Over recent years there have been many natural disasters that have impacted museums and other historic sites (i.e. flood at the Louvre in 2017, fires at the National Museum of Brazil (2018) and Notre Dame Cathedral in 2019). While most natural disasters result in extensive damage to artifacts, they may also reveal something new or exciting that would otherwise remain unknown.
In February, 2019, staff from Museum Textile Services surveyed several costumes and costume ensembles at the Maine State Museum that were impacted by ice and water damage to secure storage facility. Later that same year, 17 costume ensembles initially surveyed arrived at MTS for conservation treatment. One costume ensemble in particular, consisting of a polka-dot bodice and skirt with lace panels, was particularly fragile and required an interventive treatment.
The two-piece dress, comprised of a bodice and skirt made of white silk with blue polka dots, was stiff and discolored from water exposure from the flood. The plain white silk used in the lining of the bodice, as well as the float-linings of the skirt and skirt tiers, already had numerous tears and splits, which is an inherent vice of silk. Underarm shields in each sleeve of the bodice were also shedding powder, likely from deteriorated polyurethane pads.
To address the flood damage, it was decided to wetclean the bodice and skirt. Prior to wetcleaning, the degraded skirt lining was removed due to its fragility. The decision was made not to conserve the linings due to the potential to cause additional damage through handling and loss of historic information. The underarm shields were also removed and archived due to their instability, bulkiness, and increased weight when wet, which could damage the fragile silk in surrounding areas. Fragile areas on the bodice were temporarily encased in nylon net for ease of handling during wetcleaning.
The flood at the Maine State Museum initiated the subsequent survey and treatment of many historic costumes. Perhaps without that unfortunate event, this delightful ensemble would have remained untreated and unexhibitable due to its fragile condition. Today, the polka-dot dress is free of distortions and deterioration products caused by the flood, and is stable enough that it can be displayed. A special thank you goes out to the excellent staff of the Maine State Museum who helped us manage this project, which kept us going through the early months of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic.
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
This spring I am hard at work promoting the latest research project at Museum Textile Services on the Use of Sheer Overlays in Textile Conservation. Sheer overlays, such as nylon net, silk crepeline, and polyester Stabiltex, are used in textile conservation to protect an object and/or change the object’s appearance.
There are many benefits of conserving textiles with sheer overlays. They provide immediate stabilization across a large area with a minimum of stitching. Sheer overlays also provide preventative care, as they offer protection from loss if the textile continues to degrade. Most importantly for use at MTS, sheer overlays are easy to learn, and are among the first things I teach intern to do.
This topic is near and dear to my heart, as I have been teaching it at the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies in Mount Carroll, IL, since 2012. It may also be familiar to you if you have visited the Resources section of the Museum Textile Services web page. There you will find several MTS handouts on the subject, including our newest, Hot Cutting & Applying Polyester Sheer Overlays.
Other MTS Handouts on this topic include Conservation Netting, about the use of sheer nylon net overlays. I created the Sheer Overlay Score Card to assist in choosing the best sheer overlay, and it is also online. There is even a List of Sheer Overlay Suppliers and a Sheer Overlay Bibliography.
At the end of May, 2014, I will present poster on Evaluating and Choosing Sheer Overlays in San Francisco at the 42nd Conference of the American Institute for Conservation.One of the purposes of this poster is to launch my online survey on use of sheer overlays in textile conservation, in which I will gather feedback from conservators and collections care specialists around the world. The survey data will then assist me in an upcoming publication I am writing on the subject.
Stay tuned for more on this topic, and don't forget to take the online survey!
By Camille Myers Breeze
As the deadline approaches for us to conclude the replication of the Henry Adams bed hangings, we are one step closer to the key component: receiving the digitally printed fabric.
Trustworth Studios, in Plymouth, MA, is the home and studio of artist David Berman. He produces exquisite wallpaper, needleworks, and fabrics from historic patterns and photographs. He is perhaps best known for his line of C.F. Voysey designs which he has brought back to life and made available to today's commercial market.
