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 Jennifer Nason
This week’s blog came about after Camille Breeze discovered some women’s military uniforms on a visit to the costume collection at Keene State College (see photo gallery below). After our recent AWVS uniform project, our interest was peeked by yet another example of women contributing to the WWII efforts. The Keene uniforms are clearly labeled as belonged to two ladies who served in the Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Naval Reserve, also known as Woman Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services, or WAVES.
The WAVES were created on July 30th, 1942, becoming the first women’s division of a U.S. military branch. It was also the first time in U.S. military history that women were paid and disciplined the same as men of the same rank and status. However it was understood from the outset that the WAVES would be a temporary division, and that it would dissolve once the war ended (hence the emergency part of the name).
Nonetheless, the women of WAVES received ample training; there were schools throughout the U.S. for educating female midshipmen and officers. Within the first year of commission, there were roughly 27,000 women active in the ranks of the WAVES. Their duties were mostly clerical, yet some branched out into the medical, intelligence, and technological fields.
The Women’s Reserve was never used for active combat, however they performed the essential tasks at home needed for a successful Navy and a safe America. They were just as important to the safety and well-being of America as any enlisted men. The WAVES also had their own official song which they sung proudly:
WAVES of the Navy,
The Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Naval Reserve was never disbanded as predicted. On the 12th of June, 1948, the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act allowed women to permanently enter the armed services. The Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Naval Reserve became W9 Women's Officer Training and W10 Women's Enlisted Training programs of the U.S. Navy.
As U.S. women begin to qualify for active combat duty we should all be grateful to trailblazers such as the WAVES for the role they played in protecting America.
By Camille Myers Breeze
In this third and final installment of our AWVS blog series, we hope to show how important even a simple textile conservation treatment is for long-term preservation of historic uniforms.
The Wheaton College AWVS collection consists of 20 uniform pieces and accessories, plus spare buttons and badges, a ribbon, a hat band, and some notes on paper. One of the notes reads "Ginnie Scripps Pace's hat--uniform sold to Barbara Owen." To date the identity of the two women is unknown. The uniforms and accessories appear to span a wide date range, based on their materials, which you can read more about in our last blog.
The hats, caps, pocketbooks, ties, and belt were conserved by micro-vacuuming and humidification. They were then finger pressed back to shape. Even a cool iron was avoided because the complexity of the constructions and evidence of prior scorching from an iron. For the time being, the accessories are padded with unbuffered acid-free tissue to hold their shape. Ethafoam and Volara forms are recommended for display and long-term storage.
The dress, jackets, and skirts all benefited from conservation wetcleaning to remove deterioration products, rehydrate the fibers, and realign the creases and folds. Each was first tested for washfastness, since a variety of cotton and rayon fabrics are represented in the group. The jackets and two of the skirts appear to be made of the same heavy rayon plain-weave that gives off a reddish color in warm water. The decision was made to wetclean these in cool deionized water with a single application of a .3% solution of Orvus WA Paste in water.
The remainder of the garments were wetcleaned the same way but with warmer water to facilitate in the cleaning and dispersion of the Orvus surfactant. Each garment was rinsed thoroughly until the water was free of suds or discoloration and then lightly toweled to remove excess water. The uniforms were padded with nylon net and hung to dry. Once dry, the decision was made to lightly iron each garment inside out to remove any remaining creasing. We were discourage from ironing on the outside of thick areas like cuffs and collars by evidence of the same scorching from repeated pressing seen on the garrison caps.
The conservation of the AWVS collection from Wheaton College was distinguished more by what it was not than by what it was. It was not a complex treatment requiring hours of tedious stitching to highly damaged fabric. Instead it was an exercise in modesty that met the needs of the collection and made it available for safe study and display. Above all, the AWVS collection provided an opportunity for learning about history through the intimate media of clothing and textiles.
Click here for Part I and Part II of this blog.
by Tegan Kehoe and Camille Myers Breeze
In last week's post, Jen Nason introduced you to the American Women’s Voluntary Services and the collection of WWII uniforms and accessories we are conserving for Wheaton College. Today we will take a closer look at the garments themselves, and what we they tell us about fashion and rationing during WWII.
1940’s women’s fashions for daily wear were heavily influenced by the war, even outside of the armed forces and support organizations. Women favored tailored blouses, jackets, and knee-length skirts. They were practical, sturdy, and used relatively little fabric, but had feminine details such as shoulder pads and higher hemlines than 1930’s styles. These fashions were sometimes called utility fashion, named after the Utility Clothing Scheme, one of the rationing schemes used in the UK. An exhibit on this topic, entitled “Beauty as Duty,” came to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 2011.
