easier access to the etching than to Kaufman's painting. With inspiration coming from the black and white etching, the embroiderer had more freedom for creativity when choosing colors.
In the slide show above you can see several other embroideries of Fame at Shakespeare's tomb. We love to see the work of a female painter celebrated over and over again throughout history!
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
Museum Textile Services recently acquired a number of issues of “Needlecraft: The Home Arts Magazine.” The magazine was published in the first half of the 20th century and these examples are from the 1920s and 30s. Several articles feature the same needlecraft techniques as those in some of the textiles that we have conserved!
One example, from the February 1934 issue of Needlecraft, shows crewel embroidery, or crewelwork. Crewel, as the article explains, is distinguished from other styles of embroidery because it is done with wool yarn rather than silk or cotton thread. The result is a bold pattern that can be made with a wide variety of stitches. Most articles in Needlecraft do not include the patterns, which were sold separately, but they do include detailed descriptions of the process. This article describes patterns for a set of bookends, a cushion, and a handbag.
One crewel embroidery object that Museum Textile Services has restored is an early 20th century chair. The embroidery was done by the owner's grandmother, who was no doubt exposed to magazine articles such as ours. The family still uses the chair, so the goal of conservation was to repair and stabilize the fabric for continued use.
Both the chair and the patterns from the magazine are reflective of Jacobean style, which hearkens back to 17th-century England but has stayed popular for crewel embroidery over the centuries. This style was especially popular during the early 20th-century revival of interest in colonial-era crafts. Jacobean embroidery features stylized plants and forest animals, such as the flowers, birds, and butterflies shown here.
More recently, the MTS study collection received a donation of crewel-embroidered curtains made by the mother of one of our clients. The client is downsizing her home and can only fit part of her mother's impressive needlework legacy. What makes this donation all the more meaningful is the discovery that the client graduated from Oberlin College in the same class as Camille's mother!
Stay tuned for more examples of textiles conserved at MTS that we learned more about from Needlecraft Magazine.
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.
At the dawn of the 19th century, a young English woman by the name of Miss Grimshaw created a self portrait out of precious silk and watercolors. In the tradition of memorial embroideries of that time period, a piece of thin silk was first painted, then backed with a stiffer cotton, and finally embroidered through both layers.
The textile underwent quite a journey before arriving at Museum Textile Services. It was brought to America by Miss Grimshaw's son, D. Grimshaw, in 1838. This may be when the embroidery was placed in an ornate fluted frame over a wood board. Later, a paper mat with an oval cut-out was glued directly on top of the painted silk. The frame was again disturbed in the 20th century, as evidenced by some scotch tape holding the layers of board together.
Before conservation, the textile was acidified and brittle from age and contact with the wood board. The frame was weak, had been overpainted, and was losing its plaster.
The first step was to unframe and disassemble the embroidery to get to its core components. What we found inside was a layer of impossibly fragile silk being held together entirely by the stitching and paint.
The silk to which the cardboard mat was glued had long since separated from the center. This allowed the mat to be lifted off, leaving behind a rough oval of silk and silk embroidery threads. Cracks were present in the painted areas and some chunks of silk had detached, revealing the cotton backing fabric.
The proposed treatment was an aggressive one; lining the back of the silk was not possible because the embroidery stitching passes through both the silk and the cotton backing fabric. Instead, a sheer conservation fabric treated with an adhesive film would have to be placed on top of the embroidery to ensure the self portrait remained intact. Adhesive treatments of this kind are not reversible, so they are used only when other treatment options are exhausted.
Before the sheer overlay went on, losses in the silk were addressed using a unique procedure. A photograph of the intact foliage on the left side of the image was flipped horizontally in Photoshop to match the foliage on the right side of the picture. This reverse image was then printed on silk fabric using a color laser printer. (Print-on fabric is available at http://www.dharmatrading.com).
The new silk was placed carefully underneath the shattered edges of the textile to camouflage losses. The adhesive overlay was then completed, locking the old and new layers together. The embroidery was hand stitched to a fabric-covered archival mat board.
A computer-cut oval mat was provided by our frame supplier and a new fluted frame was found that matches the old one almost perfectly. The textile was framed and the frame was sealed with Marvelseal barrier film.
Now that this fragile piece of history has been stabilized and preserved, it lives on to be enjoyed by its owner, Miss Grimshaw's great-great-great-great-great granddaughter!