A painted rayon souvenir handkerchief next to one of the options we considered for re-framing.
Rayon is a semi-synthetic fiber made of regenerated cellulose. Like naturally occurring cellulosic textile fibers—including cotton, kapok, linen, hemp, jute, and ramie—rayon is used for a wide range of fabrics for household textiles as well as fine and utilitarian fashions. Unlike its cellulose cousins, rayon has also been widely used to mimic fabrics normally made of fibers as wide ranging as silk and wool. It can therefore be difficult to identify rayon when it is found in museum collections.
This unusual (and large!) synthetic banner, recently conserved at MTS, feels similar to wool to the touch.
Rayon exploded in the 1920s as a popular fashion fiber, beginning with socks, lingerie and clothing. The variety of available fabrics and finishes meant that any women could now wear garment types once affordable only to women who could buy silk. By the end of the 1930s, rayon was six times as plentiful as silk in American clothing.
This French example from 1937 shows how rayon was adopted in styles that could have been silk.
World War II again caused a bump in the production of rayon, both for fabrics and for tire cord--a replacement for rubber, which was scarce. After WWII, rayon saw competition from other synthetic fibers such as nylon, acrylic and polyester.
This WWII jacket is part of the collection of American Women's Voluntary Services uniforms recently conserved at MTS.
Rayon is prone to stretching, sagging, and pilling. Despite these problems, trade brands such as Modal rayon became increasingly popular for use alone, or blended with cotton or spandex, for household textiles such as towels and sheets. Early viscose rayon was found to lose strength when wet, but high-wet-modulus (HWM) rayon was released in 1960 as an answer to this problem.
Part II of "Rayon Through the Years" will focus on the technological changes in rayon production... which help account for the many names the fiber goes by.
By Camille Myers Breeze
I am off to Peru for 10 days, leaving the studio in Cara's capable hands. This is my first trip back in 4 years, after teaching there every year from 2001-2009. I also spent the first three years of my life in Lima, where my parents were teaching, and then pursuing Doctoral studies.
The author's mother, Dr Sarah MacLennan Kerr, in Chancay, Peru, c 1968.
I've decided to share with you some images that my parents gave me when I chose to write my MA thesis on their collection of pre-Columbian textiles, some of which may be disturbing to readers. The slides depict two separate visit they made to a friend's hacienda near the town of Chancay, about 2 hours drive north of Lima. Chancay lends its name to the culture that lived there during the late-intermediate period, from 1000-1490 A.D. The ceramics in the above photo are typical of Chancay.
Huaqueros in Chancay, Peru, c. 1968.
What my parents were doing that weekend in Chancay was taking part in the popular past-time of huaqueando. Land owners with likely burial sites on their property would hire their laborers to dig for soft spots where the sandy ground was once disturbed. Although it seemed like a harmless pastime, my parents have since realized that they were contributing to the world-wide phenomenon of grave robbing.
Huaqueros retrieving pre-Columbian ceramics from a Chancay burial pit. c. 1968.
My parents retrieved not only ceramics but also textiles during their two visits to their friend's hacienda. They tell me it was unusual in the 1960s to pay attention to the textiles found in graves but they were intrigued by their amazing preservation. They chose to collect a large striped cotton mummy wrapper and a fragment of brocaded cotton with bird images that had been wrapped around a mummified infant. They later purchased 24 additional textiles from shops in and around Lima.
Mummy of an infant that had been wrapped in brocaded cotton, c. 1968.
My parents brought their modest collection of pre-Columbian art back to Chicago in 1969, the same year that I was born. This was just before the UNESCO Treaty (or the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property
) was signed in November, 1970. Article 2, Section 1 says that, "The States Parties to this Convention recognize that the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property is one of the main causes of the impoverishment of the cultural heritage of the countries of origin of such property and that international co-operation constitutes one of the most efficient means of protecting each country's cultural property against all the dangers resulting there from."
The dessicated remains of a female mummy removed from the mummy bundle, which was composed of layers of plain and striped cotton fabric, c. 1968.
My parents safeguarded the ceramics and textiles that they collected during their decade spent in Peru until my sister and I became adults. When I became a conservator in the late 1980s, they bequeathed their textiles to me, explaining how bad they still felt all these years later for having participated in acts of desecration. They implored me to do something positive with the textiles and to research and preserve them.
