Thursday, 9 April 2020

Needlework Textile Conservation - March 31, 2020

March 31, 2020

I was recently asked how to handle an heirloom cross stitch that was shipped to a friend in Canada from a family member in Scotland.  It had always been stored behind glass in a fire screen but was removed and rolled into a tube for shipping via the local postal service.  I was told it is in relatively good shape but there was concern on how to handle it, preserve it and display it over the longer term.

I can suggest the following ways to ensure that this family heirloom and other needlework textiles will see many more years of enjoyment.  When in doubt please contact a textile conservator for advice.  The Canadian Association of Professional Conservators has a way to search for a conservator in your area.  See References below for a link to their site.  The Museum of Natural History in Halifax Nova Scotia can also assist.  A call to their general number asking for help will likely get some answers for you.

The following is general information based on a needlework textile of moderate size such as a sampler, small cross stitch, small hooked rug, or needlework textile of most kinds.  This information is also based on simple and low cost materials that might be available in community museums with minimal funding available for professional services.
  • keep it flat - originally intended to lie flat then it should remain so.  For example, if shipped in a tube then once unrolled store it flat in a protected area.  Rolling or folding textiles can break fibres which could cause unravelling.  There are some textiles that can be rolled if done properly.  For example, rugs with heavy fibres.  See link below under References for a discussion of this from the Canadian Conservation Institute.
  • minimize handling - use gloves to avoid oils or other contaminants on your hands from coming in contact.  Handle it as little as possible.
  • don't clean it - unless done by a professional such as a textile conservator.  Different fibres require different cleaning methods and chemicals used in cleaning.  The conservator will determine the type of fibres, the nature of the dirt and come up with a cleaning method.
  • storage - between acid free papers in a flat box or in an acid free envelope.  Depending on the size you can likely get this type of paper in the size needed at most comic book stores.  I can also recommend archival supplies on this web page by this Canadian company Carr McLean - Archival Supplies.  Although normally for archival documents, this works well for smaller textiles and they do have map sized storage for the larger ones.
  • display - one option to show your textile is to put it on an acid free backing paper or matboard and frame it along with a UV protectant glass.  Do not attach the textile to the backing or glass.  Simply lay it flat and tighten it in the frame so that it is held in place.  It is okay if it touches the glass but, you should wash the glass and make sure it is thoroughly dry first, but tighten the frame only until it keeps the textile in place.  Do not over tighten.  See References below for detailed information on mounting flat textiles.
  • environmental issues - do not store or keep it in direct sunlight or harsh lighting, fading will happen over time.  Avoid high humidity (can promote mould) and extremes in temperature.  See this post for more detailed discussion these issues: Environmental Considerations
  • insects - always carefully check over the textile for any evidence of insects.  Watch for holes, eggs, insect parts, etc. and if in doubt contact a textile conservator for advice and treatment.

Caring For Textiles- American Conservation Institute
Canadian Association of Professional Conservators - Can search for a textiles conservator
Flat Storage For Textiles - Canadian Conservation Institute
Mounting Small, Light, Flat Textiles - Canadian Conservation Institute
Textile Mounting - Minnesota Historical Society - using a fabric covered board for mounting
Carr McLean - Home page for Canadian with archival and conservation supplies

Friday, 28 September 2018

Wedding Belles (Textile Conservation For Wedding Dresses and Other Textiles)

September 28, 2018

This past summer we held a very successful exhibit at our museum in Kentville Nova Scotia on wedding dresses over the years that came from our textile collection.  This exhibit lead to many questions about how to conserve them and other textiles.  There are a few simple steps you can take to preserve a wedding dress and other textiles over a long period of time in your home or community museum. Consider your home environment to be very much similar to community museums where there are usually no specialized equipment to monitor humidity and temperature, insect infestation or mould outbreaks as would normally be found in a national or privately funded museum.Refer to  a separate document in this blog outlining environmental considerations for community museums that is applicable to the home environment as well. Rest assured, there are a few simple things you can do to keep your dress in good condition. Here are some of them:

Keep in mind that these suggestions are applicable to many other textiles as well.  The text uses wedding dresses but you can substitute all kinds of textiles in its place.  Just be cautious with anything that is very old and fragile.  Handle it as little as possible and when in doubt consult with a conservator first.  Always, always be sure of what fabric it is.  There are different concerns for different fabrics although these general suggestions are applicable to most fabrics.

