Feather & Leather Conservation Workshops

As textile conservators, we deal with a wide range of material types, not just fabrics. Items of costume, and accessories frequently contain both decorative and structural elements made from the following materials types, among plenty of others; leather, feathers, plastic, metal, straw and wax (think leather handbags and shoes, feathered hair accessories, straw bonnets and wax orange blossom). Many textile conservators choose to expand their skill-set into other ‘organic’ materials (organic simply meaning derived from living things).  All of our three Icon/HLF interns are given a generous budget for further training, which they can use however they see fit. Emily and Maria have recently attended workshops in the conservation of feathers and leather.

Feather Conservation

A few weeks ago, the Museum hosted a theoretical & practical workshop on the conservation of feathers. This was organised to tie in with our exhibition ‘Birds of Paradise: Plumes & Feathers in Fashion’. The course was run by Allyson Rae ACR, a  freelance conservator and specialist on organic materials. 10 delegates attended the workshop, travelling from all over the UK, and from abroad to attend.

During the two day workshop we learnt about the nature of feathers, different types, their functions and structure, chemical composition, growth, colouring, and maintenance. We also looked at their use in different artefact types, from costume and accessories, to taxidermy, and ethnographic objects. We discussed the causes of their deterioration, both in use, and subsequently in storage and museum display,  and the options for conservation, including ethical considerations.

The anatomy of a feather anatomy (ncsce.org)
The anatomy of a feather (ncsce.org)

Damage to feathers and feathered objects, as with many organic material types, can be caused during the lifetime of the feather on the bird – for example stress marks, wear or parasites and bacteria. However, the majority of the causes of deterioration are suffered afterwards, during the creation of the object, or during its use. Causes of damage include handling, display and storage; museums pests; the environment (airborne pollution, light, temperature and RH), the deterioration of associated materials in the object, and any previous repairs.

The other half of the workshop consisted of putting into practice some of the conservation treatments we had talked about, focusing on soil removal (dry and wet cleaning), re-shaping and repair of bent and broken feathers.

During feathers reparation treatment demonstration (left). Workshop attendants working on their samples (right).
A demonstration of how to repair feathers (left). Workshop delegates working on their samples (right).
Solvent cleaning of feathers samples: before (up left), during (down) and after (up right).
Solvent cleaning of feathers samples: before (top left), during (bottom) and after (top right)

To compliment the course the delegates had the chance to visit the ‘Birds of Paradise’ exhibition, with a gallery talk by Fashion & Textile Curator, Joanna Hashagen. In addition, as a part of the programme, we had found various items of feather work from the stores to show the delegates, and allow them to inspect up close.

Katy Smith, Textile conservator, showing some of the feathers objects from The Bowes Museum collection
Katy Smith, Textile Conservator, showing some of the feathered objects from The Bowes Museum collection

1. CST.106.C Napoleon III’s livery hat; 2.NTC White and red plumes, belong to military hat collection; 3.NTC Painted feather’s fan; 4.NTC Feather’s fan, probably ostrich; 5. TOY.256 Doll house furniture made of white chicken feathers; 6.NTC Peacock feather’s fan; 7. CST.2.994 Hat ornament made of head of bird with brown glass eyes
1. Napoleonic livery hat [CST.106.C]; 2. White and red plumes, belonging to military hat collection [not catalogued]; 3.Painted feather fan [not catalogued]; 4. Ostrich feather plume [not catalogued]; 5. Doll’s house furniture made from white chicken feathers [TOY.256]; 6.Peacock feather’s fan [not catalogued]; 7. Hair ornament made from head of bird [CST.2.994]
CST.3.208 Woman's black ostrich feather stole (left) & CST.1074 White swansdown stole (right)
1920s feathered cape, made from 11 large black feathers, mounted onto black silk crepe [CST.1420]
CST.1420 Woman’s short cape made of ostrich feathers and eleven large black feathers mounted and sewn on to black crepe-de-chene.
Black ostrich feather stole [CST.3.208] and white swan down stole [CST.1074]
By Maria Pardos, Icon/HLF Textiles Conservation Intern


Leather Conservation Workshop

Maria and I have just come back from a course on the conservation of leather, hosted by West Dean College. The course was run by Yvette Fletcher, who is Head of Conservation at The Leather Conservation Centre in Northampton; alongside Mike Redwood, one of the centre’s trustees, and an expert in the leather industry and production techniques.

