Tale of the Three Dresses

A wedding dress can serve as one of the most symbolic and treasured items of clothing in a woman’s closet. Throughout history, brides have long anticipated the occasion to wear exclusive fabrics and rich materials of a luminous color. Let’s be honest – wedding dress is designed to make every girl feel like a princess!

Specialist textile conservators at the Historic Royal Palaces recently completed a major project to conserve five iconic British royal wedding dresses. These wedding dresses are kept in carefully controlled storage conditions at Kensington Palace, enveloped in many layers of protective and supportive packaging materials. The silk satin wedding dress worn by Queen Victoria in 1840 is among one of the most popular dresses in the collection, as it set the trend of white wedding dresses for years to come. If you are seeking the royal treatment for your own special garment, we have some tips and products that will help you conserve your precious gown for years to come!

Unless you want to “trash” your wedding dress (for personal reasons), preserving it is much easier and more affordable than you think! Conserve your gown the way museum professionals do using all archival quality supplies from University Products.

What You Will Need:
• Clean gown. All additional pieces removed and stored separately.
Large textile box. Textile conservators prefer white poly box because it is lightweight yet sturdy, and won’t snag the fragile fabric.
White cotton gloves. Always wear gloves to handle something that can deteriorate from contact with human secretions (yes, even tiny amounts of natural oil that can hide in your fingers. Overtime the invisible “fingerprints” can turn into ugly stains and destroy delicate fabrics.
Unbuffered acid-free tissue paper. Put down a few layers on the bottom of the box, lower the dress, folding it in as few places as possible and place rolls of loosely crumpled tissue paper within the folds. Stuff the sleeves and the area between shoulders with similar “rolls” of tissue paper. Your dress will hold shape and won’t wrinkle from long term storage. Put some more tissue in the corners so the dress won’t move even if the box is being transported. Cover everything on top with a few more loose layers of tissue.
• Add a packet of Silica Gel Desiccant for some internal moisture control.
It is best to store the dress in the conditions that are comfortable for a human! No musty and cold basements or dry and hot attics. Drastic changes in humidity and/or temperature are very very bad for your dress. And our goal is to make it last as long as possible, right?

What NOT to do:
• Don’t try to preserve a dress that is dirty, soiled with sweat, dirt or food.
• Don’t encapsulate the dress in air-less container. Vacuum is not good for the fabric, it will start to deteriorate.
• Do not use boxes with clear windows. They might be pretty, but light will discolor part of the dress that is showing through and it will become different from the rest of the garment.
• Keep away from dust and mold.
• No basements and attics, high humidity or dryness, extreme heat or cold.

What You Should Do:
• Have the gown looked at by a textile preservation specialist or at least professionally dry-cleaned.
• All little rips/snags should be mended, loose threads tied up and hidden. All additional decorations (especially those with metal base) removed and stored separately.
• Obtain a large, acid-free textile box that will easily fit the dress and some tissue paper.
• Handle everything in gloves.

To illustrate this blog post, we used 3 generations of beautiful white dresses, courtesy of one of our treasured #TeamUPI members – Kim. They are her grandmother’s, mother’s and her own wedding gowns. All three were carefully preserved and sent home in archival textile boxes, padded with acid-free tissue paper.

Hats Off to Dr. Seuss

If you are familiar with creative work by the beloved children’s book author and illustrator, Dr. Seuss, you might have noticed that hats play a very important role in his art. Cat in the Hat? The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins? Even the big fat fish from “One Fish, Two Fish” has a tiny yellow hat perched (no pun intended) on it’s head! You can find a creature sporting some sort of headgear on practically every page of his prolific collection of books! But what you may not know, is that Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) himself was an avid collector and wearer of hats! Hundreds of them, according to his sister, Marnie, who wrote about it in Springfield Union News in 1937: “Ted has another peculiar hobby—that of collecting hats of every description…”
Now, twenty-six original hats from Dr. Seuss’ fascinating personal collection, as well as photographs and art reproductions showing the intricate links between the real hats and the imaginary ones, are part of the National Touring Exhibition, appropriately called “Hats Off to Dr. Seuss!” Current stop for this marvelous show is Wilmington, NC, and you can see the full schedule here.