1) have your wedding dress professionally cleaned shortly after the wedding to remove stains such as mud or red wine before they become firmly embedded. White wine, champagne are problematic but may not be visible. If you wish to do it at a later date consider engaging a professional preservation company with a good reputation to do the cleanup. Dresses that have not been cleaned and have sat for many decades may be better off to leave alone due to fragility of material. Make sure to ask lots of questions about cleaning methods, understanding fabrics, cleaning material used and risks involved before agreeing to proceed.

2) don’t wrap your dress in plastic. Some plastics produce off-gassing vapours which combined with high humidity produce a very mild acid that over a lengthy period of time will break down the fabric. Also, trapping moisture may invite mould or mildew.

3) don’t hang your dress on a wood or wire hanger. Use a padded hanger instead. Wood or wire hangers can stretch or distort the weave of the fabric due to the weight of the dress.

4) don’t try to clean the stains yourself. You risk setting them in and/or creating additional problems.

5) keep your dress in a cool, dark, dry environment with a constant relative humidity of 50% and a constant comfortable temperature. Avoid direct sunlight, it can cause yellowing. Avoid moisture due to introducing mould or mildew. You can store it with silica desiccant packets for humidity control.

6) for longer term storage wrap the dress in pre-washed, unbleached muslin and place it in a sturdy box. Or wrapped in acid free paper (stuff the sleeves to preserve the shape) and an acid free box for even longer storage. Make sure the box seals properly to avoid insect infestation. You can use cloth or tyvek bags for short term protection. Avoid using paper, ordinary or coloured paper may cause staining.

7) when storing minimize folding. If storing in a box consider using a box that is the same size as your dress. Each time you fold your dress you introduce the possibility of breaking the fibres in your fabric and over time introducing tears or breaks. This is particularly true for silk and linen.

8) don’t store other objects with your dress. Other objects may be incompatible over time causing staining, odours, or introducing other non-desirable complications.

9) do take your dress out from time to time to inspect it. Besides showing it to others and discussing family history, it is suggested that you look it over annually to make sure there are no problems.

10) use white, cotton gloves when handling. Of course, wash your hands thoroughly beforehand. Thus, avoiding staining from natural oils on your skin.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Exhibiting And Storing Baskets - Septmber 14, 2015

September 14, 2015

The Kings County Museum in Kentville, Nova Scotia recently received a collection of woven baskets from a donor.  These are in various conditions from pristine to poor, some with colouring, and some with elaborate designs.  This is an exceptional collection with some currently on display at the museum.  They have a place of pride along with our existing baskets which are in a locked case.

I consulted with the Senior Conservator at the Nova Scotia Museum in Halifax to determine what, if any, conservation treatments or considerations apply to collections of this type.  Note that the discussion centred around simple things that can be done not full conservation and stabilization treatment.  Full conservation treatment implies cleaning both mechanical and chemical, use of adhesives for basic structural repairs, use of chemicals for stabilization, as well as fabricating storage materials for each artifact. I have provided a link at the end of this post to examples of this detailed conservation work.  This work is normally beyond the scope and budget of community museums where funding is always a challenge.  The following simple considerations apply to any artifacts of this type in a community museum whether in long term storage or put out for display in exhibits:

