Costume and textiles
A selection of our conservation treatments on a range of textiles:
Preparing a christening gown for the next christening
After it had last been needed for a christening, this christening gown had been put in a store cupboard without having had it cleaned first. Over time its stains had become yellow and increasingly visible. The decorative hem of the gown had several tears with some loss of fabric. Some of the tears had been repaired with stitches that ill supported the damaged delicate fabric. The gown was also creased from having been stored in a plastic carrier bag.
The treatment of the gown involved cleaning, removal of the old stitched repairs and stitching the worst of its damaged hem between two protective layers of a close to invisible net. At the end the gown was packed for safe long-term storage ready for the next christening.
Supporting tears in a Paisley shawl
The plain, degraded central area of this woollen Paisley shawl had suffered a couple of long tears. In this condition to handle the shawl risked making the tears even longer. To stabilise the shawl, the tears and loose threads of their fraying edges were re-aligned, and the damaged areas were sewn onto supportive patches of fine conservation-grade nylon net with close to invisible stitching. This treatment made it possible to handle the shawl again without the fear of further damage.
Cleaning and mounting a 19th century military Colour for display
This 19th century military Colour, with a painted central design of St Andrew, had been hanging from a pole in a church for decades. As the silk of the Colour had deteriorated to a point where it had started splitting, it had been sewn crudely between two layers of coarse cotton net for support. Then, as the Colour was still hanging on display and the net layers had provided insufficient support to the Colour, the silk carried on splitting. Over the years both the net and Colour had in addition become badly soiled with dust and dirt.
We took down the Colour and removed the net layers, stitch by a degraded stitch. The Colour was then wet-cleaned in baths of detergent solution to remove as much soiling as possible before rinsing to remove the detergent. After cleaning the Colour was laid out, re-aligned and dried.
This Colour was never, even with a conservation treatment, going to be strong enough to hang from a pole again. The silk of the Colour was too fragile for stitching through without creating further damage. The Colour was instead supported with a full lining of semi-transparent silk, dyed to tone in with its colour, with a fine layer of conservation-grade adhesive. The Colour was mounted by stitching onto a supportive fabric-covered board. Two large areas of loss in the Colour, in the top right-hand corner and in the painted centre, were camouflaged with new silks dyed to tone with the originals. Once mounted, the Colour was ready to go back on display on a wall in a protective glazed frame.
Conservation of a rare early 17th century man’s silk doublet
This cream-coloured silk doublet was donated to Perth Museum & Art Gallery collections in 2005. Its date and provenance were unknown, and this led to a journey of discovery of its history by the then Curator of Social History of the Museum, Susan Payne. The doublet was dated to the early 17th century, and proved to be a rare survivor indeed – rare enough to warrant a special exhibition.
The doublet had suffered physical damage by way of overall degradation and weakening, with notable areas of loss and lots of splits and creases. It was physically too weak to display in its pre-conservation condition. The conservation treatment stabilised the damaged doublet and made it possible to display it safely. An important aspect of the treatment was to protect the damaged silk lining on the inside of the doublet with see-through protective net so as to allow future researchers to access its internal structure and materials.
A historical costumier Ninya Mikhaila made a reconstruction of the doublet. As the original breeches of the doublet were non-existent, a pair of breeches were made that were based on a pattern of an early 17th century breeches. The original doublet was displayed on a mannequin in a protective display case next to the replica doublet and breeches in another case in an exhibition at Perth Museum & Art Gallery. Another replica doublet was available for the exhibition visitors to try on in order to get a sense of what it would have been like to wear in the 17th century.
The doublet project won the prestigious Conservation Award of the United Kingdom Institute of Conservation in 2007. Full account of the doublet’s history, tailoring, conservation and reconstruction was published in ‘A Seventeenth Century Doublet from Scotland’, pp 39 – 62 (24), in ‘Costume’, number 45, 2011, by The Costume Society of the United Kingdom. It is available at ‘http://www.research.ed.ac.uk’.
Cleaning woollen William Morris curtains
Two pairs of nicotine-stained curtains, made out of woollen fabric and designed by William Morris, were cleaned as part of a house refurbishment. The curtain linings were badly degraded due to their past exposure to light and were beyond rescue. Once cleaned, we lined the curtains with new linings. After cleaning the curtains were rolled onto supportive tubes for transport for return to the house and re-hanging.