Chancay burial shroud undergoing conservation by the author in 1991.
I have endeavored to live up to the promise I made to my parents when I became the owner of these textiles and the images they took while grave robbing. The slides were recently scanned for me by my friend Chris, who is the slide librarian at a college where I lectured on the topic of museum controversies. I share them with you despite the fact that they are a testament to a time that my parents would rather forget.
A Peruvian student conserving a textile from Huaca Malena as part of the 2007 Ancient Peruvian Textiles Workshop.
As I head back to Peru I am looking forward to visiting friends and former students, and discussing a possible book on pre-Columbian textile conservation with my colleague Rommel Angeles Falcon, Director of Huaca Malena Museum. My parents never could have imagined this 22 years ago when they first shared this story with me.
by Camille Myers Breeze
In January, 2011, Mary O'Dwyer brought us her grandfather's 1875 christening gown, to see if we could do anything to help her. We could not believe our eyes when she arrived with a pair of lovely cotton garments the color of robin's eggs. The blue was streaky and could not mask a pattern of brown stains, most noticeable on the front.
Mary O'Dwyer's family christening gown and underslip before treatment to reduce bluing.
Although most of us had heard the term "bluing" we had never seen a dramatic example in person of what could go wrong with the treatment. The principal behind bluing is that the yellowing that occurs with aging in both natural and synthetic fabrics can be neutralized with the addition of a light application of blue dye. This same principal is used by some older women on their hair, with infamous results. The active ingredient in bluing is a fine iron powder containing the pigment Prussian blue (ferric hexacyanoferrate). Several brands of laundry bluing were popular from the late 1800s, including Mrs. Stewart's
, which is still sold today.
Mrs. Stewart's Liquid Bluing was founded by Al Stewart, and was first sold in Minneapolis in 1883. The image on the bottle is his mother-in-law, Mrs Stewart.
While Mary O'Dwyer was still in our studio, we pulled an old book from our library shelves and read up on laundry bluing. Laundering and Dry Cleaning, published in 1925 by the Women's Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences, Scranton, PA, gave the following advice for bluing in section 81:
If you are one of the housewives who use powdered or lump blue, then be sure to take great care to ass a small amount of water to the powdered blue before use and to tie ball, or lump blue, in a small cloth bag, which may be dipped and squeezed in the water before using. Otherwise the bluing is likely to be unevenly distributed and cause spots to form on the clothes. In spite of these precautions, there will be this tendency unless a very few clothes are put in at one time and these kept in motion.
If you use the liquid Prussian blue, remember that it contains salts of iron that turn to iron-rust in the presence of the alkali from soap, particularly when heat is applied, as in ironing, for example. Consequently, to avoid iron-rust stains on the material, take every care to have the clothes thoroughly rinsed so that all traces of soap are removed before bluing.
Closeup of the intricate details on this christening gown, as well as the brown stains and streaky blue tinge.
This same book states that, "If it does happen that the clothes become overblued, they may be whitened by placing them in cold water and heating them to the boiling point, repeating the process if necessary until all excess bluing is removed." However, similar attempts had already been made without success. An online source
gave additional advice to "use a solution of 1 C. household ammonia to 1 qt. of cold water and soak, covered tightly for 48-72 hours. You may need to perform this procedure 2-3 times, washing with detergent following each process."
Mary O'Dwyer decided to try the treatment herself, with some trepidation. Imagine our delight the following summer when out of the blue she emailed us these photos of her family christening gown, clean and white! She reported that her granddaughter had been baptized the previous Sunday and that the dress looked beautiful. The simple ammonia soak was successful in reversing the bluing and did not leave the cotton dry or brittle.
Although we still have no first-hand experience treating blued textiles, we're delighted at the success of this old-school recipe.
by Tegan Kehoe
This lovely sample of wartime-era yarn was recently donated to the Museum Textile Services study collection by Mig Ticehurst of Keswick, Cumbria, England. Ms Ticehurst emailed us about her old yarn, saying "It seems wrong to throw it away. Is it possible that it would be of interest to you?"
The company that made this yarn has gone by several names, but at the time, it was Robert Glew & Co, Ltd.
