by Cara Jordan
This is a follow up to one of the items we discussed in our October 7, 2013 blog, Mold Before & After.
A plastic suitcase filled with uniforms belonging to WWII Marine Veteran John E. Holland, Jr. arrived at Museum Textile Services in spring, 2013. The owners were distraught that the suitcase had inadvertantly been stored in a damp basement, leading to the dramatic condition of the items inside.
Holland's three-piece baseball uniform was vacuumed, fumigated in a chlorine dioxide chamber, and wetcleaned to clean it and kill the mold spores. The jersey and pants are made of grayish wool with red piping along the sleeves, neck, and front closure. All that remains of the team name is a single “I” in the center of the closure, along with a coordinating red button. The owners believed that Holland had played minor league baseball for a New York affiliated team. A quick search on www.baseball-reference.com for New York affiliate teams with the letter “I” in the name was inconclusive.
I noticed that quite a few fragments of red fabric and thread remained on the front of the jersey where the lettering had once been. So I put the jersey on a light table to see if any of the machined stitch holes that once attached the letters remained, but we were thwarted. Next I printed some digital photographs and highlighted the red remnants on the image. When I "connected the dots,” I was able to make out an “E” and “R.” The other letters were less forth-coming and the team name remained a mystery. I put the images aside for a few days later we took another go at it. Soon I was able to decipher a possible “A” and “N,” giving me "_ A? R I N? E _." Then it dawned on me: this wasn’t a minor league jersey at all! It was a MARINES baseball jersey.
According to Wikipedia, US Armed Forces baseball dates back as far as the Civil War. More recently, military baseball was used as a recruiting tool to attract personnel and improve morale among the troups. Military baseball was at it’s apex during John Holland Jr.’s time, with big leaguers like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio playing on service teams. I suspect that Holland played ball for the Marines team during his time with them in WWII and then reused the jersey after his discharge.The mystery of the moldy jersey had been solved!
Although mold isn't a conservator's favorite thing to deal with, this project has been rewarding on many levels.
By Camille Myers Breeze
The response to our last blog, Battling Mold Outbreaks, was so good that we decided to show you more dramatic images of mold before and after conservation.
If you recall, the collection of John E. Holland Jr's WWII-era Military and baseball uniforms was stored in a plastic suitcase and had been exposed to moisture for a prolongued period of time. Consequently, a wide variety of mold species of different colors and textures had fluorished within the confined space.
The cotton items fared worse than the wool. The acidic conditions caused more rips and general deterioration in the naturally basic cotton. Stains, like those remaining on this hat, remained even after fumigation, vcuuming, and wetcleaning.
The baseball uniformhad both wool flannel and cotton catcher's pads. After fumigation and vacuuming, the wool uniform was conservation drycleaned, which greatly improved its appearance. We are now challenged with trying to decifer what team name was once stitched to the front of the jersey (it was not uncommon for the minor leagues to recycle older uniforms.) Only the "I" was left on the button placket, which is clearly visible in the above photo.
The catcher's pads were fumigated and vacuumed prior to wetcleaning. When dry, the pads were sandwiched in off-white nylon net to allow them to be safely handled without losing stuffing out of the many small holes caused by acidic degradation.
Arguably the most important single piece in the collection was Staff Sargeant Holland's dress uniform jacket in which he is pictured in his WWII photograph. Parts of the jacket, such as the badges on his left sleeve, were in pristine condition apart from the mold. Other areas, including the buttons and collar studs, had suffered moisture damage as well.
After fumigation, vacuuming, and conservation drycleaning, the jacket once again reflects the bravery and dignity of a WWII US Marine. Some of the collar studs and other bars and insignia on the uniforms had to be removed prior to drycleaning, and are now in archival bags.
The twelve items once stored in the plastic suitcase are now rehoused in four archival storage boxes. The family of Staff Sergeant Holland can now expect these intimate reminders of their recently-deceased WWII Marine to live on for generations to come.
By Josephine Johnson
It's that time of year again when we start seeing a lot of moldy textiles around Museum Textiles Services. Mold spores are everywhere, all of the time, but it takes specific conditions for mold to bloom and become a problem. In 90% relative humidity and 90°F, it only takes three days for mold spores to flourish and bloom. As the humidity and temperature decrease, the time it takes for mold to bloom increases, so at 80% relative humidity and 80°F, it takes three weeks. At 70% relative humidity and 70°F, it may take up to three months for a mold problem to become apparent.
We get the most calls from clients with mold problems in September, because 70%/70°F conditions may persist for three months and still feel quite comfortable. Mold also favors areas with low air circulation, so textiles in attics, basements, and backs of closets are at high risk for bloom. Needless to say, mold outbreaks are also very common following disaster events, such as hurricanes, floods, and fires.
Most recently at Museum Textile Services, the culprit was a plastic suitcase that was discovered in a wet basement. The suitcase contained the World War II-era military and baseball uniforms of John Edward Holland, Jr., whose daughter recently inherited the suitcase. The collection consists of three hats, three jackets, two pairs of pants, and a baseball uniform. All of the objects were covered with a thick layer of multi-colored, furry mold. The patches and medals on Holland's uniforms tell us that he was a Staff Sergeant in the 3rd Marine Amphibious Battalion.
The first step to battling the mold was to vacuum the textiles. It was very important to protect ourselves from inhaling mold spores, so we suited up with gloves, aprons, and masks, and worked outside. The next step was to kill the mold spores to minimize the chance of future outbreaks and to remove the human health hazard. To do this, we created a sealed fumigation chamber and exposed the items overnight to chlorine dioxide vapor. This treatment kills the mold spores and has also been shown to discourage future mold growth. When circumstances prevent vacuuming items first, we begin with the fumigation process.
Mold can be destructive: eating holes in fabric, weakening fibers, and leaving behind permanent stains. The wet and pestilent conditions in which this uniform collection was stored were so severe that the cotton threads holding the seams of one of the jackets together disintegrated, leaving the panels of the wool jacket largely intact. Cotton textiles in general are less likely than wool to survive conditions in which mold flourishes. This is because dirty, wet, and decaying conditions are usually acidic, and naturally acidic protein fibers such as wool will tolerate acid better than naturally basic plant fibers like cotton.
If you believe your historical or artistic collections have a mold problem, contact a conservator immediately. Do not use Lysol or other disinfecting chemicals on the items, or place old and fragile textiles in the sun to kill the mold. These actions may cause more harm than good. A conservator will walk you through the steps to safely dry and pack your items. You may be instructed how to carefully vacuum the textiles and surrounding areas to remove mold spores only if you are certain you can do so without damaging anything. If your items are already dry, you should quarantine them in zip-top or garbage bags before bringing them to a conservator.
For moldy modern clothing and textiles that are in good condition, you can take them to a dry cleaners for their professional opinion.