Four trapunto quilts arrived at Museum Textile Services this winter for conservation. Three belong to Hammond-Harwood House of Annapolis, MD, and a fourth is being donated to the New England Quilt Museum, in Lowell, MA. These wonderful examples beautifully showcase this historic style of quilting that was popular in America in the mid-nineteenth century. The quilts varied in condition, but were all treated in a similar way and exhibit a wide spectrum of this style of whitework.
Similar to other textile art such as mourning pictures, images quilted in these such as urns, cornucopias and flowers hold symbolic meaning and can tell a story. Traditionally, the threads would be moved aside with a needle from the back of the quilt and tiny amounts of stuffing or cording was pushed into the voids made by the quilting pattern. This created a raised effect that was beautiful, yet subtle. Once an area was stuffed to satisfaction, the threads at the back that had been moved aside are again worked back together to make the entry area invisible. One of the Hammond-Harwood House trapunto quilts has a more delicate backing fabric, which allowed it to be more easily stuffed.
This style of quilting is believed to have originated in Sicicly in the the 14th century, and continued to be popular across Italy and Europe through the 18th century. Immigrants brought the technique to America with them and it enjoyed popularity from the early 19th century, peaking mid-century. It became less common by the 20th century, as it was so time consuming and the country was being vastly changed by the industrial revolution. The trapunto quilt belonging to a private collector is a fine example of one made in America in 1823 and prominently has the name “Elizabeth North” across the top, possibly having been made for her as a wedding gift. It also features two urns of flowers and an overflowing cornucopia of flowers.
Cleaning discolored textiles is always rewarding, and restoring the legibility of these three-dimensional trapunto quilts is no exception. Viewers will enjoy seeing the results of conservation when the quilts are exhibited in their museums.
Laura Ingalls Wilder is known as the writer of the “Little House” books, and I only recently discovered that she also was a quilter. A quilt was sent to Museum Textile Services by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum in Mansfield, Missouri. It is one of two crazy quilts made by the author in the early 1900’s. Unlike other quilts she made, mention of this one does not appear in any of Laura's writings. However we know that this particular quilt was made not too long after she moved with her husband Almanzo and their daughter Rose to Mansfield, where they purchased a plot of land, and began building their homestead.
Laura Ingalls Wilder is believed to have created this crazy quilt is toward the end of the peak of popularity of crazy quilting in America. The fascination began in 1876 at the Philadelphia Exposition where the crazed pottery of the Japanese Pavilion inspired American women to incorporate similar patterns into their quilting. The top layer of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s crazy quilt was comprised of many differently patterned silk, cotton, and velvet pieces. Crazy quilts are typically assembled out of any spare fabric present in a household, and this quilt is no exception. In particular, many of the pieces of silk Laura used were badly worn and in need of support before the quilt could be safely displayed.
While the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic House & Museum does sell quilt patterns in their online store, you’ll have to look elsewhere for a crazy quilt pattern. Or better yet, create your very own.
MassFashion is an exhibition bringing together eight Massachusetts museums to showcase the different facets of fashion, and how fashion connects to the modern day individual and history. Each museum has a unique exhibit relating to clothing that ranges from mid-seventeenth century to modern day. Some exhibits focus on hats and shoes, while others focus on the important individuals and events that are connected to that piece. Museum Textile Services has been busy conserving and readying pieces to be displayed for several of the museums associated with the MassFashion exhibitions.
Each exhibit is unique and a fantastic opportunity to learn about fashion, history, and the local connections to Massachusetts and the New England area. Fashion connects us all, be it artistically or functionally, we are all connected through this industry. Concord Museum, Fuller Craft Museum, Historic New England, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Old Sturbridge Village, the Peabody Essex Museum, and The Trustees of Reservations are exhibiting this connection through MassFashion. Check out all the current and upcoming exhibits from each museum that is participating in the MassFashion exhibition!
MTS conservators stabilized the slits using three different techniques, depending on the severity of the damage. Small slits were closed with a traditional whip stitch using a cotton-polyester thread. Longer slits were mended with tabby reweaving, where the repair thread was passed over and under alternating warps to restore a network of stability while closing the tear. Where groups of splits were most severe, such as along the middle where the area rug had been folded, we employed patches of cotton duck to which we made our tabby and slit stitching. In this case we had to work with one conservator standing over the rug on tables and another conservator lying on the floor beneath a gap in the tables. Losses to the binding edge were stabilized with new cotton warp yarns and Appleton wool yarns from England. All four corners of the area rug were also supported with cotton duck patches to prevent future damage. Finally, the fringe edges of both rugs were reinforced by floating cotton/polyester thread through each knot on the reverse.