West Dean College was the stunning setting for the course and with the option to stay in the main house it was quite an experience before the course even began! The course was three and a half days long, and we were able to make the most of the breaks each day to explore the house, which is an eclectic mix of art and antiques, and the grounds which are vast and immaculately kept.

The main house at West Dean College
The main house at West Dean College
One of the glasshouses in the walled gardens.
One of the glasshouses in the walled gardens

The course began on the evening we arrived with an introduction to leather, and continued the following morning with the history of its production. The theoretical part of the course also included the deterioration of leather and preventive care of historic leather products.

We then moved onto the practical sessions, where we were shown a huge range of skins and furs as examples of different types of tanning (the process which stops the skins rotting) and how different types of animal skins feel and smell (!) when processed.

A tanned chicken foot, and detail of tanned python skin
A tanned chicken foot, and detail of tanned python skin

We were also able to try out leather conservation techniques using various conservation grade materials following an introduction and demonstration from Yvette. Whether this was consolidation of flaking leather finishes, dyeing leather patches for support or creating surface loss infills, it was great to have the time to try out different treatments and really interesting to see the results of the rest of the group.

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Clockwise from top left: Maria testing various surface cleaning techniques on samples of leather; testing our new leather identification skills; Emily trying out leather dyeing techniques; a colour matching exercise using Selladerm dyes

On the final day of the course we had the chance to share our own experiences of working with leather objects and discuss any problems that may have arisen. It was brilliant to put the knowledge we had gained about the deterioration of leather and its conservation treatment into context, as well as learning a bit more about our fellow students!

The leather wall panel below is one of four, and part of the founder’s collection at The Bowes Museum. While re-storing some of the flat textiles in the stores, the panels were identified as needing conservation to re-shape the curled and distorted edges, as well as surface cleaning to remove the general sooty soiling from the painted surface. As a result of attending the leather course, Maria and I now have a much better understanding of suitable treatments for this type of leather object and will conserve them so they can go back into storage in a more stable condition.

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Left: Painted and embossed leather panel [FW.351] Right: Close-up of leather panel showing soiling and cracking on the painted surface, and tears in the leather alongside old nail holes
Overall, the course was a fantastic experience and West Dean was a wonderfully quirky location. We learnt a variety of treatment techniques tailored to leather objects and components, which we can now apply to our conservation work at The Bowes Museum.

By Emily Austin, Icon/HLF Textiles Conservation intern

From Regal to the Everyday: Hidden Drawers to Common Grounds

Drawn to that which is unseen and overlooked, my curiosity was piqued by the Blackborne Lace ‘B collection’. It seemed to counterbalance the garments of the Royal Collection with which I’d previously worked at Kensington Palace on the project, Hidden Drawers. From the regal to the everyday, from the top to bottom of society, it seemed a nice challenge! And with the B collection here there really was a challenge, how could drawing bring these lowly objects to light?

Lace bonnet from the B collection
Lace bonnet from the B collection

The first time Annabel, former Assistant Fashion & Textiles Curator, opened the trunk, in it, layers of tissue, with ghostly shadows of artefacts pressed between the translucent sheets peers through.  I was struck by the connotations of archaeology, the stratigraphy of layers, gently uncovered bit by bit.

Drawing the lace
Drawing the lace

What at first seemed like a mass of similar objects, on closer inspection revealed their individuality. Given that these caps had never been catalogued individually, that’s what I set out to do in drawing, record their distinctive shapes and qualities. Like portraits of lost people, a shadow or trace of an absent person. In fact illuminated by light we might be reminded of brain scans.