We love the slogan on the label of this yarn – “Reliable rayon for dainty garments.” Mig quipped that she had this on hand and unused because she’s:
“...not that keen on making ‘dainty garments'. As children, knitting was taught in school and we were all obliged to knit as part of the war effort. Our family thing was scarves for merchant seamen which were garter stitch and at the time seemed absolutely huge but probably were about two feet wide and about six feet long. I learned to knit and read by the time I was eight as it was the only way to do any reading. There was also a great deal of inventive making of things."
The pink rayon yarn we were given would be perfect for this toddler dress, in a pattern sold by Robert Glew & Co.The robin on this leaflet cover is the symbol of the yarn company.
This pastel yarn is not just for baby clothes--any women who wanted to make “dainty garments” for themselves could afford rayon. The pattern below is probably from the 1940s or 50s-–note the milkshake glass in the woman’s hand! The pattern specifies Robin Perle, which is what’s in our little yarn stash. “Perle” describes any high-sheen, two-ply twisted yarn like this or mercerized cotton.
The hand-tinted black-and-white photo on the front of this pattern leaflet uses a common style of the time, in which only the brand information and the garment are colored.
The company logo on our donated yarn indicates that it was manufactured in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England. Bradford has been a textile hub for centuries but became a boom town early on in the Industrial Revolution, achieving prominence as the “wool capital of the world” by the mid-nineteenth century. Products included mohair, alpaca, cotton, and silk textiles. By the early twentieth century, however, Bradford’s hold on the industry had begun to slip, so some companies stayed current by producing the new synthetics.
Robert Glew & Co. later spawned Robin Wools Ltd. of Greengate, Bradford. This pattern features two-ply "Ny-lona," another remarkable 20th-century synthetic fiber.
Rayon is still being modified and produced today, and it shows up more places than you might think. Stay tuned for the next two weeks for more blogs about rayon and some other remarkable 20th-century fibers that MTS has been conserving.
By Courtney Jason
On December 10, 2012, a shipment of 20 flags arrived at the MTS from Fort Knox, KY. These flags have a particularly interesting history, as many hail from the personal collection of General George Patton. They belong to the General George Patton Museum of Leadership
, which is undergoing a major renovation and reinterpretation.
Camille Myers Breeze examining the Nazi flag on site at the Patton Museum in September, 2012. Image courtesy of the General George Patton Museum of Leadership.
The Ft. Knox flags range from a 11.5" x 17" Confederate Calvary guide on to an 80" x 130" Nazi flag. The collection also includes several WWII Army flags, and a North Vietnamese flag that was recovered from a booby-trapped location. The collection is here to be cleaned, stabilized and mounted for display when the Patton Museum reopens later this year.
Gen. Patton wrote on many of his flags. This note explains that this is the first Nazi flag ever captured by US forces, on Nov 11, 1942. Image courtesy of the General George Patton Museum of Leadership.
So far we have vacuumed the flags with a HEPA filtering vacuum to remove any particulate matter. Next we will humidify those with planar distortions using the Gore-Tex system described in a previous blog
about the Orra White Hitchcock textiles from Amherst College.
This two-star flag bears the initials of the Western Task Force. Wrinkles and folds will be relaxed using the Gore-Tex humidification system. Image courtesy of the General George Patton Museum of Leadership.
The majority of the flags will be mounted on aluminum solid-support panels manufactured for us by Small Corp, Inc
in Greenfield, MA. Each panel will have a layer of 1/4-inch Polyfelt from University Products
in Holyoke, MA, covered with khaki-colored cotton poplin from Phillips-Boyne
in Farmingdale, NY.
Gen. Patton's inscription on the WTF flag, stating that it landed with him on Nov 8, 1942. Image courtesy of the General George Patton Museum of Leadership.
All of the flags except for the Nazi flag will be pressure mounted on a solid-support panel. They will be centered on the panel and hand stitched to the cotton using a curved needle. Only minimal stitching around the perimeter, along several strategic points in the body, and along the fringe, is required.
The Second Corps Flag has a heavy bullion fringe that will require thorough stitching before pressure mounting. Image courtesy of the General George Patton Museum of Leadership.
A sheet of UV-filtering acrylic will provide the rest of the support for the mount. The museum has chosen Small Corp's powder-coated aluminum frames to complete the mount system. The first batch of eight flags will undergo this process through mid to late April, before being shipped back in early May by US Art
of Randolph, MA.
