Padding and Stuffing Galore: What It Really Takes to Exhibit Textiles

Posted on June 19th, 2017 by

Blog post by Amy Swartz, Collections Intern. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

This past week was spent helping Joanna Church, the Collections Manager, set up the newest exhibit at the museum: Just Married: Wedding Stories From Jewish Maryland. Some of the main components of the exhibit are textiles such as dresses and tuxedos. I spent the majority of my week focusing on these artifacts. I had no previous experience of working with textiles in any of my past internships so I was very excited to have the chance to learn about caring and displaying these types of artifacts in an exhibit. I also always had an interest in historical fashion and whenever I was able to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I always bee-lined it straight to the textile wing. And anyways, who doesn’t love a pretty dress?

Hard at work steaming the wrinkles out of a dress.

Hard at work steaming the wrinkles out of a dress.

Well the answer to that question was to be tested this week as I learned how much more work it goes into displaying textiles and dresses than simply putting it on a manikin. I began the week with loads and loads of steaming. Many of the dresses were either from the JMM collection or from donors, many of whom kept the dresses in boxes for years on end. So needless to say, there were some intense wrinkles. About four dresses were in desperate need of steaming so armed with a steamer and helped by the education interns: Sara and Erin, I was able to steam all of the dresses in a day. But steaming was only the beginning.

One of the dresses in the exhibit that required very careful handling and needed padding for shape.

One of the dresses in the exhibit that required very careful handling and needed padding for shape.

The next step consisted of moving the manikins and dresses through the building and into the exhibit, which is easier said than done when contesting with a hoop skirt. Once the manikins were in place, we had to make them look more real for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it would look silly if a dress was just hanging off a manikin, who if measured would probably be a 00 in dress size and has unrealistic proportions. Secondly, fabrics need support in order to keep their shape and to support larger pieces of fabric, such as tulle skirts, there needs to be some form of structure. Not supporting the textiles properly could lead to further damage.

The dress with the largest skirt, which required a lot of steaming and paper tissue to enhance the petticoat underneath.

The dress with the largest skirt, which required a lot of steaming and paper tissue to enhance the petticoat underneath.

So the question became, how to support these dresses, because real women, with rather exact measurements, had worn them in the past. We, in the Collections department, turned to padding, tulle, and even paper tissue. Many of the manikins needed busts and butts so we started by putting bras or slips on the manikins and then stuffing the bra area if the dress needed it. We added paper tissues to petticoats in order to make them more full. One of the harder tasks was creating butts for the manikins, which went by trial and error. I began by folding padding up into a square and then pinning it to the manikin at the right height. But more often than not, I needed to add one or two more pieces of padding in order to make them seem more realistic. The last step was to create arms for the dresses, using stockings and padding. This could also be tricky as it was much harder to put dresses on manikins with arms, however with a few hands, it was certainly doable.

Last week provided me with real insight into how a textile exhibit is made and how much careful work must be put into each dress. It definitely makes me wonder if other museums have different techniques or resources based on their size and funding. Although the exhibit did require a bit of grunt-work and careful handling, the beauty of the dresses and the addition they make to the exhibit was invaluable and I cannot wait to learn more about handling different types of artifacts this summer.

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




From Flat to Fluffy: The Conservation of Rabbi Szold’s hat

Posted on November 7th, 2013 by


If you are too young to know about Breck shampoo—or if you just want to reminisce about 1970s hair products—check out this Youtube video. 

Incorporating original objects from the JMM permanent collection in exhibitions—especially traveling exhibitions—is an important way to bring the focus to Jewish life in Maryland. This was particularly true with Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War. Maryland was truly a boarder state during the Civil War and Jews were as divided as other groups when choosing sides. While I knew about his role on the pulpit in Baltimore, I was surprised to learn that Rabbi Benjamin Szold was asked to intercede on behalf of Private George Kuhn, a young Jewish Union deserter. Although Szold was unsuccessful, he remained with the young man until he was executed.

You can see an original copy of this Harper’s Weekly depicting the aforementioned execution in the Passages through Fire exhibition.

You can see an original copy of this Harper’s Weekly depicting the aforementioned execution in the Passages through Fire exhibition.

In addition to the trunk that Szold used when he emigrated from Breslau, the Museum also owns the black velvet hat he wore at about the time he was recruited by Temple Oheb Shalom in 1859. This artifact was perfect for the The Minhag America section of the exhibition, explaining the diverse practices in each Jewish community at the start of the Civil War.

1998.115.2  A portrait of Rabbi Benjamin Szold

1998.115.2 A portrait of Rabbi Benjamin Szold

Unfortunately, the hat was in poor condition and could not be exhibited without conservation. As evidenced in the photo below, the velvet was completely split, and falling off the hat to expose a yellow/brown padding structure beneath, which too had tears, soiling, and damage. In addition to holes, the shape of the hat was distorted and crushed, and there was a considerable amount of dust accumulated across the surface!

Demonstrating that the black velvet is literally being held on by a thread.

Demonstrating that the black velvet is literally being held on by a thread.

 It looks like a toupee!

It looks like a toupee!

Conservation work can be time consuming and expensive—which is why the JMM only conserves select items, usually in conjunction with an exhibition. The American Institution of Conservation website was helpful in identifying specialized conservators by location. After we approved her treatment proposal, textile conservator Julia Brennan worked on Rabbi Szold’s hat. In her treatment report Julia explained the process of her work:

·         The hat was humidified over several days in an enclosed chamber to slowly introduce moisture into the fabric. This made the hat more malleable, and throughout the humidification process it was gradually manipulated from its collapsed shape to its original shape. As the hat softened, it was gently filled out with tissue to hold the shape.

