In this post, I explore the results of recent conservation work undertaken by Deirdre Windsor of Windsor Conservation, an experienced and highly-skilled textile conservator who helps us to maintain our significant textile collection. In 2015, a pipe associated with the HVAC system in one of our object storage areas broke, soaking the objects on the shelves beneath it. This is a Collections Manager’s worst nightmare, but thankfully the leak was caught very quickly and the objects were removed almost immediately. One of the objects that was seriously impacted by the water damage was a beautiful 18th century silk kerchief, hand embroidered with a floral pattern in metallic threads.
This piece comes from the same donation as the Elizabeth Bull wedding dress and may have been embroidered by Elizabeth herself or one of her relatives. We know for sure than it was owned by Elizabeth sometime after her marriage to the Reverend Roger Price in 1734. By the time that the pipe broke, this approximately 275 year-old piece was already in need of conservation work – it had been sewn to an acidic paper backing, stored folded in triangles for a number of years in the past, and there were several small holes and loose threads in the embroidered section. The water damage spurred us to undertake the conservation work that will allow us to continue preserving this important piece for generations to come.
After the leak, we called on Deirdre for her expertise. She took the kerchief back to her laboratory, where she carefully removed it from the paper backing and laid it on a sheet of glass. She then washed it three times with deionized water to remove the staining from the water damage and the dirt of several hundred years. While it was wet, she realigned the silk to remove the creases from when it had been folded, and repaired the loose embroidery threads.
Once it dried out, Deirdre attached it to a very thin but extremely strong backing material called Stabilitex, cut to the exact contours of the kerchief using a heated blade. She further stabilized the areas where the silk was torn. Lastly, she made a custom fabric-covered board which fits exactly to the dimensions of the acid-free box that the kerchief will be stored in from now on and fabricated an acid-free tissue paper and polyester batting cover to sit on top of it, which prevents it from slipping inside the box.
As you can see from the photo, this conservation work really worked! The kerchief looks much better. But it’s not just how it looks that counts. We were in serious danger of losing this irreplaceable piece of Boston’s 18th century history, but thanks to this conservation work, it is now stabilized and stored in such a way that it can be preserved for generations to come.
[Note: do not try this at home! If you have any historical textiles in your personal collection, please contact a professional conservator with any questions about cleaning and maintaining them.]