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.
This is the third in our series of MTS Blogs about samplers we have conserved from the New Hampshire Historical Society. Sarah’s sampler is a simple upper and lowercase alphabet stitched with silk thread on a piece of undyed linen. She stitched only the numerals 1 through 4 but spent quite a bit of time perfecting the decorative floral border--perhaps nine- or ten-year-old Sarah adored flowers more than numbers. According to the NHHS digital catalog, Sarah Folsom Cochran lived from 1811 and 1844 in Pembroke and Epson, New Hampshire. Although she did not record the date she made her sampler, she did include her exact birthday as August 26th, 1811. So happy 204th birthday anniversary Sarah! (August 26th also happens to be Director Camille Myers Breeze's birthday, though she's a bit younger.)
In the early 19th century, all the dyes used to color Sarah’s bright silks would have been made from natural substances like madder for pinks and reds, and indigo or woad for blues. Many natural dyes, and the natural fibers of silk and linen, slowly degrade over time, losing their intensity and saturation as a result of things like light and heat. However Sarah's sampler is almost the same color on the front as on the back, indicating that it has been well cared for.
We know that Sarah's sampler was once framed because it came to Museum Textile Services glued onto an acidic board. Moisture in the top-left corner had caused soil and discoloration to migrate, but fortunately not the dyes. Prior to cleaning, Conservator Cara Jordan removed as much of the cardboard and adhesive residue from the reverse with mechanical action. Director Camille Breeze then used the suction table to flush deionized water through the sampler and control any potential dye bleeding. The first blotters showed a great deal of discoloration coming out of the sampler, which was exhausted after several rinses. The sampler was allowed to fully dry on the suction table beneath a piece of blotter. It was then hand stitched to a fabric-covered mounting board for display at the New Hampshire Historical Society.
Sarah’s gift to history was her sampler, and Museum Textile Services is pleased to restore some of the light and delicacy back to her work. If you are concerned about your own historic textile being damaged due to light exposure, pests, or acidity, take a look at the our MTS Handouts on Choosing Storage Materials and Displaying Textiles, located on our website.
Nine-year-old Junia Bartlett stitched this sampler of the alphabet in large bold letters around 1819. She chose pinks and blues to start her alphabet but over the years her brilliant pinks have faded to pale beige, and the blues and greens have lost some of their lustrous vibrancy. Luckily conservation allows us to peek at the back of the sampler to see the silky pink, sea-foam green, and Prussian blue she chose for her composition. Junia’s stitching techniques include the common satin stitch in blue, and a less common open work Alsatian stitch in pink. The sampler was gift in 2012 to the New Hampshire Historical Society by Gift of Klaudia S. Shepard.
Junia’s famous grandfather, Josiah Bartlett, was the 4th Governor of New Hampshire and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The family’s wealth and status afforded Junia opportunities to learn and write, and she went on to become the wife of Maine US Representative, Francis O.J. Smith. Junia’s correspondence with her brother Levi Bartlett is part of the Maine Historical Society collections, and--most unusually--she was given author credit alongside her husband on many legal and political documents in the Library of Congress catalog.
It is easy to imagine Junia sitting in the parlor, or on the front porch, stitching away at her sampler, with no idea her writings and work would be saved for almost 200 years and counting. Junia’s sampler is just one of the many pieces of her legacy that museums, libraries, historical societies and conservation specialists are working to preserve.
Museum Textile Services conservator Cara Jordan humidified Junia Bartlett's sampler to deacidify it and allow it to be safely blocked to square using pins. She then hand stitched the sampler to a fabric-covered, archival support to allow it to be safely displayed by the New Hampshire Historical Society.
Museum Textile Services has been conserving a selection of samplers from the New Hampshire Historical Society over the last few years. Each one of these beauties will be featured on the blog. First up is Bridget Walker’s 1795 sampler, so let’s dive in!
Bridget, as she proudly states in her work, was 12 when this sampler was finished in 1795. Young Miss Walker was growing up as one of the first generation of Americans born after the revolution in her town of Concord New Hampshire. In 1795 Concord was a bustling town, about to be named New Hampshire’s state capital. With industry, wealth and success in a city, education for children usually follows, and this sampler is a testament to educational values of the time.
We can see Bridget’s eye for color and form along with her alphabet, numbers, and a well-known sampler rhyme. The rhyme is slightly different in the groundbreaking 1921 compilation American Samplers by Ethel Stanwood Bolton and Eva Johnston Coe. As you can see from this excerpt, Bridget chose to alter the full rhyme to suit her taste and ideas of correct spelling in 1795 Concord.