Sarah Casey
Sarah Casey

The choice to display the work free unframed in space seemed particularly apt for this project because of a tension between the flatness of the stored garment and the 3dimensional quality of a worn garment.  One of the first things that Annabel told me about lace and its display is that it is so often pressed flat and pinned, like a specimen or insect. These associations further ‘kill’ the life of the caps – I wanted them to come to life! So here in these pressed sheets, the glowing images of the bonnets take on a three dimensionality again. Unframed and hanging there they also confront the viewer with a sense of vulnerability, a lightweight delicacy of the lace itself and the gentle light touch required to lift them out of storage to be viewed.

Glowing images of the bonnets
Glowing images of the bonnets

To find out more about my exhibition and drawings, please join me in the Jubilee Room on Monday 1st June at 2.15 for a free gallery talk.

By Sarah Casey, Artist

Travel Back In Time: Discover What Life Was Like In The Stone, Bronze & Iron Ages

This summer the Museum is hosting an exciting Prehistoric People exhibition aimed at children and families. Visitors are able to travel back in time to discover what life was like in the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages!

Prehistoric People Gallery
Prehistoric People Gallery

Putting the exhibition together has been really interesting and has enabled me to learn so much about this fascinating time period!

What at first appears to be a lump of stone was in fact a ‘hammer stone’ used thousands of years ago to shape flint into sophisticated tools such as arrowheads and hand axes; enabling prehistoric people to hunt and gather food effectively in their local environment.

An arrowhead made from flint
An arrowhead made from flint

There are also so many unknown facts which are open to speculation! My favourite is the ‘cup and ring’ stone. The name refers to the most common feature of the design: the cup, a small circular hole, sometimes surrounded by one or more ring-shapes. These marks were carved into the stone with a harder stone chisel or pick. The meaning of these symbols has confused archaeologists for centuries. Different ideas exist. They include maps of the landscape or stars, markers of territory, and symbols in special sacred places but perhaps they were just for decoration. As there are no written records we will never know the answer to this question!

Cup and Ring Stone
Cup and Ring Stone

Also included in the exhibition are examples of Bronze Age pots. Similar to today, clay was used to make pots in different shapes and sizes. The majority of pots on display in the exhibition are urns; used in burials and some contain cremated human remains.

Neolithic and Bronze Age pots were made by rolling long coils of clay which were then laid on top of each other and smoothed over to create the tall sides of the vessel. They were decorated by making marks in the clay using bones, sticks and even fingernails!
Neolithic and Bronze Age pots were made by rolling long coils of clay which were then laid on top of each other and smoothed over to create the tall sides of the vessel. They were decorated by making marks in the clay using bones, sticks and even fingernails!

The objects on display in the exhibition are from The Bowes Museum and Yorkshire Museum. Professional artist Liam Murray has painted murals onto the gallery wall which illustrate how the objects on display might have been used.

The saddle quern was used at the start of the Stone Age period to grind grains into flour to make bread and other foods. It was hard work and took many hours!
The saddle quern was used at the start of the Stone Age period to grind grains into flour to make bread and other foods. It was hard work and took many hours!

Lots of events for families are planned over the Summer holidays. Click here for more information.

In addition, an education workshop has been developed for primary schools linked to the exhibition. For more information call 01833 694602 or email education@thebowesmuseum.org.uk

By Amy Bainbridge, Education & Learning Coordinator

From Ceramics to Cavemen in 3 Weeks

After a successful run it was time for the Paul Scott exhibition to move on to its next venue – The Harley Gallery – in order to make way for our new family orientated summer display: Prehistoric People.

Condition Checking Objects
Condition checking objects

Just as when the objects arrived at the Museum, the whole kit and caboodle needed to be condition checked before they left the building. This is to ensure that the condition of them hasn’t changed since installation. The ceramics were then all carefully packed, in the same manner as they had arrived to us.

As soon as everything Paul Scott related was done, we then moved straight on to preparing for the Prehistoric People exhibition.

The first thing was to get the walls from dark blue to natural cream, which had to happen before any of the objects could get placed in the room.