An indication not only of the war-time economy but also of the long duration of the conflict is the variety of fabrics found in the Wheaton AWVS collection. Among the collection, we find two pocketbooks, two ties, one belt, five garrison caps, two hats, three skirts, three jackets, and one dress. There are no fewer than 5 different fabrics represented, from 100% cotton plain weave to different styles or types of rayon.
The light-blue cotton skirt, belt, and hat could perhaps be the earliest in the collection. Sgt. Burgess Scott's 1945 article Clothing and the War states that cotton was extremely difficult to come by and rayon was the most common substitute. A manufactured cellulosic fiber, rayon is neither a synthetic nor truly a natural fiber. It can mimic the characteristics of silk, linen, and cotton but rayon has poor elastic regain and was best dry cleaned.
Another interesting feature of this collection is that two of the three jackets have wooden buttons that are painted a gold color to look like metal. During WWII, metal was in short supply, so it was considered patriotic to use substitutes whenever possible and donate metal to scrap drives to be recycled for military purposes. The Wheaton College collection has extra sets of buttons, apparently salvaged from other garments.
Wheaton's AWVS collection is in very good condition and had probably been dry cleaned before going into storage decades ago. Stay tuned for our final AWVS blog, a show-and-tell of the uniforms before and after conservation.
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 Courtney Jason
When this WWI Army jacket came to Museum Textile Services, we did not know too much about it. According to the client, it had belonged to their grandfather, who was an Irish immigrant who enlisted to escape the orphanage he was living in. Beyond that, the rest was unclear. In the intervening weeks, much has come to light about Alexander G. McLean, his uniform, and his service in the Great War for Civilization.
McLean's WWI jacket before conservation.
McLean's army jacket is a 1917 pattern jacket, which is distin- guishable from the earlier 1912 pattern by a single line of stitching around the sleeve cuffs. Details like this can be found on the US Army's website in an extensive PDF by David Cole.
Recently the client returned with more items belonging to their grandfather. The buttons, pins, business cards, and books have inspired us to begin our research anew, and while we still do not know a lot about the life of Alexander McLean, we are developing a more complete picture. We know he joined the Army with the Yankee Division, and that he likely spent the majority of his time abroad fighting in France.
The first step of the project is to mount the jacket for display. It has been carefully vacuumed and an archival support pillow has been constructed. Next it will be mount it to a fabric-covered solid-support panel and covered with a UV filtering acrylic shadow box. When the jacket is complete, additional shadow boxes will be constructed for the other items.
While there are still a lot of unanswered questions, we are looking forward to learning more about the life of Alexander McLean. Be sure to check our Facebook page for updates as we continue to work on this project.
On the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, MTS conservators are remembering a very important flag we recently treated that flew on a US Coast Guard ship the USS Centaurus, which serviced Pearl Harbor and other sites in the Pacific theater.
The USS Centaurus was an attack cargo ship which was at the battle Okinawa in April and June, 1944, and supplied Guadalcanal in the fall of 1944. Guadalcanal is located in the Solomon Islands, and was won back from the Japanese during a six month campaign from August 7, 1942 to February 8, 1943.
Together with a second U.S. Coast Guard Museum flag from Guadalcanal, the Centaurus flag was removed from the old backing fabric, vacuumed to remove any particulates, and humidified to remove wrinkles and folds. Both flags have signs of insect damage and are tattered at the fly ends from use. The Guadalcanal flag has such extensive fraying that servicemen had tied the strips of wool into large knots. Some of these knots were untied by conservators prior to mounting but the others could not be loosened.
Both flags were pressure mounted in order to minimize the amount of conservation stitching required. Quarter-inch archival Polyfelt from University Products in Holyoke, Massachusetts, was used to create a soft surface. The padding was voided beneath the knots and thick binding edge to provide a more even pressure mounting. The padding was placed on a solid-support panel from Small Corp, Inc. in Greenfield, Massachusetts, and covered with cotton fabric. The flag was then hand stitched to the fabric-covered mount around the perimeter and along several stripes. A small Corp UV-filtering acrylic box was used to complete the pressure mount.
The conserved WWII flags returned to the US Coast Guard Museum in summer, 2011, and are among the favorite items requested for display at ceremonies and other Coast Guard events.
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