·         The hat really took its original shape and the velvet is much more relaxed and supple.

·         Large, split areas of the hat were lined with black cotton for stability. The split edges were then re-aligned and hand sewn to the black cotton with hand stitching, using a color-matched Skala thread. It was necessary to have the supports, as the velvet edges are too brittle to attach to each other.

Left, a split, broken area lined with black cotton. Right, the area stitched back into place. A small seam of the cotton is visible.

Left, a split, broken area lined with black cotton. Right, the area stitched back into place. A small seam of the cotton is visible.

·         In a large area where the velvet was missing entirely, a new piece of carefully matched black velvet was inserted and stitched into place with hand stitching. This fills the hole, and makes the hat more complete and attractive.

Left, a large hole in the hat. Right, the hole with new black velvet inserted to mask the hole.

Left, a large hole in the hat. Right, the hole with new black velvet inserted to mask the hole.

Our biggest concern with the Szold hat was whether it would be stable enough for exhibition after treatment. In addition to conserving the hat, Julia built a custom support to keep it in its original, stable shape. The support consists of four parts:

1. A “donut” made of cotton stockinette and batting, exactly fitting the main body of the hat. This will prevent the velvet from the stress of collapsing, which contributed to the original splits.

2. A small, dome shaped piece made of ethafoam and batting, covered in a non-abrasive black stretch fabric. This supports the center of the body of the hat, which the donut does not support.

3. A flat disc made of ethafoam, batting, and black stretch fabric fit to the exact dimensions of the hat brim. This keeps the brim straight, preventing further wrinkling and making current wrinkling less obvious.

4. A second, taller disc for the entire supported hat to sit on, also made of ethafoam, batting, and covered in a cream colored stretch fabric. This elevates the hat when its other support pieces are in place so the brim does not touch the resting surface. It can also be used for display purposes. Or not.

Interior Support

Interior Support

Right Side Up

Right Side Up

The hat has undergone a complete transformation! It is no longer limp and torn. It’s gone from Flat to Fluffy.

In the “Results and Recommendations” section of her report Julia cautions that the velvet is still extremely brittle, an irreversible problem. Some small splits remain in the velvet because the repair process is so stressful to the fabric that repairing them would cause more harm than good. The hat must be handled with extreme delicacy and caution, or more splits will occur, and current splits may get larger. The hat should be kept in a carefully monitored environment with low light. Cleaning should only be done by a conservation professional due to the delicacy of the fabric.

I got this travel sized Breck shampoo when I stayed at the Channel Inn in DC for the MAAM conference in October. It really makes your hair fluffy! Just don’t use it on historic artifacts.

I got this travel sized Breck shampoo when I stayed at the Channel Inn in DC for the MAAM conference in October. It really makes your hair fluffy! Just don’t use it on historic artifacts.

Rabbi Szold’s hat is on view in the Passages through the Fire exhibition on view now at the JMM. Funding for this important project was made possible by the Associated.

JobiA blog post by Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink. To read more posts by Jobi click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




A dingy basement, a gilded age

Posted on August 24th, 2012 by

A blog post by Summer Intern Kierra Foley.

In the past several weeks, all the interns working in collections have been pulled from their respective areas of expertise (mine being the collections related to the Lloyd Street Synagogue) in order to work collectively on object inventory – a huge undertaking that occurs every three years, during which every object housed in this museum is located and documented.

As the intern known for her marked high heel penchant, it came as no surprise to my colleagues that I took a particular interest in the textiles. Particularly, the women’s clothing.

I have always held the belief that much can be discerned about the social and cultural history of a time period by a close examination of the time period’s fashion. In the boxes of this basement, there lies a quick snapshot of history through its frills (literally – badum tish!).

The first garment that really seized my attention was this gilded age petticoat, an article that once belonged to Caroline Wiesenfeld Rosenfield.

The extravagance and ideological crossfires of this era are evident in the fashion choices made by its women; it was after all, a time of stifling Victorian sensibilities, a fin-de-siècle sense of lawlessness, and the rise of a new industrial working class –all doused in shimmering gilt. This petticoat was more than likely one of the last of its kind. Petticoats of such a fashion (bell-shaped) were falling out of fashion by the late nineteenth century, in favor of more bustled and ruffled styles. A new image of more voluptuous and highly pronounced femininity strangely arose out of the repressed sexuality of the Victorian era, arguably setting the ultimate momentum for the suffrage movement that shortly followed. This petticoat is a small snapshot of an ideological movement in American history, one that championed tradition on the dawn of a changing social landscape.

And here is an example of the height of this new liberal and prosperous landscape – a flapper dress from the roaring 20’s. We all know (especially those of us that attended the JMM’s Purim party this past spring!) about the free spirit of flappers. “Looser” morals are personified here in the looser bodice, the shorter hemlines, and the freer usage of color. Women were gaining independence, in most every realm, and the lively spirit of dress, as seen in this beautiful JMM gown, embodied this.

And here, this 1940s portrait of Miriam Epstein Lansburgh is exemplary of my favorite style of dress – American war era. The simple elegance shows the ideological move back towards “traditional” American values and the desire to embody radiant sophistication. The war brought a revived surge of patriotism, bolstering the morale lost in the Great Depression. Women were again able to dabble in the frivolous realm of fashion – and convey the patriotic spirit of American traditionalism while doing so. Visions of white picket fences and nuclear families seized the nation, and elegant femininity and grace seized females. As a woman who always hopes to emulate Grace Kelly (if only palely), I find the dress and demeanor of this photograph stunning.

In short, among the wonderland of boxes, Saks Fifth Avenue has nothing on the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s basement.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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