Painting the room
Painting the room

As this is primarily a children’s exhibition the curator decided it would look great to have illustrations on the wall showing what cave drawings were like and how big a life-size bear really is. To do this we commissioned Gateshead artist Liam Murray and we couldn’t have been happier with the results.  [To see more of his work click on this link http://www.liammurraydraws.com/]

Cave bear illustration
Cave bear illustration
Cave Art
Cave Art
Pre-historic burial
Prehistoric burial

After getting all the paint work done the object cases need to be put in place. For this we referred to our scale model and plan drawing. Things may not stay exactly the same as the plan, due to reasons such as it doesn’t look right or fit like we thought it would, however it does give us a good initial idea on how the room could look.

Plan drawing
Plan drawing
Scale model
Scale model
Scale model
Scale model
Scale model
Scale model

Once the cases were in place we could sort out where captions were to be put, along with other design aspects such as panels and vinyl signage. This would also help us decide where the objects would be placed.

The first objects to make their way into the room were from our own collection, and these were soon added to by a few pieces which are on loan from York Museums Trust.

Little odd jobs: Three large pieces from our own collection have to rest on plinths as they are quite heavy and these help spread the weight, but first they have to be painted to match the colour scheme with one requiring a coat of primer first – this cost time. Other small jobs included cutting the size of the Round House so it was able to fit inside its new case and re-covering a small free standing wall for the children to attach their pictures to. Small jobs like these can be time consuming and are often not factored into the planning; so many hands make light work in this instance!

Objects on plinths
Objects on plinths

Once all the objects are in, the cases cleaned and levelled, they can now be locked and the finishing touches are ready to be done. Work tables with books, activity packs and colouring pencils, as well as a prehistoric Play Mobil set are all laid out ready for opening.  Last minute checks to make sure everything is alright, before taking a well-earned rest after a VERY busy 10 days!

By Charlotte Thresher & Catherine Dickinson, Creative Apprentices

We’re Recruiting! Conservation Internships at The Bowes Museum

Regular readers of our blog will be aware that our Conservation Department is currently hosting three Icon/HLF interns. This is part of a 5-year project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, under the ‘Skills For The Future’ scheme. The Museum will host three interns at a time, on 12-month paid placements, running from 2014 until 2019.

With the first year of the internships proving to be a huge success, we are now recruiting for the second intake of interns. Starting in October 2015, the Museum will again host two interns in Textiles Conservation, and one in Paintings Conservation.

Paul condition checking a painting
Paul condition checking a painting

As a valuable part of the Conservation Department, the interns will gain practical, preventive and workplace skills, tailored to help them develop their careers in conservation. By the end of the 12-month internship, the candidates will have produced a portfolio of their work, enabling them to apply for posts in museums, galleries, historic buildings or further formal programmes in conservation training.

Emily and Maria making soft-packing for a set of Indian bed hangings
Emily and Maria making soft-packing for a set of Indian bed hangings

Now more than halfway through their internships, our current interns reflect on their work so far, and what the internships mean to them:


Emily Austin – Textiles Conservation intern

Since starting my ICON/HLF internship I have been lucky enough to be involved in a wide range of projects and activities within and out with The Bowes Museum, which have made this a fantastic continuation of my conservation training. I have assisted with courier trips to London as well as installing loans in to the museum. I have been able to work on creative re-storage projects and complex interventive treatments. Additionally, I have helped to source materials for the studio and worked alongside the museum’s preventive conservator monitoring the textile stores and studio.

I am now 6 months in to the placement and still have an exciting work plan and schedule of visits to look forward to. This includes specialist workshops in leather and plastic conservation which I have been able to attend with funding allocated alongside the internship. I will also be involved in the install of the highly anticipated YSL exhibition coming to the museum in July.

The Bowes Museum has been a brilliant location for my internship with the chance to work closely within a small team and also as part of the wider museum staff. One of the most beneficial aspects is that time is given to my ongoing training and we are encouraged to visit other conservation studios and places of interest which helps to build a professional network.


Paul Turner – Paintings Conservation intern

The painting conservation internship at The Bowes Museum has been an amazing experience, so much so it’s hard to keep track of everything I have been doing and the opportunities that have presented themselves to me.  I was fortunate to have a baptism of fire, with my start date coinciding with the set up of three exhibitions. As well as assisting with logistical tasks, I had the chance to take the lead with condition reporting a large proportion of the incoming Julian Opie exhibition. Interestingly, this task also allowed me to briefly chat to the artist himself about related conservation concerns, which is definitely the way to go (when possible).

