Wednesday, June 26, 2013

First dress!

Yesterday Chandra Obie, our textile conservator, was here to work on the very first Ida McKinley dress in our long-term conservation project.

We started with a dress that was relatively simple to treat, but that's only in comparison to some of the more serious issues other dresses have!  When it comes to conserving late Victorian-era gowns, nothing is truly "simple."

Chandra was able to stabilize almost all of our areas of concern on the bodice.  There is a small area of loss under the left armpit, which is fairly common due to the effects of perspiration over time, which she wants to patch using a matching fabric.  She was able to reattach the gauze center panel on the right side of the bodice, stabilize some areas where the fabric had split with adhesive patches, and reattach parts of the embellishment that were coming loose.  She also repaired a tear in the train of the skirt.

The adhesive patches she uses are archivally safe and do not stiffen like previous conservation treatments.  As technology changes in any field, the products improve.  This dress had been treated previously with what used to be state-of-the-art methods, but we have better options now.  We chose not to undo the previous patches, since they were not causing the garment to drape strangely or otherwise compromise the fabric.  All of the patches are in the arms, which will be stuffed with acid free tissue and "puffed out" anyway.  In a different area of the dress, or perhaps on a different fabric, we might have chosen to remove those patches.

I am very excited to get started on this project.  It has taken almost exactly one year from the time we hired Chandra for an assessment of each dress until we were ready to bring her back in to do the work.  Funding is in place to do two more dresses, thanks to the Bay and Paul Foundations, so we will be working around Chandra's schedule in the future to begin working on those, as well as finishing up a few last details on Dress #1.

I must confess that I did not get a photo of Chandra working on the dress!  Brain blip on my part, for sure.  I had several meetings yesterday and a program outside of the building at lunchtime, so it slipped my mind.  I will definitely be better in the future about documenting this process to share with you all!

Speaking of documenting the process, Chandra took detailed photographs of the bodice and the skirt, which is part of our agreement with her.  This is standard practice in the conservation world, so you have accurate records of what the piece looked like before the treatment.  She also made amazing detailed drawings, documenting each area of concern.  This process is THOROUGH, and Chandra is definitely the correct fit for this project!

I want to reiterate the GOAL of this project.  We want to stabilize each dress so that it can be exhibited for the public to enjoy.  This is not the same as restoring the dress to "new" condition.  All of Ida's gowns will always be fragile, forever and ever.  We still have to handle them with extreme care.  But after they have been stabilized, it means displaying them should not cause additional undue harm to the dress.  Pieces that are beginning to split will be stopped from splitting more.  This does not mean that new splits won't appear.  It also does not mean each loose bead or sequin will be re-sewn in its exact spot.  What it means is we will slow down the unstoppable march of time which leads to ever more deterioration, even in the best of storage circumstances. 

In all honesty, the process of handling any textile for exhibition causes stress.  But what is the point of having artifacts in storage all the time?  We have to be able to display them.  By stablizing these dresses, we are able to reduce the chance that a small tear will become a big tear, by patching the small tear.  We also won't have unattached pieces flailing about, getting caught on the dress form or the corner of the box or even on itself.  This gauzy panel in the center was loose all the way down the right side, allowing it to get caught on the beads, sequins and tiny mirrors encrusting this bodice.  Now that Chandra has reattched it where it belongs, it can't get caught on itself anymore!

Stay tuned here and on our Facebook page for this project as we continue to make progress toward our goal of an Ida McKinley textile exhibition in the Keller Gallery!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ida McKinley dress article in Piecework magazine!

Betsy Butler's fabulous article about Ida McKinley's dresses is in the new issue of Piecework magazine!  The article is long and includes several photos of her dresses.  Pick up a copy to read all about the project and the lovely details on Ida's dresses.

In related news, we are THRILLED to annouce that we have received a grant from the Bay and Paul Foundations for conservation work on her dresses!  We now having funding in place to do 3 of the 20 gowns identified for conservation.  Our textile conservator is coming this week to get started!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

C-SPAN episode about Ida McKinley

UPDATE:  Click here for the link to Ida's show.  There are now segments listed that you can watch individually, or you can watch the entire program!

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In case you missed it last night, click here to see Ida's episode on C-SPAN's series about First Ladies!

I was really happy with how my segments turned out.  I'm also on the "Featured Item" clip on the homepage about Ida's coral parasol accessory set.  That part is a online exclusive that wasn't on the show!

In one clip I talked about Ida's dresses.  Remember we're always taking donations to restore them to their former glory!  We are planning to get started with the first dress later this month.  Stay tuned for updates!