  • always display and store baskets in their normal upright position.  That is, never on their side or edge since this will put unnatural strain on their structure.
  • leave the cover or tops or any other pieces in their natural position so that they age together rather than separately perhaps at different rates or environmental conditions.
  • baskets with colouring will likely fade over time due to natural or artificial light conditions.  Reduce light exposure to minimize fading.  Cases that are shaded with or without a switch to turn on a light if needed is best.  Glass with UV protection for cases is also recommended.
  • baskets made of one material only will not be so adversely affected by changes in environmental conditions such as fluctuations in temperature or humidity.  However, stable environmental conditions are always best for mixed collections.
  • baskets made of more than one material (wood, leather, beads, metal, etc.) require stable environmental conditions.  Different materials may expand and contract differently with changes in humidity or temperature which puts strain on their structure.
The following link is provided as an example of the type of detailed conservation and stabilization treatments that can be done on First Nations baskets.  It starts with a general overview and provides links at the bottom to two examples of detailed work.  Thanks to the Langley Centennial Museum in Fort Langley, BC for this very informative discussion.

Conservation of the Langley Centennial Museum's Basket Collection

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Second Time Capsule Contents - Continued June 2, 2015

June 2, 2015

Besides the surprise discovery of 9 coins in soggy newspaper in this second time capsule from 1933 there were two type-written paper documents rolled up and folded inside.  Uncovering these proved to be challenging but rewarding when it resulted in the contents being readable, for the most part, and also presenting a bit of a puzzle.  The soggy mass of paper found was made up of three newspapers: The Halifax Chronicle, The Halifax Herald, and The Kentville Advertiser.  These newspapers are available in digital form or as micro-fiche so can be referenced by researchers at local archives.  This meant that their preservation in this soggy state is not necessary.  However, carefully unwrapping them was critical to free up the coins and the type-written pages.  Once this was done most of the soggy newspaper was discarded.

Single, white page "in situ"
One of the documents found was a single page with a few general comments about education and the apple harvest.  There are some missing words, patches of missing paper and more than a few tears and folds.  Since it is very fragile and very wet the decision was made to leave it embedded in the surrounding pages and stored in a plastic, sealed bag to preserve it in its original state as best we can.  This photograph shows the document revealed before it was folded back up, sandwiched between two thick layers of soggy, brown newspaper.  Is there anything on the back of this page?  Unlikely, given that none of the other typewritten pages in this or the other time capsule are double sided.

First of Two Pages
The second document was two type-written pages pinned together by a metal clasp in the upper left corner.  Freeing up these pages to minimise damage was time consuming but well worth the effort.  The paper is very thin but quite pliable in a wet state.  The pages rapidly dried out and became brittle but by that time they were carefully placed in acid free envelopes for long term preservation.  We also can use clear Mylar envelopes (archival grade, inert) to be able to show these in an exhibit.  The first page (as shown in the photograph labeled First of Two Pages) lists the dignitaries present at the dedication of the property at the time which extended to a second page plus the contents of this time capsule as follows:
  • the three newspapers mentioned above; 
  • nails;
  • cent.
Not sure why the writer said "cent" given that there are 9 coins in total with 7 pennies (cents), 1 nickel (5 cents), and 1 dime (10 cents).  But, perhaps the most curious statement is "nails".  There is no evidence of any nails found anywhere in the capsule.  In fact, I ran a magnet over all the soggy newspaper after all the coins and the two typewritten pages were removed (there was a metal clasp in the corner) and nothing reacted to the magnet.  Could it be that the nails corroded away over the years?  From research we know that there have been time capsules opened in New England with nails from heritage buildings so it was plausible that nails could have been included.