Work in the studio has been quite varied, from preventive to interventive, and including tasks such as:  consolidation, surface cleaning, varnish removal, to retouching, on two 19th century paintings. The mainstay of my time, and by far the highlight, has been the conservation of 6 quite exquisite, double sided 15th century Flemish panel paintings by the Master of the View of St. Gudule (see previous posts). The depth and scale of the project was challenging but ultimately extremely rewarding, and I feel privileged to have been involved.

As a budding painting conservator, I couldn’t recommend this internship more strongly, I am thankful that I still have 5 months left and will be quite sad when I will have to leave (in fact you will probably see me chained to the front door on your first day – please say hello).


Maria Pardos – Textiles Conservation intern

Reaching the halfway point of the internship is a good moment to look back and sum up. This placement is an incredible opportunity, giving me the chance to participate as a part of the team in the day-to-day running of the museum.

Over the past months I have gained valuable professional, and also personal, experience. I have worked on the installation and de-installation of exhibitions; acted as a courier for Bowes Museum objects; worked on individual and collective conservation projects; as well as documentation, assessments, re-storage, outreach and preventive projects. As a part of the internship program, training and the creation of a professional network is important, and I have had many opportunities to do so.

It will be really sad to say goodbye in October, but we´re still in the middle, which means there are quite a few months of hard work and learning to go.


For more information about the wider Icon internship scheme, visit the Icon website.

Applications are now open. The closing date for applications is 12 noon on Friday 19th June. Interviews will be held during the week of the 3rd of August, with a start date of the 19th of October.

The Bowes Museum will be hosting a free open-day for potential applicants to the internship scheme on Thursday 21st May 2015. For more information contact katy.smith@thebowesmuseum.org.uk

By Katy Smith, Textiles Conservator

Fit For An Empress: The Conservation of Eugenie’s Carriage Boots

For this extended blog post, I will discuss the conservation of a pair of 19th century velvet carriage boots [CST.140], which have been lent to the Victoria & Albert Museum, and their forthcoming exhibition on shoes.

The boots had been on display in The Bowes Museum’s Fashion & Textile Gallery for the past 4 years. However, they required conservation to make them fit to travel to London, and beyond, as they will then form part of the exhibition’s international tour. The loan request provided an opportunity to remove and replace areas of previous repair, and conserve the areas of damage.

CST.140 Empress Eugenie's carriage boots - before conservation
CST.140 Empress Eugenie’s carriage boots – before conservation

The boots came to the Bowes Museum in 1954, donated as part of a larger collection of Napoleonic costume and accessories, by Miss Alice Edleston, who lived in nearby Gainford. They had been purchased at an auction of Eugenie’s costume and effects, following her death at Farnborough in 1920. Alice’s brother published several books on the subject of Napoleon III, and amassed his own collection of Napoleonic memorabilia, including military uniforms and hats, which also formed part of the Edleston bequest to the Museum.

Other shoes belonging to Empress Eugenie in The Bowes Museum's collection
Other shoes belonging to Empress Eugenie in The Bowes Museum’s collection [CST.250 & CST.52]
The Bowes Museum is fortunate to have several pairs of Eugenie’s shoes, including a pair of ice skates, which are on permanent display in the Fashion & Textile Gallery. There are also a number of bodices, which would have been worn with the large cage crinolines which Eugenie made famous. She patronized Charles Worth in Paris, where a silk and silver embroidered paletot jacket (recently returned from a loan to the Design Museum), with matching bodice, is thought to have been purchased. The 1924 estate sale of Eugenie’s clothes, furs, and accessories dispersed her possessions far and wide. Prior to her death, she funded St. Michael’s Abbey in Farnborough, where she was subsequently buried, alongside Napoleon III. In her later years, she donated items of her clothing to the abbey, including her wedding dress, to be made into ecclesiastical vestments.