Gen. Patton wrote "II Corps Tunesia 43" on the hoist binding of this flag. Image courtesy of the General George Patton Museum of Leadership.
The Nazi flag will receive a different treatment due to its large size. A future blog will highlight this highly-technical process. We hope you're looking forward to seeing more of these flags as much as we're looking forward to working on them.
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).
Example of one of the same uniforms found in the Keene State College collection. US Navy Air Transport Squadron 12's WAVES Link trainer instructors, Naval Air Station, Quonset Point, Rhode Island, United States, Jul 1945. Courtesy of ww2db.com.
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.
Image courtesy of Navy website.
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,
There's a ship sailing down the bay.
And she won't slip into port again
Until that Victory Day.
Carry on for that gallant ship
And for every hero brave
Who will find ashore, his man-sized chore
Was done by a Navy WAVE.
Image courtesy of Navy website.
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.
Image courtesy of Navy website.
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
Summer 2013 promises to be one of our busiest ever at Museum Textile Services. Our upcoming projects include WWII flags, replica bed hangings, and 19th-century costume. To prepare, we've already started interviewing for volunteer internships that will begin as early as May 1.
Sarah Berlinger interned as an undergraduate in summer, 2010. She then joined the staff as Technician from May-September, 2011.
MTS internships provide a sound introduction to textile conservation treatments, philosophy, and literature while having the opportunity to work hands-on with historic artifacts. Hand-sewing experience, excellent eyesight, and great team skills are essential. All volunteers must commit to a minimum of one full day per week for a minimum of 120 hours. Our current staff members Cara and Courtney both began as MTS volunteer interns!
Ella Papius, an avid quilter, volunteered for three years as part of her retirement.
So you think you have what it takes to work in textile conservation? If so, please take a moment to read through the internship information
in the education section of our web site. The Becoming a Conservator
page will also give you an idea what careers in conservation entail and who benefits from conservation training to round out their skills.
Kaleigh Pare volunteered during the Summer of 2009 before deciding to pursue graduate studies at Harvard. She returned for a second summer and is now the Education Program Coordinator at the Buttonwoods Museum.
To apply for an internship, please send a resume and brief letter of introduction to email@example.com. We look forward to a great summer!
By Jennifer Nason and Camille Myers Breeze
In last week’s blog, the Oberlin Connection
, Camille wrote about a donation of clothing from Mike & Midge Burnham. While cataloging Ruth Thayer Burnham’s exquisitely preserved 1895 silk wedding dress, we came across something fascinating: alterations to the stays stitched within the bodice of the dress. Assuming one only wears one's wedding dress once, we have been curious about why this dress might have been meddled with.
Jennifer Nason working on Ruth Thayer Burnham's 1895 wedding ensemble.
Hand-stitched inside the bodice of the dress are sixteen stays. Stays, or boning, are thin strips of rigid material used to help hold the form of a corset or dress. The earliest materials used for stays were wood, ivory, baleen--also called whalebone--, and bone, hence the term boning. By the mid 19th century, steel and baleen predominated. The elongated torso popular in the 1880s to early 1890s required large amounts of corsetry but by the late 1990s a lighter, shorter style emerged. This simpler shape required much less boning than in the 1880s and permitted a greater range of movement. Ruth Thayer’s 1895 marriage to Alfred Burnham took place right while this change was taking place.
Stays sewn inside the bodice of Ruth's wedding dress.
The stays in Ruth's wedding dress were sewn in by hand and also altered to make some shorter than others. The cuts to the fabric casing of the shortened stays reveal them to be both a translucent and opaque flexible material. This is likely baleen, which comes in a range of colors that sources suggest can be used to identify the whale species from which it came.
Light and dark stays.
Their covers are identical.
But the stays tell an even more complicated story. The front four are more flexible and lack the crisscross pattern of stitching that holds the others down. Luckily, two are coming loose from the dress allowing us to see blue lettering on the back that reads, “Warren’s Featherbone.” Featherbone was the unique invention of dry-goods salesman Edward Warren. On a tour of a feather duster factory, Warren realized that the inexpensive pointer feathers being discarded could replace whale boning. Warren opened a store in 1873 to sell his new Featherbone and the compressed-feather boning quickly became popular for its light-weight, rust-proof quality. Warren’s Featherbone enjoyed its peak of success between 1873 and 1900.