Cleaning and packing the dress and coat of a wedding outfit
This 1990’s wedding outfit, woven out of lamb's wool in the Western Isles of Scotland, consisted of a dress and a coat. Both garments had become soiled from wear. The hem of the dress was especially visibly soiled with grey stains. Cleaning removed most of the stains as can be seen below.
The garments were gently folded to fit into long storage boxes. The folds were supported with pads of acid-free tissue paper to reduce creasing in storage.
The outfit was displayed at the Museum nan Eilean following a refurbishment of the museum’s premises and exhibitions.
Stabilising a pair of 18th century woman's shoes
The silk thread, which was holding the green binding to the uppers of a pair of 18th century lady’s shoes, had disintegrated. As a result the binding and uppers had started to separate from each other. The floral silk of the uppers had also become torn from their buckles. The shoes were squashed and difficult to handle without causing further damage to them.
As the shoes were required for display their uppers were covered with a layer of fine conservation-grade net that was dyed to closely tone in with them. The net was stitched in place in a way that will be easy to remove should there be a reason to remove it in the future. The net served to contain the degraded silk fibres and hold the fabric together.
Soft internal supports were tailor-made for each shoe. The supports will effectively keep the shoes in shape both in storage and on display.
Supporting and camouflaging a hole in a pile rug
This rug was designed by George Bain (1881-1968). He was the first artist to analyse and deconstruct the designs found on Pictish sculpture and metalwork.
A piece had been cut off an edge of the rug, apparently to accommodate the pipe of a central-heating radiator. The woven and knotted structure of the rug was beginning to unravel from this cut area.
To stabilise the area, it was stitched, knot by knot and unravelled thread by thread, onto a supportive piece of linen fabric. Since the rug was only going to be on show in an exhibition, not walked on, the design of the area of loss was loosely re-created with woollen embroidery stitches and painting in stable fabric paints. This helped to visually camouflage the loss and yet keep the repair reversible in the future.
Napoleonic camp bed
This Napoleonic camp bed belonged to a military museum. As it was a composite object, both our artefact and textile conservators worked on it.
Unfolding and re-folding the camp bed had severely torn its degraded canvas in several locations. As it was still at times necessary to unfold and re-fold the bed, the torn areas of the canvas had to be supported in order to prevent further tearing. This was achieved by sewing supportive patches of linen fabric, dyed to closely tone with the original canvas, under the torn areas. The patches were then finished to the original shapes of the pieces that had been cut off the canvas in order to allow the mechanism of the bed to fold. Old repairs that were likely to date from the original use of the bed were left in place.
For the long-term preservation of the bed, dust was removed. This cleaning had to be restricted to vacuum-cleaning the surfaces and mechanism as the canvas could not be washed.
Embroidered ship picture
The blue silk of the background of this embroidered picture had suffered from exposure to light. The silk had faded and become fragile. Large areas of the silk were lost, exposing an underlying layer of beige fabric. The remaining blue silk was highly susceptible to further damage and loss. Such losses interfered with the reading of the picture.
Since the embroidery had been worked through both the blue silk and its underlying beige fabric layer, it was impossible to separate the two from each other in order to support the blue degraded silk alone. Instead, new silk was dyed to closely tone in with the colour of the original blue silk. Patches of the dyed silk were inserted under the areas of loss to camouflage them. The face of the picture was further stabilised with a layer of fine conservation-grade nylon net also dyed blue. The layers were then sewn together along the edges of the losses and the picture.
Cleaning Sir Walter Scott's garments
Some of Sir Walter Scott’s clothes were previously on display in a non-archival glass-topped display case in his house. The garments and accessories had had to be folded in order to fit them in the case. They suffered from such folding and partly obscured each other in such a small case.
We cleaned and stabilised the garments which were then returned to display in the new Abbotsford Interpretation Centre.
Conservation of 17th century armour for Abbotsford
A number of the items of armour in the Abbotsford entrance hall had fragile textile elements. We cleaned and carried out essential remedial conservation treatments on both the metal and textile elements of some of the armour. These photos show an example of the work on one of the 17th century breastplates.
Cleaning 'Water of Life' tapestry
Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh wove this tapestry in the 1980’s. They borrowed it from the tapestry’s present owner for the Studio’s 2017 summer exhibition. As some of the tapestry’s areas of palest colour had become disfigured with grey soiling, we were asked to clean the tapestry for display. As the photos show, the cleaning successfully reduced the level of soiling.