Bridget’s fine sampler was stitched carefully on natural linen in silk thread, and then carefully saved through the generations. As you can see from the wrinkles and fading before conservation, it was in need of some skilled care. Museum Textile Services conservator Cara Jordan surface cleaned, humidified, and blocked the sampler before stitching it by hand to a fabric-covered archival board for storage and display. These conservation measures will improve the visual qualities for viewers and aid in the preservation of this beautiful sampler for generations to come.
Check out more details on Bridget and her sampler at the New Hampshire Historical Society.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com or call 978-474-9200.
by Aimee-Michele Pratt
Among the most popular items that we conserve at Museum Textile Services are needlework samplers. As a new member of staff, I decided to research what a sampler is and where they are made.
The word sampler is derived from the French word essamplaire, which means anything that is to be copied or imitated. The earliest samplers illustrated this idea as they were pieces of cloth on which embroiderers experimented with stitch effects or recorded patterns for future reference. Effectively, samplers took the place of pattern books, which were not widely available.
In the eighteenth century (in America and much of Europe) samplers took on a different utilitarian function. During this time, girls and young women created samplers as a part of their basic education. They were vehicles through which schoolgirls could practice their embroidery techniques, and learn their letters and numbers. These are the works that many picture when thinking of an embroidered sampler. They commonly include alphanumeric characters, simple sayings, or biblical quotations. In more ambitious pieces, girls included simple pictorial scenes.
Some of the samplers in the slideshow below are familiar, and others defy the common concept of a sampler. Included are examples of ancient reference samplers from Peru and Egypt, elaborate darning samplers, ornate whitework, and a fascinating piece in the textile collection of the Victoria and Albert museum on which a woman has embroidered her entire life story. These examples have expanded our understanding of what a sampler can be, and illustrate the sampler’s evolving form and purpose.
I hope you enjoy this exploration of the wonderful world of samplers.
By Camille Myers Breeze
The latest in our series of MTS Handouts is called Displaying Textiles, and is designed to help you choose the best locations and methods for displaying your textiles.
By the time you see visible changes, such as color fading, yellowing, tears, or insect activity, your textile has already been irreversibly damaged. Continuing to display a textile under poor display conditions will accelerate deterioration and shorten the textile’s useful and/or decorative lifespan. Having a textile conservator stabilize the textile can allow it to be displayed again, but only if sensible precautions are taken.
Displaying a textile in a frame with no glazing, or with non-filtering glazing, is harmful to the textile. Anything framed prior to the 1980s will have plain glass or acrylic with no ultraviolet-filtering capacities. All framed textiles should be retrofitted with UV-filtering glazing or stored safely. Even with UV-filtered glazing, a framed textile can be harmed by light, particularly sunlight, which heats up the fibers causing harmful expansion and contraction.
Tapestries, quilts, and other large, flat textiles, can be safely displayed on a wall without a display case if the conditions in the room are suitable. Once a safe location has been determined to hang your flat textile, a conservator can provide a Velcro hanging system. Ideally, two textiles, such as two similarly-sized quilts, will be rotated to allow each one six months on display followed by six months in an archival storage box kept in a safe location.
For more information about this important subject, read the entire Displaying Textiles Handout, which is available with all of our free handouts in the resources section of the MTS website.
by Camille Myers Breeze
When the opportunity to purchase this 1837 New Hampshire sampler arose, I jumped on. The MTS study collection contains many such textiles that come into our hands in need of a conservator's attention.
Three lines of inscriptions read "Sarah R Hamilton born Oct 3rd 1825", "George L Hamilton born Dec 14th 1828," and the maker's inscription, "Sarah R. Hamilton aged 12."
Close examination of these lines show several layers of intervention. Green silk thread had been used to go over parts of the two top lines. At an earlier time, all three lines were also traced in what appears to be pencil. Beneath these the original cross stitching appeared as a thin white silk thread.
Reverse of green over-stitching
The reverse of the sampler shows the later green threads and original white threads below.
We decided to remove the new green thread along with as much of the pencil as possible. This photo shows the front of the sampler after this has been done.
In the closeup below-left you can see that green ink was also used at some point to touch up the lettering. Spot cleaning of the stitching with deionized water was successful in removing this green ink, seen on blotting paper below right.
The reverse of the treated area held one additional surprise for conservators. By unspinning some of the original white embroidery threads it became clear that these letters were originally turquoise blue, a common color from the time period. Chemical processed had caused the silk thread to deteriorate and the dye to fail not only where it was exposed to light on the front, but everywhere except the core of the thread and at some knots.
New blue over-stitching
In light of this new evidence, we decided to restore the inscriptions to their original blue color. We carefully matched the original dye with a new blue mercerized cotton embroidery floss.
New cross stitches were carefully placed over the deteriorated letters in these three lines as well as other places the same thread was used. The original thread was left in place and is now protected beneath the new stitches.
