My first day in the textile conservation lab was an interview and some observation, and a little bit of hands on work with a modern but lovingly used and frayed woven and sewn bag. Camille and Cara worked on some aspects of several very large textiles, and did some photography, I did some assisting in terms of handing things off and learning a bit about the process at hand. Several enormous wall hangings from the 18th century were being cleaned and stabilized, with a small-ish amount of restoration, in preparation to be mounted on enormous custom made panels. I did a bit of hand sewing with cotton poly thread to attach a layer of super fine nylon net. The small drawstring bag was a loose weave of yarn and fabric on the bottom, and a plain weave olive/sage cotton fabric on top. The top portion had frayed considerably from a drawstring at the top, so I attached the nylon net, encasing the frayed areas. It was nice to have my first hands-on experience with something modern and completely familiar fabrics. I felt lucky that I did all those years of hand-sewing clothes for myself and my dolls and repairing my clothes before I got a sewing machine!
My second day I did quite a bit more! I don’t have any photos since the client with these three panels requested that they not be photographed for posting online. They were religious in nature, and extremely beautiful silk with embroidering and beading with silk and metal and glass. In preparation for mounting the three large textile hangings, I ironed probably around 10 yards of freshly washed Kona cotton, and then pinned and seamed them down the selvage edge to make two large panels, about 5 or 6 feet wide by about 6 or 7 feet long. These fabrics were to cover the padded panels that the 18th century textiles would be sewn to prior to being fitted with glass. The panels and acrylic covers were all custom measured and fabricated for each piece, and between the packaging and the panels and the acrylic and the textiles themselves, the lab was crazy full.
The panels themselves were specially sourced/treated wood that would not be too acidic. Most wood is highly acidic, and the varnishes and treatments of frames can off-gas quite a bit and cause long-term damage to textiles. The wood frame of the panel was covered in aluminum as well, a nice strong and light material. Even using light materials, the panels were so big they were pretty heavy and it took 2 of us to move them safely. We unboxed a panels and cleaned it thoroughly to get off any dust or grime off the aluminum. Then, a layer of fluffy high-loft padding (cotton poly if I remember correctly) was cut to size and tacked lightly to the aluminum using a small amount of double sided tape. Kate, the other intern and I stretched the Kona over the padding, pinning the fabric to the wood underside of the frame, much like stretching canvas for a painting. It took us a couple tries, but eventually we got it nice and taught. The next step was to flip the panel, and replace the pins with a nice tidy row of angled staples. This also took a few tries, since the Kona and the high-loft batting did not work as well as the denser batting and softer more supple shirting that had been used for the first panel that was completed in the days prior to this. Kona had a bit more texture and grip, and the high-loft batting wanted to travel every which way. But eventually we wrestled it into place and got the panel ready for the conserved textile to be placed. It was interesting to talk about the materials that were different, and issues and differences that required the approach to preparing the panel to be altered to get the best results. When we were done, I felt like I had a much better feel for what the the final product would look and feel like, especially how taught the ground fabric needed to be.
I am only in the lab one day a week, so the projects leap ahead in my absence, and I will have more pictures for future projects. I have a few more days to catch up on recording before I am current, but my goal in the next week is to knock them off the list. Also I tend to get to the lab a little early because of the train schedule, so I get to read for a half hour to an hour every morning, and Camille’s library of textile conservation and related topics is so good!