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Carriage boots were designed to protect the feet during cold carriage rides. This pair, dating to around 1870, are made of navy velvet, fully lined with long white rabbit fur, and trimmed with a coarser brown fur, thought to be mink. The edges are bound in black silk grosgrain ribbon, and the shape of the heel is commonly known as the ‘Louis’. The boots fasten at the front with 4 black silk ribbon bows, and have only suffered light wear during their use. The condition of the boots has been rated as ‘fair’, considering their age, use, and materials. The silk ribbons were heavily creased (having been tied in very tight bows), with numerous splits and tears. Most of the ribbons had at some point torn from the boots, and been crudely stitched back in place with thick black thread. Where the silk ribbons had torn completely across their width, the raw ends had been overlapped, and roughly stitched back together. The old repairs were both visually distracting, and were poorly executed.

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Detail of silk ribbons, with split (left), and roughly re-attached to boot (right)

Any conservation treatment begins with a thorough examination of the object, and documentation of its current condition. The conservation of the silk ribbons was planned, the bows were to be carefully undone, the ribbons flattened to remove creases, and support patches applied. All old repairs would be removed, and replaced, so that they would be less visible, and the ribbons would be properly supported. Rather than tying the fragile silk back into bows, they were to be folded into a suggested bow shape, with a new piece of black silk fabric introduced to hold them together.

Bows untied, to show extent of damage, including some ribbons that were completely detached
Bows untied, to show extent of damage, including some ribbons that were completely detached

Untying the bows, and humidifying the ribbons allowed the full extent of their damage to be seen for the first time. There were more old repairs than previously thought, with most of the ribbons having torn loose from the boots and been re-attached in a rather haphazard manner. The repair stitching was too tight, in a thick thread, causing crushing and distortion.

Detail of damaged ribbon, after removing unsightly old repair
Detail of damaged ribbon, after removing unsightly old repair

The process of humidifying the silk ribbons involved the slow and gentle introduction of moisture, in the form of water vapour. Damp blotting paper was placed beneath a piece of Sympatex (a semi-permeable membrane), and the ribbon laid over the top. Sandwiched with a piece of polythene to create a micro-climate, the ribbons were left to slowly humidify, before the creases were eased out, and the ribbons weight with glass to dry flat. The process was repeated several times, until the ribbons were flat, straight, and all distortions removed. The old repairs were left in situ for the time-being, to be removed and replaced one at a time so as not to mix up the many short lengths of ribbon.

The process of humidifying the silk ribbons
The process of humidifying the silk ribbons
After humidification, the silk ribbons were straight and flat. Note the detached and split ribbons
After humidification, the silk ribbons were straight and flat. Note the detached and split ribbons

The next stage of the conservation process was to prepare the support fabric. A black silk crepeline was selected, the colour matched exactly to the ribbons, it would visually disappear, while providing the support required to bridge the splits and tears, and without adding any extra bulk to the ribbons. An adhesive technique was to be used, whereby a thin adhesive film is cast onto the textile and allowed to dry, before the patches are cut to size, and the adhesive re-activated in situ, with minimal supplementary conservation stitching.

A makeshift humidity chamber, with ultrasonic humidifier to provide the cool steam, and Hanwell monitor to observe the changes in relative humidity
A makeshift humidity chamber, with ultrasonic humidifier to provide the cool steam, and Hanwell monitor to observe the changes in relative humidity

The adhesive selected was a mixture of Lasxaux 360 HV and Lascaux 498 HV, both dispersions of a thermoplastic acrylic polymer, and the technique is a common one for the conservation of fragile textiles which require minimal stitching. Using a piece of polythene sheeting, stretched taught on the work surface as a casting bed, the silk crepeline was dampened and laid out, ensuring that the grain was perfectly straight. A humidity chamber was built over the area to raise the relative humidity (which normally hovers around 30% in the studio), bringing it up to 55-60%. A 10% solution of the adhesive was made up, using a 1:2 ratio of the 498 HV: 360 HV. Using a foam roller, it was then applied to the crepeline, ensuring an even coat. The adhesive was then left to dry slowly (the humidity chamber ensures that it does not dry too quickly).