Joining me for the exciting task of reviewing fabric samples was Kelly Cobble, Curator of the Adams National Historical Park. Kelly is the supervisor of this conservation project and has the daunting task of helping to decide how close to the fabric's original appearance this new fabric should be.
The challenge in reproducing this fabric digitally comes from the fact that it is a silk rep (having a slight ribbed texture) with regularly spaced medallions of white silk floats and a moire, or watered pattern. The fabric is discolored from soot and smoke and damaged from age. The original cochinille pink color is preserved inside seams, however the rest of the bed hangings are a more masculine burgundy tone.
We settled on a favorite sample, with a 7.5% layer of "dirt," or slight darkening applied. We then took all of the samples to the Adams National Historical Park to examine them in situ and see if our favorite was still the best choice.
When we compared the printed samples and the original fabric on the bed where it is to be displayed, the results were completely different. The lighting in the third-floor room is UV filtered and the ceiling is fairly low. We concluded that the sample with no "dirt" applied was perfect. In other words, David Berman's original final product was spot on!
We are very anxious to receive the 30 yards of digitally printed fabric from Trustworth Studios early in August and to finally begin the process of hand sewing the replica bed hangings!
By Camille Myers Breeze
A new year means a new set of exciting projects here at MTS. On the top of our priority list is a contract for our most impressive digital textile printing project to date. We are undertaking the replication of a set of silk bed hangings, which were purchased by Charles Francis Adams (1807–1886), son of John Quincy Adams, and his wife Abigail Brooks Adams (1808–1889). In the recent past, these luxurious textiles were deinstalled from the third floor of the Old House at the Adams National Historical Park due to their fragile condition.
In 1999, I was part of a team of textile professionals who published one of the first articles on the use of digitally printed textiles in
museums. Since then, much has changed in the fast-paced world of technology, including in the digital printing of textiles.
In the upcoming months, we will work with a digital printing company in the Boston area to reproduce yardage of a similar fabric using cotton, which can mimic the appearance of silk with much better preservation properties. The digitally printed fabric will then be assembled into a replica set of bed hangings and installed in the third floor bedroom where they were previously displayed.
Stay tuned for more blogs about this project as the work begins in January, 2013.
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.
by Michelle Drummey
When talking about textiles, armor may not be the first word that comes to mind. One may conjure up pictures of heavy metal plates and mail. This is not the case for a suit of Samurai armor that has recently been brought to MTS for treatment. Although it consists of iron mail, plate and brass, the armor contains a wide variety of cotton and silk fabrics, as well as hide and leather.
The set consists of a helmet, or kabuto, in the suji-bachi style featuring a maedate, or frontal crest, of the wearer’s clan. Within the helmet is a menacing ho-ate (half-mask) which rests about the dō (cuirass) with attached sode (shoulder guards), kote (sleeves), and a kusazuri (skirt) made in the sugake style, using double rows of lacing between intervals. The set most likely dates to the Edo or Tokugawa Period (1603-1868).
Although there is some mention of the word Samurai in Japanese literature as early as the 10th century, it was during the 12th century that the Samurai class was truly created, serving as vassals to powerful shogun retainers until the abolishment of the Samurai class in the late 19th century. In a similar manner of the famed chivalrousness of European knights, Samurai were also romanticized. During times of war, men lived by a code known as Bushido, dictating everything from loyalty to grooming habits. Perhaps the most extreme part of the code was being willing to die for one’s lord, to the extent of committing suicide, or seppuku, which was considered to be a noble death. During times of peace, wealthy Samurai were well known as patrons of the arts. They enjoyed tea ceremonies, various forms of theatre, and some were also poets and scholars.
The crests on the samurai armor currently being treated at MTS requires more research to discover what family or clan it may have belonged to. For now we can only wonder: was the wearer of this suit of armor as interesting and complicated as the layers of hide, silk, plate, and mail, decorating its surface? Let us hope we will uncover more about this fabulous object in the coming weeks!
Read more about Preventative Conservation of Samurai Armor in this article by Director Camille Myers Breeze.
By Gabrielle Ferreira
This summer has brought a little taste of Versailles to Museum Textile Services. In my previous blog I told you about Wheaton College's 18th-century Robe à L’Anglaise originally belonging to the Duchesse de Choiseul (1734-1808). In this post I will tell you a little more about the Duchesse behind the dress...