Obviously, we are also interested in hats from a conservation point of view. Being rather fragile, 3-dimentional and often oddly-shaped objects, they are not very easy to preserve. University Products has many options for both storage and display that are used by museum professionals and conservators all around the world. Whether you’re trying to preserve a Fur Hat worn by the Czar of Russia or your grandmother’s little pill box number worn on the day she eloped with your grandfather, similar guidelines should apply.

First of all, conduct all necessary cleaning and repair before attempting to store or display the hat. Professional conservators start by carefully removing dust, dirt and other environmental debris and, if required, mending rips and/or signs of wear and tear. After the initial prep, the hats need support from the inside, so they will not loose their original shape. This can be achieved with a custom-made support (for example, carved out of Ethafoam), by using a Head Mount, or simply by stuffing the hat with Acid-free Tissue. For long term storage, protection from sunlight and dust is essential. Archival Quality Hat Boxes are a perfect solution for these tasks. For display, specially designed Hat Stands or Head Mounts with Lifelike Features would be ideal.

Please remember to always consult a professional conservator (unless you are one :)) before attempting any kind of treatment on objects of monetary or sentimental value.

A University Products How-To Tip: Conservation Framing

You have just completed the framing of your photograph, print or document, and have it proudly displayed in your home or office. Already, certain chemical reactions have begun to occur which can result in yellowing, brittleness, and overall deterioration. Colors can fade, clarity will decrease, and eventually, the value of the image will diminish.
A framed item is usually exposed to direct or indirect sunlight, as well as interior lighting (both fluorescent and incandescent). All of these emit varying degrees of the damaging ultraviolet portion of the spectrum that causes paper to discolor and inks to fade. In addition, the paper, board, adhesives, glazing (glass) and even the frame itself, can accelerate the process of disintegration.
While it may seem that your only option is to lock up your collection somewhere, away from the perils of man and nature, it is no longer necessarily to resort to such extremes. Conservation framing techniques and materials available today allow you to exhibit your cherished photos and prints in relative safety. To insure they are properly framed you should consult either a qualified conservator or picture framer trained in conservation framing techniques. You may even wish to attempt the job yourself, although the time, patience and expertise required to do the job properly is considerable. Whether you decide to work with an expert or take on the task yourself, there are a few basic principles you should be aware of to make sure the job is done properly.

The Frame Package
Conservation framing starts from the back of the frame and works forward through the framing package. The sealing of the back of the frame provides protection from dust, moisture, atmospheric pollution and varying climatic changes. It should be acid free, and buffered to prevent the development of acids in the future. The frame backing should be secured using pH neutral adhesives or tapes. There are many available for just that purpose.

1. Frame Back
Beneath the frame backing paper (sometimes called the dust cover), is the backing board or filler. Sufficient backing provides additional strength and rigidity. Several types are used including corrugated paper board, corrugated plastic, and solid foam core boards. There are dangerous as well as safe varieties of each available. Any paper backing board should be acid free and preferably buffered. Plastic board should be inert and free of harmful plasticizers. Solid core foam boards should also be both acid free and inert.

2 . Back Mat
As you proceed toward the front of the frame package, the next layer would be the back mat. Museum board will provide the safest support for your artwork. Made of 100% rag, this board should be acid free and lignin free. Since the entire back of the autographed document will lie completely against this layer, it may very well be the most crucial layer of the frame package.

3. Attaching Art to the Back Mat
Proper hinging and mounting materials are a necessity when attaching the document or photo to the back mat. By museum standards, the only proper method involves attaching hinges made from acid free Japanese tissueWheat starch or rice starch paste are the only acceptable adhesives for this application since they are acid free and reversible. The first piece of hinging tissue is adhered to the back of the photo or document, leaving a portion of the hinge protruding above the item. The adhesive should face out when the document is laid face up on the back mat. The second piece of tissue lies over the first, without touching the document, securing the document to the backmat. The window mat can then be positioned over the document to completely hide the hinges. New products such as mounting strips and mounting corners are also available. These products allow you to mount without using any adhesive on the artwork, and are extremely efficient. However, Japanese hinging remains the time tested choice of most conservators.