The two William Morris Hammersmith rugs will be displayed this spring at the Breakers, one of the most famous of the Newport mansions run by the Preservation Society of Newport County.
In Part I of this blog, we told you what we've learned so far about the history of the Rochester Union Greys banner. In this blog we'll tell you how we managed some challenges faced by the textile conservators at Museum Textile Services.
Once the cleaning of the banner was completed, it was moved to a solid-support panel that we had covered with Polyfelt and cotton poplin. We began reassembling the banner by centering the bottom layer face-down on the panel. A piece of hi-loft polyester padding in the shape of the embroidered wreath was placed in the center of the banner to ensure sufficient pressure against the acrylic. In order to compensate visually for losses in the top layer of the banner, a piece of cream cotton was then placed on top of the padding. The top layer of the flag was rolled out over the cotton and pinned into place. The final layer of support was a full overlay of sheer cream-colored nylon net.
Once all the layers were in place, the flag was hand stitched to the support panel around the edges and through the embroidery. Any areas of weakness in need of additional support were also stabilized, such as loose areas of embroidery. The sections of fringe were placed around the banner and tensioned to their maximum length. The client agreed to allow us to start the fringe further from the sleeve end to provide the length necessary to minimize gaps between sections. We hand stitched the fringe along the perimeter, and any errant strands were tacked down by hand. We decided to pressure mount the banner under UV-filtering acrylic in order to minimize the amount of stitching necessary to hold the fringe and support the fragile banner. A sheet of UV filtering acrylic was screwed to the front of the panel through pre-drilled holes. An aluminum powder-coated frame was then screwed into place to complete the pressure mount.
In just under one year, this beautiful silk banner was salvaged from a trunk full of rodent-damaged memorabilia, identified as being an important historical document, and returned to stability and splendor through textile conservation. We are grateful to its owner for trusting us when we proposed this extensive treatment, and recognizing the value of preservation.
An intricately embroidered banner was brought in to Museum Textile Services by a private client from upstate New York. It was made for the Rochester Union Grays, a military unit formed in Rochester, NY, on November 19, 1838. “Union Grays” was a nickname for the regiment, they also were known as the First Regiment Light Artillery and the First Independent Battalion Light Artillery Militia. The Union Grays were originally a rifle company, which then transitioned to infantry before becoming an artillery company.
The banner is comprised of two layers of silk, each heavily embroidered, with a fringe around three edges. The verso has a ring of brightly colored flowers on a leafy vine, surrounding the text “Rochester Unions Grays” with “Presented By The Ladies” in the center. At the top of the ring of flowers, an eagle head holds a small banner reading, “Union is strength,” which was the motto of the Union Grays. A ring of embroidered acorns and oak leaves is extant on the recto, but the center medallion is empty. Stitch holes within the embroidered ring lead us to conclude that there once was something on this side as well. The banner's owner discovered a contemporary published account of the presentation of the banner to the regiment, in which it is described as having “The Goddess of Liberty in the midst of the clouds, cherishing and supporting the American Eagle, in his onward and upward flight.” It is the owner's goal to find whether this separate piece of silk still exists so it can be reunited with the rest of the banner.
Unfortunately, the article that clearly describes this banner does not have a date on it. There are four other records of the Union Grays receiving a flag, and in each case some details overlap. Regrettably, each of these sources references the presentation of the flag as occurring on different days. One article describes a “stand of colors” to be presented by the ladies of Rochester in Court House Yard on June 27, 1839. A stand of colors refers to flags that are carried by a military unit. A “History of the Company” references the “presentation of a beautiful silk flag by the ladies of Rochester to the company on Court House Square.” There is an agreement here in the location of the presentation, in the vicinity of the Court House, as well as the flag being presented by the ladies. A third article in the Albany Argus printed on July 5, 1839 refers to the presentation of a banner on “Friday afternoon.” July 5th fell on a Friday in 1839, however the past tense used in the article implies that the banner presentation was June 28th, 1839, the Friday before. Two sources support the 28th as the date of the presentation, and a third, published before the presentation, points to the day before, and the discrepancy can be explained by a delay due to inclement weather.
The final mystery of the banner is the identity of its creators. The detail and craftsmanship of the work is complimented, “As a specimen of art, it is exceedingly creditable to the skill, taste, and genius of the women who designed and wrought it”. The one constant within the accounts of the presentation of the banner is that it was created by “the ladies of the city of Rochester,” however they are not identified further. The speech given by Graham H. Chapin at the presentation refers to the “Ladies here assembled,” which implies that the ladies who created the banner were in attendance and were likely known to the men in the regiment. Unfortunately, their names were not preserved for the historical record, and they remain the anonymous ladies of Rochester.