The Duchesse de Choiseul, born Louise Honorine Crozat du Châtel, was a member of the French elite. Her family’s immense wealth sprung out of the ingenuity of her grandfather Antoine Crozat (ca.1655-1738). Antoine, along with his brother Pierre, were merchants and amassed a great fortune for their family during their lifetime. Antoine’s wealth even led him to become the first private owner of French Louisiana in 1712. Antoine soon became the financial counselor to Louis XIV.
At the age of 12, the Duchesse was betrothed to Etienne-Francois de Choiseul (ca. 1719-1785). Her new husband was a soldier and a diplomat, and some sources suggest he was the inspiration for the character of the Vicompte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos. By other accounts, they had an extremely happy marriage that lasted nearly 30 years. Some sources paint a less flattering picture of the Duchesse as a tyrant.
Together with her husband, the Duchesse de Choiseul traveled to Rome, and then Vienna, where Etienne-Francois had secured a post with the help of his patroness, Madame de Pompadour. Etienne-Francois was a principal author of the Second Treaty of Versailles, which united France and Austria against Prussia in May, 1757. When the Austrian beauty Marie Antoinette married France's Louis XVI in 1770, the Duc de Choiseul took it as a personal victory.
What did her husband's political career mean for the Duchesse? It would have cemented her position in society and required her to dress for court. Her Robe à L’Anglaise reflects the style and fashion that grew out of the reign of Marie Antoinette. The fine silk, generous rouching, lace, and chenille trim all attest to the wearer's wealth and would have been a requirement for attendance at the court of Versailles.
The Duchesse gracefully survived the French Revolution, and we are delighted here at MTS that her Robe à L’Anglaise made it to the 21st century.
For further readings on the Duchesse and her fashion, see:
A Duchesse of Versailles : The Love Story of Louise, Duchesse de Choiseul (1961) by Margaret Trouncer
Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution (2007) by Caroline Weber.
by Gabrielle Ferreira
This past May I graduated from the small yet well-known institution, Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. Since the Fall of 2009 I have helped research, display and condition report the College’s Permanent Collection. Sure I have my favorite objects, but the College’s 18th century Robe à l’Anglaise, once belonging to Duchesse de Choiseul of France, certainly stands out. I was so excited to learn that the dress would be undergoing conservation during my internship at Museum Textile Services. And that I would be part of the treatment team!
The Robe à l’Anglaise was created in France circa 1780 during the reign Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Although there are some 19th century alterations, the dress is representative of 18th century French fashion. Wheaton College purchased the dress from Edgar L. Ashley of Foxboro, Massachusetts, in 1934 in order to expand the institution's textile collection. The Robe à l’Anglaise is one object in the collection that is continuously researched and studied by students and faculty.
The Robe à l’Anglaise has been apart of my life for nearly a year since I began inventorying Wheaton's textile collection in November, 2011. Now as an intern at MTS, I am excited to continue learning about this dress from a different perspective. Treatment began with four days of detailed, gentle vacuuming, a task I shared with fellow Wheaton graduate and MTS intern Michelle Drummey. The dress is in almost perfect condition, so only minor spot cleaning were necessary. Next, a few small repairs were made with hand stitching and cotton patches where necessary. The Robe à l’Anglaise was then humidified to allow the pleats to recover from years of storage in a too-small archival box. This conservation treatment will improve the dress's preservation level and ensure its continued use as a teaching object at the college.
In the upcoming weeks Museum Textile Services will build a custom gender-neutral archival manikin that Wheaton College can use to display various costume items from their collection. In November, Camille Breeze will return to Wheaton as a visiting scholar to work with students to convert this basic manikin into an appropriate support for the outlandish shape worn at the court of Louis XVI. The Robe à l’Anglaise will then be displayed in the exhibition 100 Years, 100 Objects, honoring Wheaton College's 100th anniversary.
Stay tuned for my next blog, in which I will teach you more about the remarkable woman for whom this dress was made, the Duchesse de Choiseul.
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