Friday, August 31, 2012

A Look Behind the Scenes: Quilts

The Benton County Museum just closed its quilt exhibition for the year, so it seems timely to offer a look at how we preserve them for the enjoyment of future generations. Quilts are common heirloom that contain a lot of family history, and their long term preservation can be quite simple if the right materials and techniques are used.

This blog is going to start with a short explanation about the photo quality. We decided to shoot the quilts as an action process, thus there may be some blurs here and there as people move around. Mary Gallagher, the collections manager, is particularly talented at being a blur because she is constantly in motion getting something done.  It's a trait we at the museum are quite fond of, thus excusing a bit of blur seems the least we could do.

Quilts and other large textiles such as flags and tapestries can be stored in one of three manners: rolling, boxing, or flat.  Flat storage requires large amounts of space, reserved for textiles that are in poor condition or that are especially rare. 

The cabinet has multiple doors that open for access, and textiles are placed on muslin on large drawers.

Rolling is a common method of long term storage for blankets, rugs, and quilts that don't have too much applique.  The quilt is rolled around an archival tube and placed on racks. 

Boxing is used for smaller items and quilts with heavy applique.

The first step in rolling a quilt is making sure your tube is of adequate diameter. When in doubt, bigger is better. You can buy archival tubes, or make your own by covering craft paper tubes with Marvel Seal (c). The tube Mary and Nancy are using is covered in Marvel Seal, and Mary is then covering it in stockinette, which helps hold the quilt in place.

 The stockinette is similar to nylons, having to be nudged up a bit at a time.  While Mary and Nancy slowly encourage it up the tube, Nan and Linda are folding kimonos in the background.
 Excess stockinette at the end of the tube is tucked.

 Mary and Nancy now examine their work surface, making sure it is clean of debris and anything that might harm their quilt. 
 Acid free tissue is used to cover the entire table, and a bit of extra is torn off at the top to act as a header.

 The quilt is then unfolded onto the tissue, making sure the header is long enough.
 Here Nancy inspects the quilt for condition issues while Mary prepares more tissue.
 The tissue is laid over the entire quilt, just as it was on the front.
 Here the importance of the header is shown.  The header is an extra length of fabric used to start the rolling of the quilt and assure that tissue, and not the fabric, comes in contact with the tube.
 The quilt is slowly rolled, making sure neither end telescopes out.  In the background Rachel is cataloging a dress while Marcia is doing data entry.
 Nancy holds the rolled quilt in place while Mary grabs some twill tape for tying the tissue in place.
 The knot is tied gently, at the seam of the tissue to hold it on and maintain the roll of the quilt.
 A sheet of Tyvek is cut to the length of the quilt. Tyvek provides a sturdy barrier for the quilt, it breathes, but is waterproof, and isn't susceptible to tearing like tissue is.
 The Tyvek is wrapped around the quilt, and again with cotton twill, but not too tightly.
 The roll is transported to the racks, and a hanging tube is carefully inserted.
 This quilt happened to be on one of the higher racks, so Mary used the ladder to slowly take the quilt up.
 Nancy provided the support on the floor.  Once the quilt was safely on the rack, an identification tag with the quilt's ID number and brief description are tied on the end of the tube.
Below are two pictures of the quilt out of its rolled state. It was made in 1840 and was part of the Horner Collection from OSU.

 Boxing quilts contains many of the same processes that rolling does, such as covering the quilt on both sides with acid free tissue.   The quilt Mary and Nancy will be boxing is from 1845 and is an "album quilt"  Many of the squares contain the names of those that worked on it. The fabric has deteriorated in a peculiar manner over the years, one of the dyes in a particular flower pattern has dissolved the fabric. 

Nancy begins by unfolding the quilt, checking for any sort of insect damage or anything else not currently noted in the file.

 The quilt is gently folded in half to place acid free tissue under it.
 The top is also covered with acid free tissue 

 Mary and Nancy the measure the quilt, determining how many folds are necessary to fit it into the box.  This information is also catalog in the record for future reference.
 Folding begins, with care to not make sharp, knife edge creases, but soft round corners.
 This process is aided by rolled up tissue which provides internal support for each fold.

 The quilt is folded several times, with rolled up tissue placed between each fold.

 The box is lined with a muslin sling, similar to the one used for gowns, to provide easy lifting.
 Mary notes the size of the box relative to the size of the quilt.
 The quilt is folded, wrapped in muslin, and tucked into the box.  The box is labeled with the ID number and identifying notes, and taken to the appropriate shelf. 

The Minnesota Historical Society offers some great tips on how to roll and box quilts and other textiles. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Look Behind the Scenes: Costumes

The Collections Care Center at Benton County Museum has been especially busy with the installation of the new collapsible storage units.  With the exception of some 3-inch drawers, we are ready to start unpacking! One of the first things that will be put into permanent home locations are costumes. In museum vernacular, costume is just a catch-all way of saying clothing. A christening dress, a military jacket, or a prairie dress worn over the Oregon Trail are all costumes.  While hanging is the preferred method of storage for most pieces,  there are a few that are stored flat in boxes instead, such as pants. Costumes in delicate condition, or made of fabrics like velvet, which aren't suitable to hanging, are also stored flat. Today's blog will explore how to prepare a damaged costume for long term preservation, something that we will be doing frequently over the coming weeks as more boxes are unpacked and the shelves are slowly filled. 

 We begin by washing a 10-yard bolt of unbleached muslin, and then drying it.  It is then untangled and cut into 48x60 inch sections. Above Nancy is aligning the cutting mats so we have an accurate straight edge, and below she is slowly cutting the folded muslin to the size.  The muslin has two purposes. First it acts as a sling for easy placement and removal from the acid-free 40 inch dress box it will call home, and second it also wraps around the costume in the box, adding an extra barrier of protection. 
 The dress prior to packing. It has a unique maple leaf patten on both the skirt and the bodice. In the upper left corner of the photo you can also see a painting in the middle of the backing board process, as covered in the last blog. 
Nancy pulled out the donor file for the dress, checking to see if there was an interesting provenance, or history attached to it. Unfortunately, the dress was given in a group of seven, so none of them have much detail about their background. 

Next Nancy does a visual review of the dress, looking for damage or anything else that should be cataloged for future reference.  The database already had notes that the dress had wear in non-traditional places, such as off the shoulder on the upper arm.

A tear on the shoulder. It does not significantly harm the overall integrity of the dress, but it does increase the need for long term box storage rather than hanging.

The bodice is unhooked for an inspection inside. 
While checking the condition of the collar, we notice this small plastic bar. The file notes that a "plastron is reembroidered into the net". Mary is called over to investigate.

After the condition is cataloged Nancy is ready to start preparing the dress for long term conservation. She crushes acid free tissue paper into support for the sleeves and shoulders. 

The bodice is slowly lifted up and stuffed, with extra tissue being placed around hooks and especially damaged fabric.

Next the dress is placed into its box using the muslin sling. Mary is diligently checking for any signs of carpet beetles or other dangerous bugs that might be hiding in fabrics. Luckily, there was no sign of them.

The  muslin is folded over, covering the dress completely.

 All that's left to do is place the lid on, number the box, and carry it to the appropriate shelf.

Textiles and costumes are complicated museum pieces because of the wide range of object they can contain. Different fabrics require different standards of care.  The Minnesota Historical Society offers how to videos for textile preservation which provided wonderful visual aids as we begin unpacking costumes and quilts.