The stays on either side of the front opening are made of Featherbone, and different stitching was used to attach them.
How can we explain the complex series of decisions that went into the construction and alteration of this dress? Perhaps Ruth originally wore it with a separate corset and the boning was altered for subsequent wearings. If the dress was worn only once, though, perhaps the longer stays were trimmed in the final fitting to make the bride comfortable, and Featherbone was preferred for the front of the bodice.
Ruth Thayer Burnham, c. 1905.
As an opera singer, Ruth would no doubt have sung on her wedding day, requiring an extra degree of mobility and comfort. She also had many occasions on which to wear spectacular costume, such as the gown pictured in this photograph, which appears to be Edwardian, from the first decade of the 20th century.
As cataloging and rehousing continue, we will search for other alterations in the wedding dress that could confirm that it was worn more than once.We may never know for certain, but perhaps our readers have additional insight into the story told by this particular detail of Ruth's spectacular wedding ensemble. Please weigh in if you wish to hazard a guess.
By Camille Myers Breeze
This beginning of this story may sound familiar to some of you. From a young age, I started absconding with cool things my parents had in their houses, in my case the textiles. When they both downsized after I went off to College, they passed on to me everything I could find space for. By the time I was 35 and Museum Textile Services had moved to its own home, I had a bona fide study collection filling several archival boxes. Since then, family members have sent me everything from wedding gowns to souvenirs and, more recently, we have begun accepting the occasional donation.
This quilt is the only item ever brought to MTS for assessment and subsequently abandoned. Now it is in our study collection and we use it teach skills like netting.
I should stop here and make something perfectly clear. We are not a museum. We're not even a non-profit. Museum Textile Services is an independent conservation laboratory with a growing client base and a popular internship-training program. When someone contacts us about making a donation, we make it clear that we can't appraise their items or provide a tax receipt. Nevertheless, donors tell us, they are grateful to have found a place where their clothing and textiles will be cared for and put to good use.
Cassandra Washburn Burnham, whose clothing is in the MTS Study Collection. Photo courtesy of Mike & Midge Burnham.
Mike and Midge Burnham were referred to me late in 2012 by my friend Dana, who runs a vintage shop in Newmarket, NH, called Concetta's Closet
. Dana had purchased much of their family's 20th-century clothing but knew that the older items were museum quality and not suitable for wearing. Was I interested, the Burnhams asked, in a donation of several boxes of 19th- and early 20th-century clothing? The size of the donation concerned me at first but what eventually convinced that it was destined for MTS was the Oberlin connection.
Postcard of Grey Gables Inn, later Oberlin College's Grey Gables Co-Op, Oberlin, OH. Demolished in the 1960s.
Some of the oldest donated items belonged to Mike's great-grandmother Cassandra Vernon Washburn Burnham. Cassandra (1849-1935) was a graduate of Mount Holyoke Seminary. She outlived her husband, the Rev. Michael Burnham (1839-1905), by 30 years, and during her widowhood she became innkeeper at Grey Gables in my college town of Oberlin, OH. Exactly how long Cassandra ran Grey Gables in not clear but in 1930 the college acquired it for student housing. In 1952, Grey Gables became just the second of Oberlin’s still-vibrant student co-ops but it was demolished in the 1960s during a wave of large-dormitory construction.The land on which Grey Gables stood became the Grey Gables parking lot.
Cassandra Washburn Burnham.
Cassandra and Michael Burnham had five children, of whom two survived to adulthood. The couple is buried in Spring Street Cemetery in Essex, MA. Their son, the Rev. Edmund Alden Burnham married the highly successful contralto Ruth Thayer in 1895. Ruth Thayer Burnham's spectacular wedding ensemble, along with other outfits of her's, were also donated to the MTS study collection and will be the subject of future MTS blogs.
Museum Textile Services does not actively seek items for the study collection--we don't have the space or staff, for starters. But the stories these objects tell, and the opportunity for learning that they present, are priceless. For more stories from the MTS study collection, select "study collection" from the search bar on the right-hand side of this page.
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
Uniform accessories after conservation.
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.
Accessories archivally packed for storage. Archival box and unbuffered acid-free tissue from University Products.
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.
Dress before conservation.
After conservation and packing.
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.
Skirt before conservation.
After conservation and packing.
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.