Adhesive film cast onto black silk crepeline, drying slowly in the humidity chamber
Adhesive film cast onto black silk crepeline, drying slowly in the humidity chamber

The polythene could then be cut free from the work surface. Before applying to the object, tests were carried out on a piece of silk of a similar weight. A heat-reactivation method was chosen, using a heated spatula, set to 60 degrees C. Small pieces of the adhesive film were cut, the polythene backing removed, and the crepeline was laid down onto the silk, aligning the grain, and using finger heat and pressure to secure in place. With a piece of silicone-release paper as a barrier, the heated spatula was used to re-activate the adhesive for several seconds. A glass weight was then applied over the area, and it was left to cool entirely. A peel strength test was carried out, pulling one corner of the crepeline free to test it’s resistance. The silk was also manipulated in different directions to ensure that the crepeline would not come loose from the surface with handling.

Applying small silk crepeline patches to the ribbons
Applying small silk crepeline patches to the ribbons

Each ribbon was repaired systematically, using small patches extending across the full width of the ribbon, and roughly 1.5cm either side of any tear. Old repairs were removed, patches added, and supplementary stitching carried out. The edges of the patches were secured, and as an extra precaution against repeated handling, a small amount of stitching was carried out, in a perpendicular direction, across the worst of the tears.

Small tear in silk ribbon (top centre), and silk crepeline patch, cut to size
Small tear in silk ribbon (top centre), and silk crepeline patch, cut to size

Where the ribbons had been roughly re-attached to the boots, the old repair threads were removed, and ends of the ribbons flattened. The ends were badly damaged from being folded over, and stitched too tightly. Where necessary, they were encased in silk crepeline, before being re-attached to the boot.

Damaged end encased in crepeline before re-attaching to boot
Damaged end encased in crepeline before re-attaching to boot

With the conservation of the ribbons complete, the next step was to recreate the bows down the front of each boot. Tying them back into tight bows would cause further damage, as they would have to be twisted, and pulled, which would cause further splitting, distortion, and was not ideal for their long-term care.

Silk ribbons after conservation
Silk ribbons after conservation

Slipping a piece of Melinex behind the ribbons to hold the fur out of the way, each ribbon was folded once, with the two lengths crossed over each other into a simple bow shape, and held in place with an entymological pin. I had calculated which way each ribbon would be folded, to ensure that all of the silk crepeline patches were on the reverse sides of the ribbon. This meant that as the ribbons are laid out flat, they have patches on either side, but once folded into ‘bows’, none of the patches are visible.

Ribbons folded, and crossed over one another, held in place with a fine pin
Ribbons folded, and crossed over one another, held in place with a fine pin

A new piece of black silk Habutai, medium-weight, to match the silk of the ribbons was cut into strips. With the raw edges turned inward, the new silk was looped around the silk ribbons, and stitched in place loosely.

New piece of black silk looped around original silk ribbons (raw edges pointing upwards)
New piece of black silk looped around original silk ribbons (raw edges pointing upwards)

Using blunt-nosed curved tweezers, and a very steady hand, the excess silk fabric was then rolled backward, pulling the stitch line to the reverse, and tightening the loop. The area where the ribbons cross is now curved backwards, but not creased or crushed. The new piece of silk was then stitched in place, tight enough to hold the ribbons and stop them from escaping, but not tight enough to cause any damage.

New false bows
New false bows

 

The finished boots, after conservation
The finished boots, after conservation


Shoes: Pleasure & Pain, is on at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, from 13th June 2015, until the 31st January 2016.

 

By Katy Smith, Textile Conservator

Feathers Are Out And Lace Is In: Exhibition Changeover

For the past two weeks we’ve been busy with exhibition changeovers. The feathers are out, lace is in, and a large loan to the Design Museum is on it’s way back to The Bowes Museum. Here is a brief overview of the process (and a photo or two for good measure):

Roger Vivier shoes - de-installed from the display case, and awaiting packing
Roger Vivier shoes and clutch bags – de-installed from the display case, and awaiting condition checking and packing

The Birds of Paradise: Plumes & Feathers in Fashion show closed on Sunday 19th April, and de-installation started the next day. With a Textile Conservator from the fashion museum Momu, in Antwerp, I de-installed the exhibition, and carefully packed it for transit back to Belgium, and to the various fashion houses which lent us items from their collections. The Glass Cube in the Fashion & Textiles Gallery was used as a workspace, into which each object, or dressed figure was brought.