I have included below a short video clip of how I separated the two wet pages.   It is two minutes but the whole effort took about 10 minutes.  All the text is readable in the final form.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Second Time Capsule Contents - May 17, 2015

May 17, 2015

The Kings County Museum in Kentville, Nova Scotia received two time capsules during the demolition of the Kings County Academy.  In June of 2014 we opened one of the time capsules dated from 1928 that was part of the school's original foundation.  I documented the results in detail in previous posts:

Time Capsule Opened - June 19, 2014

Time Capsule Contents - July 2, 2014

Time Capsule Contents (Continued) - July 19, 2014

Time Capsule Contents (Continued) - December 9, 2014

The other time capsule dating from the addition to the academy in 1933 had been turned into the museum at an earlier date and when opened was a mass of brown, soggy paper.  It was closed up and stored away at the museum for future work.  Both capsules containers are very similar in design and appearance with iron content as evidenced by a strong reaction to a magnet and evidence of both red and green corrosion products on the surface.  I recently started work on this second capsule which had much more green corrosion implying the likelihood of copper contents.  I have included a photograph here to show you what we were first presented with.  The bottom of the capsule and the soggy brown mass inside had considerable patches of vibrant green corrosion products.
Time Capsule 2 - Three Coins
Time Capsule 2 - First View


When turned over it came as quite a surprise to find three coins embedded in the brown mass as shown in the second photograph.  It is likely that the  green corrosion can be attributed to the several copper 1 cent coins found inside being exposed to water over a lengthy period of time.  But this was not all, over the course of the next few hours of unravelling the brown mass of soggy newspapers, I came across a total of nine coins dating from 1907 to 1933.  There were seven coins with copper content, a sliver 10 cent coin, and a nickel 5 cent coin.  Here is a list of what was found with the dates determined after cleaning:

  • 1907 1 Cent large, Newfoundland, medium corrosion
  • 1913 1 Cent large, Canada, medium corrosion
  • 1907 10 Cent, Canada, light black tarnish removed on about 95%
  • 1924 5 Cent, Canada, light corrosion
  • 1933 1 Cent small, Canada, light corrosion
  • 1933 1 Cent small, Canada, light corrosion
  • 1930 1 Cent small, Canada, light corrosion
  • Unknown 1 Cent small, Canada, heavy corrosion, size and edge same as other 1 cent Canada
  • Unknown 1 Cent small, US, heavy corrosion, phrase "WE TRUST" visible, possibly US 1 Cent, different size and edge as 1 cent Canada

All the coins were cleaned in the following steps.  Keep in mind that the goal was to reveal the date or any other identifying marks:

  1. use a soft bristled toothbrush to remove any loose material such as paper and corrosion products.
  2. use a sharpened wooden skewer to carefully pry loose any material more firmly stuck on the surface.
  3. use calcium carbonate paste made with distilled water (a mild abrasive) to remove any additional material.  This easily removed the black tarnish on the silver 10 cent coin.
  4. use distilled water to remove any left over paste rubbing with a soft cotton cloth.
  5. if necessary, use a glass fibre brush gently to expose enough of the date to make it readable.  NOTE: this is much more abrasive and is only done with the risks inherent (such as minor scratching) clearly understood by owner.
Below is an example of the effect of cleaning on one of the coins which clearly shows the value in doing at least some limited form of mechanical cleaning.  There are other cleaning methods that can be used such as chemical baths but those are outside the budget of a community museum due to the cost required for both the chemicals and the laboratory environment required for safety reasons when following this process.  These are before and after photographs of a 1913 1 Cent large Canada coin.

1913 1 Cent Reverse - After
1913 1 Cent Reverse - Before

The gentle mechanical cleaning  was able to reveal some of the scroll design around the outside edges and the date 1913.  As with using glass fibres for more aggressive cleaning you can see that some of the bright, shiny coppery patina is revealed (centre left).

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Drug Store Ledgers - December, 2014

December 21, 2014

Porter House Register
Example of prescription page

Recently, three large, heavy ledgers were donated to the Kings County Museum in Kentville Nova Scotia from a local family.  Inside are literally hundreds of prescriptions filled by the earliest drug stores in the town and pasted on the pages.  The prescriptions date from 1868 to 1899.  One ledger is labelled Porter House Register as shown in the photograph but inside is prescriptions written by Dr. W. S. Woodworth a "specialist in women's diseases".  There are also a few pages near the end that list names and dates of visitors at the Porter House.  Another is from the L. J. Cogswell drug store,  the first in Kentville opened on Main Street in September 1868.  The third is from the R. S. Masters drug store also opened on Main Street and active from 1884 until 1899.  These ledgers represent an important record of medical practise at the time which was much different from modern times.