4. Window Mat
The window mat is the next layer, offering strength and support in addition to providing sufficient air space between the glazing and the artwork. Ideally, the window mat should be 100% rag, acid free, buffered, and contain no alum or lignin. In addition, colored window mats should be bleed and fade resistant (conservators usually prefer white or cream white to be on the safe side).

5. Glazing
Finally, comes the glazing. Both glass and Plexiglas are now available with UV filtering layers to protect your print or photograph from dangerous light. You may find that the UV filter glazing materials have a minor tint that changes the appearance of your document. This is preferable to an actual change that will undoubtedly occur in its absence. Make sure whatever glazing material you choose, that it does not come in contact with the artwork.

Remember that framing is the creation of a storage container that allows you to view its contents, and that improper storage is a leading cause of deterioration of paper and photographs. When properly framed, your prints and photographs will be enjoyed not only today, but for generations to come.

Happy 200th Birthday Charles Dickens!

Charles Dickens’ classic holiday novella, A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843. In 2011, the original manuscript was given new life and extensive treatment from New York’s Morgan Library and Museum‘s crew of conservators at the Thaw Center for Conservation.  The manuscript restoration was done in anticipation of the bicentenary of the famed author’s birthday which is being observed around the globe today.

Charles Dickens, seen here in an 1860's photograph taken by famed Civil War photographer Matthew Brady.

Each page, written word, and the binding itself were carefully examined before the treatment of the manuscript could begin. The initial steps of this process began with the removal of each page from the book’s binding. Each of these separated pages is then bathed in a combination of water and alcohol solution.

Soaking the paper in this solution caused a previously used adhesive to dissolve. According to Morgan conservators, the adhesive coating was probably applied sometime between 1910 and 1920. This now-antiquated technique, called “silking” was once used to strengthen and reinforce paper. The sheer silk coating tends to become brittle over time and loses its effectiveness.

The washing process was completed by a second bath in a combination of  calcium carbonate-enriched deionized water and alcohol. This bath has a neutralizing effect on soluble acids and adhesives. Dickens, like many other writers of the age, wrote in black iron-gall ink (iron gall ink test paper), which is water-resistant and adhered permanently to the paper’s surface.  However, with its high acidity, this ink caused the pages to deteriorate drastically and the ink itself changed to a dark brown tone over time.

After this washing, each page of the manuscript was air-dried and then humidified. To gently flatten each sheet, the pages were placed on blotting paper for several days. Each page was examined further  for tears, rips and holes, and those were repaired with Japanese tissue and a diluted wheat starch paste. Thanks in large part to the high quality paper that Dickens used, The Morgan’s conservators were pleased to report that the manuscript’s pages were in remarkably good condition after the conservation process and have incredibly similar color and flexibility to the original document penned by Dickens.

Smithsonian Restores the Jefferson Bible

Thomas Jefferson was notorious for staying very busy in his years after leaving the White House. In 1820, our nation’s third president set out to assemble a “personal bible” consisting of passages from the first four books of the New Testament. The result was an 84-page compilation, cut-and-pasted from four bibles, of the teachings that resonated most with Jefferson. The Jefferson Bible, as it’s referred to by historians, was never mass-published, because Jefferson feared that these religious beliefs would be used against him by his political rivals and could have potentially offended religious officials. The book remained in the possession of Jefferson’s family until 1895, when it was purchased by the Smithsonian’s librarian and curator of world religions, Cyrus Adler.

Earlier this year, the Smithsonian took on the task of restoring the book. The project involved deconstructing, and then reconstructing this incredibly rare text. Everything from re-binding to page reconstruction went into this restoration project. Throughout the arduous repair process, the Smithsonian has kept the public up-to-date through blog posts, and later, a very comprehensive and interactive website devoted to the subject.

Many of the same types of materials that the Smithsonian’s staff used during this process can be purchased from University Products. For instance, many of the stubs and pages of the Jefferson Bible had to be repaired using a micro-spatula. Also, the Japanese paper Kozo, which has excellent aging properties, was used in repairing and protecting the leather cover on the book. If your project includes the repair of a rare book, look for University Products’ collection of book arts and conservation materials.