In our next blog we will describe the process we went through to clean, stabilize, mount, and frame the Rochester Union Grey's banner.
On December 4th, 2017, Camille, Morgan, Courtney and Gretta traveled to Annapolis, MD, to spend the week at the United State Naval Academy Museum. Our work took place in Mahan Hall, which is home to 41 cases of trophy flags captured by the US Navy dating from as early as the War of 1812. The collection was restored in its entirety in 1912-1913 by Amelia Fowler and her team of 50 women, which is the only reason it was stable enough to withstand more than 100 years of continuous display in less-than-ideal conditions. The big question prior to beginning work was the number of flags in the five cases we were there to work on. Sixteen flags were visible in the front of the cases, however we suspected there might be an additional forty-five flags from a 1913 exhibit still hanging behind the visible flags.
As soon as the arch was tipped forward, we could see that there was indeed a second layer of flags hanging on the back of the case. As expected, we found ten Spanish flags put on display in 1913, which had been hidden from public view since around 1920. Our scope of work for the week immediately switched to Plan B: deinstall only as many flags as we could safely document, surface clean, pack, and transport to the museum's storage facility during the course of the week.
It took 8 people, including two midshipmen and a professor, to lift the flag on its wooden arch out of the case and over the brass railing to clean plastic on the floor. The tacks were removed from the perimeter and the wood lifted off of the flag. Even without the wood frame, the flag weighed approximately 200 pounds with all of the linen support fabric and ropes attached by Mrs. Fowler in 1913. Measuring 24 by 29 feet, it is also by far the largest flag ever treated by Museum Textile Services. The picture below shows only one third of the flag, with the crest in its center. Camille, Gretta and Courtney finished vacuuming and rolling of the Royal Standard Friday afternoon, which was a timely pinnacle to our trip.
By the end of the week, the combined team had deinstalled and relocated a total of 35 trophy flags from Mahan Hall to the adjacent museum building. We will be headed back to the Naval Academy in early 2018 to work on the final two cases in this phase of the project. We will also begin more in-depth conservation of certain flags chosen by the museum for future exhibition. Stay tuned for more blogs about the 1913 restoration of the trophy flag collection, as well as our research and treatments.
With Thanksgiving on our minds, we want to acknowledge all of the families, collectors, and individuals seek out conservation and advice for textiles and clothing deemed vulnerable—and valuable—enough to invest in preserving.
A four-piece uniform worn by William Raymond Brown of Winchenden, Massachusetts, came to MTS from his great-granddaughter Heather Brown. First Lieutenant Brown served with the 10th Engineers in France, where he was responsible for keeping the lumber mills running for the duration of the war. The uniform consists of a tunic jacket, jodhpur-style trousers, a brown leather belt with shoulder strap, and an officer’s service cap with leather brim. Brown’s ribbons and pins have been removed and are in the possession of his great granddaughter. Rather than trust her 100-year-old heirloom to a commercial dry cleaner, Heather Brown had Museum Textile Services clean it before framing.
While our name may suggest that most of the clients we work with at Museum Textile Services are institutions, this is actually not the case. Our favorite solutions are those that meet the clients’ needs while also meeting the needs of their heirlooms.
After testing to determine which archival adhesive would provide enough support for the shattered silk, thermoplastic, archival 1 mil BEVA film was chosen. 16 mm silk habotai was found to be the best substrate onto which to adhere the silk components because it has the same shine as the original and is easily dyed ecru with Jacquard acid dyes.
In Part II of this blog we will walk you through the conservation procedure, and show you the dress after reconstruction and mounting.
The ground textile is a hand-woven, weft-faced tapestry with white cotton warp. The center of the woven textile has fine red wool weft. Borders of tan cotton weft line the top and bottom, where the edges are rolled to the back and stitched. A blend of thick cotton and wool yarns are used to embroider the designs in satin and chain stitches. Dating the textile proved easy because of the extremely bright pink, blue, and green yarns used for the embroidery. These shades are recognizable as aniline dyes likely dating to the middle of the 20th century, more specifically the 1960s or 1970s. Figuring out what part of the world the textile comes from was much more difficult. The materials and technique of embroidery are quite universal, so we went with our gut instinct and started our search in the Middle East.
The colors and designs reminded us initially of Afghani war rugs that date to the 1960s and 70s. While the imagery is somewhat similar, the Afghani war rugs are much more detailed than the Wheaton College mystery textile. The figures have more articulated faces and the guns are much more detailed. The biggest difference between the two types of textiles is that the Afghani rugs are piled while the mystery textile is a flat weave with embroidery.
This textile was cleaned, stabilized, mounted, and framed so that it can be safely exhibited in the future. We hope that Wheaton College students can do more research in the future and uncover how and when this textile was brought into their collection
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