All of these ledgers have condition issues particularly with the covers.  Only the Porter House Register ledger has a relatively good cover.  The others are loose and very worn.  An assessment found the following condition issues:
  • white mould and dust (mould is no longer active)
    Insect holes in ledger binding
  • insect holes (insects are no longer active and none were found)
  • debris such as cement and solder in between some pages!
  • small leaves and branches in several pages
  • tears and folds
  • water staining and ink smearing therefrom
  • rust coloured patches
  • black dust
  • writing on inside cover
  • torn binding
  • dried, loose adhesive
  • mouldy, musty smell
These ledgers represent a considerable challenge in conservation.  There are a few basic things that we can do with a limited budget but the best course of action would be to contract a paper conservator to rebind and stabilise all three ledgers.   Essentially restructuring each ledger to handle the weight and fragility.   Given that we are a small community museum with a very limited budget this work would be outside our budget.  The challenge for us will be to find an organisation that would be willing to fund this work.  Perhaps a pharmacy or a medical organisation?  However, I was able to vacuum each page with a soft brush attachment using a vacuum with a HEPA filter.  There was a considerable amount of dust removed and all this work was done with a mask and gloves.  Several researchers have looked at these and needed to wear this protective gear.  Once it was vacuumed the mask is not necessary unless the individual has allergy issues but I do recommend it in all cases.  Secondly, we can put a sheet of acid free paper in between each page to facilitate long term storage by isolating each page from the other.  This reduces the influence of acids used in the paper making process from leaching into other pages.

These ledgers are a fascinating read of the drug store dispensing practises of the time.  I leave you with a photograph of my favourite thus far.  A recipe for a
liver pill using widely available ingredients dated from 1891 made up of rhubarb, dandelion and Podophelium (extract from the fruit of the Mayapple plant).  All parts of this latter is poisonous except for the fruit which can cause "unpleasant digestion".  Please don't try this at home!!!!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Time Capsule Contents (Continued) - December 9, 2014

December 9, 2014

In June of 2014 we opened a time capsule that held three newspapers, two business cards and seven handwritten pages.  These handwritten pages found in the Kings County Academy (Kentville, Nova Scotia) time capsule from 1929 have been transcribed by a volunteer at the museum.  Most pages have faded or missing letters or words.  In some cases these can be inferred via context but the transcription author acknowledges it does introduce the possibility of errors in transcription.  As you will see he has marked in red those places where he had to make a judgement call on what was written.  Sadly there are a few passages where it is unknown.  On the other hand, this document is a priceless record of the state of the school district from 1888 until 1927 (earliest and latest dates mentioned).

The original author is unknown since it was not signed.  But by not signing we can infer the intent was to give an overview rather than a personal account.  Certainly, it does give an overview of the changes to the school including the names and terms of the Principals, changes to curriculum, classes offered, library initiatives, staffing changes and so on.

We are grateful for the considerable time and effort on the part of our transcriber who continues to selflessly devote many hours to all things historical.  It is just such volunteers who are the mainstay of our community museum.

Previous posts related to the Time Capsule in this blog have had photographs of some of the handwritten pages which show the faded lettering and water staining.  All of these entries and additional related information may yet become part of an exhibit on the history of education in Kings County.

I have attached a link to the transcription in PDF form below.  Anyone who may have additional information on this important educational history can let us know at the museum.  See our website Kings County Museum for contact details.

NOTE: the abbreviation ms in this document refers to the handwritten pages as manuscript.

KCA Time Capsule Handwriting Transcription