Feather fans laid out in the Glass Cube for condition checking
Feather fans laid out in the Glass Cube for condition checking

Close examination followed, using the pre-prepared condition reports, provided by Momu. This allowed us to compare the current condition, with the state in which it entered the museum back in October. Nothing had changed, no damage or deterioration in any way.

Costumes on padded hangers, within protective Tyvec bags, hanging in a transit box
Costumes on padded hangers, within protective Tyvec bags, hanging in a transit box

The mannequins were then undressed, and each object wrapped or packed. The existing packing materials were re-used – archival quality boxes, with acid-free tissue, and dress bags and padded hangers. Each object was packed and labelled, to be collected by a specialist art transporter. Finally, each mannequin and acrylic mount was wrapped for transit; the plinths and object numbers were removed from the cases; and the gallery had a deep clean. The entire de-installation, of costume and accessories, took 3 days.

A custom-made storage box for a fan belonging to the Momu collection
A custom-made storage box for a fan belonging to the Momu collection

The gallery was then ready for installation of the next exhibition, Common Grounds: Lace Drawn from the Everyday [on until 28th June].

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Preparing lace bonnets in the conservation studio, before installation in the gallery

Sarah Casey’s 54 light-sensitive drawings are displayed alongside the lace bonnets from the Blackborne Lace ‘B’ collection. Four bonnets have been conserved and mounted (as previously described).

Conserved lace bonnets
Conserved lace bonnets

The remainder of the bonnets are displayed in their unconserved state, crumpled and creased from years of storage in leather travelling trunks, one of which is also on show, for the first time, in the Glass Cube.

54 lace bonnets, displayed as found
54 lace bonnets, displayed as found

Highlights of the Blackborne collection have also been put on display, in a set of 10 glazed drawers. Showcasing the breadth and quality of the collection, needle, bobbin, and machine-made lace are shown, with examples dating from the early 17th century to late 19th. All have been conserved, with wet cleaning and tear-mending where necessary, and mounted onto fabric-covered padded boards. This has kept us busy in the studio for several months.

Border of Milanese bobbin lace, dated 1665-85 [2007.1.1.110]
Border of Milanese bobbin lace, dated 1665-85 [2007.1.1.110]
No sooner had the lace been installed, Maria and myself headed down to London to de-install several items of costume which we had loaned to the Design Museum,  for the Women, Fashion, Power exhibition, which closed on Sunday 26th April.

Mannequins de-installed from gallery, and awaiting undressing
Mannequins de-installed from gallery, and awaiting undressing
A selection of other items from the exhibition, awaiting packing
A selection of other items from the exhibition, awaiting packing

The exhibition was de-installed on Monday, with only the objects from The Bowes Museum remaining in place for us to de-install on Tuesday. One by one, we opened the display cases, and removed the objects up to the workspace.

Ribbon corset, de-installed from gallery, and about to be condition checked
Ribbon corset, de-installed from gallery, and about to be condition checked [CST.2.453]
The objects were condition checked against our reports. It is often easier to check the condition of costume while still on the mount, especially for fragile garments. Each was removed from the acrylic mannequin or mounts, for the inside of the garments to also be checked. No damage or deterioration had occurred to any of the garments or accessories.

Checking the condition of a women's riding habit against it's report
Checking the condition of a women’s riding habit against it’s report [CST.2.657]
We packed all of our objects into acid-free dress boxes, and all the mounts were bubble-wrapped for transit. The Bowes Museum objects are now on their way back up north. They will be unpacked, and condition checked again upon their arrival at the Museum. They will be dressed onto their mannequins, and re-installed into the Fashion & Textile Gallery as soon as possible.

Mount for Empress Eugenie's paletot jacket
Mount for Empress Eugenie’s paletot jacket [CST.86]
By Katy Smith, Textile Conservator