The final image below shows the sampler after it was humidified, mounted and framed by Conservation Assistant Cara Jordan. The restored lettering makes the sampler more legible and reminds us of the cheerful colors originally chosen by 12-year-old Sarah Hamilton for her sampler.
The restoration of deteriorated lettering on the Sarah R Hamilton was an unusual treatment for Museum Textile Services. Having performed this treatment on an item in our study collection, we can now offer a similar restoration it to a client should the circumstances call for it.
This sampler now hangs proudly in the Museum Textile Services conservation studio.
by Sarah Berlinger, Technician
Framing is an important aspect of conservation that is oftentimes overlooked. In the interest of time, money, or waiting to obtain institutional permission, items that need conservation framing may be conserved but left unframed, or not conserved at all. At Museum Textile Services, our framing is an affordable upgrade for your object, and our conservation framing techniques protect your objects now and into the future.
In order to limit further deterioration of objects, we only use archival-quality framing supplies, such as backing board, and UV-filtering glass or acrylic. The acrylic spacers we use to keep objects off glass must also be archival, as they are in close proximity to the object.
We have a fine selection of high-quality Larson-Juhl and Decor period-style frames to choose from that are sure to suit your tastes and be suitable for your textile. If you wish to see a wider variety of moldings, our frame supplier will meet with you at Museum Textile Services where you can choose from among hundreds (!) of wood and metal frame moldings. Your textile never leaves our studio and all framing is done by our staff.
Before framing, your conserved object and frame are vacuumed and inspected for stray fibers and dust. After the spacers are installed on the UV-filtering glass or acrylic, the mounted textile is placed in the frame and held in place with stainless-steel brads. The entire package is backed with an archival barrier material called Marvelseal, which provides a stable environment that is virtually pest proof. Hooks and hanging wire (or D-rings for larger objects) are then installed and the object is ready for display.
For larger items, including quilts and flags, we rely on our colleagues at Small Corp. Inc. in Greenfield, Massachusetts, to construct state-of-the-art museum panels and 5-sided ultraviolet-filtering acrylic cases, which maximize both protection and display potential.
Please consider having your objects conservation framed, whether they’ve been recently conserved or not. The fate of your object might truly depend on it.
Note: Many thanks to technician Sarah Berlinger for her wonderful work and great blog posts. She will continue to make appearances in the MTS blog while she pursues her career goals.
by Sarah Berlinger, Technician
The Fairbanks House, located in Dedham, Massachusetts, is notable not only for its age, but for its impressive collection of American crafts and memorabilia. The house, whose first rooms were constructed around 1640, is believed to be the oldest surviving timber frame house in the United States. As a historic house museum, the Fairbanks House endeavors to fully represent the lives and time periods of different groups of Fairbanks family members who have occupied the house over the years. Included in those representations are various crafts and works of art created by the family over the years.
In 2008, Museum Textile Services conducted an initial survey of the collection of samplers in the house that were created by members of the extended family over the years; the collection includes samplers from 1763 to 1830. Thanks to a Tru-Vue Optium Conservation Grant through the American Institute for Conservation, we were able to conserve seven samplers for the Fairbanks House in 2011.
For young girls and teens, samplers served several purposes. They provided the opportunity for girls to work on their embroidery technique, something every woman needed to possess. Samplers also provided something to keep girls occupied during the day. Many of the samplers in the Fairbanks collection were done by girls around 11 years old. Some of the samplers were very simple; they contained renderings of the alphabet and numbers, a few examples of different stitches and borders, and sometimes a name. Others included elaborately embroidered scenes and designs, as well as poetic tributes.
One of the most endearing qualities of samplers is the mistakes they possess. For example, in the first line of the stanza in the 1798 sampler below, the "w" of "anew" would not fit within the border, so the stitcher, eleven year old Betsey Fairbanks, added the letter above the word. The same thing was done in the third line with the word "high." A larger image of this sampler can be found here. Such missteps only increase the charm of these needleworks.
Conservation efforts for the samplers included removal from acidic backing boards and adhesives, vacuuming, and some repairs to embroidery stitches. Some of the samplers that merited such attention were wet cleaned using deionized water. After removal from old boards, we constructed new cloth-covered mounting boards. The samplers were stitched to their new boards around the perimeter and at strategic points in the interior of the sampler. All the samplers were given new frames with Optium UV-filtering Acrylic. Conservation on a majority of the samplers was completed in time to be returned to the house for the Fairbanks family reunion in August.
Conserving objects with such a rich family history and artistic context is always a wonderful opportunity, and we're grateful to the Fairbanks House for letting us do our part to help preserve these small treasures for future generations of the Fairbanks Family to enjoy.