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Intro to Consternation

This summer I signed up for an intensive, two-week, full-time Introduction to Textile Conservation course. I don’t intend to be a textile conservator when I graduate, but this was a required course. Besides, it will be helpful to be exposed to the textile conservation techniques that are applied in museums all over. The problem is that my hand skills (read: sewing) have much to be desired. So begins the anxiety…

In addition to learning about the scientific properties of soils and solutions, I learned how to wet-clean a garment, repair an object, and create a storage mount for an accessory. It was a lot to do in two weeks, and I’m still surprised that I (somewhat) pulled it off.

The object I repaired was an 1870s-1880s fan. The outer stick was detached, and I basically had to re-attach it using an adhesive. I thought the close-up images of the fan’s chain stitch embroidery that I took using the department’s microscope camera were very interesting.

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The garment I chose to wet clean was a 1970s Anne Klein two-piece dress. It had some stains on the upper front part of the skirt, making it inappropriate for exhibition or teaching.

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We got a significant part of the staining out, but the best trick to exhibit this garment is to turn the skirt around so that the virtually unsoiled back is to the front. I wasn’t required to mount the garment on the dress form for my report, but I really wanted to see the dress on a form. Unfortunately the elastic waistband was deteriorated, so I had to find a dress form that detached from the torso so I could securely put the skirt on without stretching the waistband any further. In a way I kind of like this unnaturally-shaped dress form. There was a photo setup in one of the other workrooms, so I took advantage of the backdrop that was already up. When I saw it on, I immediately thought of the person who wore it, at some great 70s summer disco party, spilling coffee or tea on her lap. I also thought of how this look came back in the mid 1990s, and how great it still looks, even for today.

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The last project I had to work on was the creation of a storage mount for an accessory. As we were running out of time in class, I figured I’d do a hat mount for a small hat. Ideally it should have been a mount that could be used for storage and exhibition, but honey, they weren’t getting that much from me on the last day, with only 2-3 hours left before we were presenting on our other projects.

The mount is pretty basic (some might say rudimentary), consisting of a support for the hat to rest on (in this case a small pillow), and a flat mounting board which you can hold instead of holding the object. A ribbon secures the hat to the mount.

1860s hat, top view.image

But for that extra effort (so that it looked like I put some thought into it), I cut the ends of a cotton swab and glued them to the mount board to act as supports for the velvet ribbon ends on the back sides of the hat.

Hat, rear view.image

All in all, I was very proud of my accomplishments, considering that I have no background in sewing, and minimal hand skills necessary for a job in textile conservation. But if I work with textile conservators, I’ll know a little something.

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Down By The Old Quilt Museum

I received a few signs from the universe telling me that this career change to study historic textiles is the right path. One of these signs was the exhibition that recently opened at the New England Quilt Museum, called Down by the Old Mill Stream: Rhode Island Quilts. These are quilts from the University of Rhode Island’s Historic Textile and Costume Collection.

As much as I appreciate everything I learned about quilts, I’m most interested in the fashion/costume/dress part of textiles. So when they decided to include period garments which relate to the quilts. So it was a no brainer for me to help hang this exhibition, as a volunteer of the Museum, but also as a student of URI.

First, we had to dress the dress forms with authentic period petticoats, cage crinolines and bustles, consistent with the dresses that went over them.

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The connection of period garments with related quilts gives a more complete picture of how people lived. You can almost trace the trajectory of the textile: from the factory that made it to the shop that sold it to the home where it was made into a dress, to the quilt it became when the dresses were deconstructed once they were out of fashion or outgrown.

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Here is a quilted petticoat with a patchwork pocket. Pockets were separate accessories, and were tied around the waist, over the petticoat but under the dress. The dress next to it is a house dress, and were to be worn at home only. 

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I found this dress back in October for my sister. I’ll never forget because it was part of a huge haul right before Halloween. It was sold as a costume, despite the fact that it was just simply a vintage dress with a great print. She wore it well!!

  • Vintage 1970s bird print maxi-dress
  • Jonathan Adler tote
  • Zara shoes
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Carla Fernandez @ ISGM

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I had almost forgotten about this fashion exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which is a shame, because not many fashion exhibitions come to Boston. But my friend and fellow classmate J reminded me, so we made a thing out of it. The Gardner is not typically known for having fashion exhibitions, but the Gardner is not your typical museum. I love to visit the Gardner and contemplate Sargent’s El Jaleo (my favorite Sargent painting), but now I had a fashion reason to go.

In my street style sessions with my sister, I’ve been trying to incorporate a more global/ethnic chic sensibility. But it’s not her personal style, so its a challenge. I hope she reconsiders after she sees this blog post.

I’m afraid to admit I hadn’t heard of Carla Fernandez before this exhibition. But I immediately connected with what she she is doing. She immediately became another person on my “This is What I Would Be Doing if I were a Designer/Artist” list. I immediately responded to her colors, textures, styling. Her artisanal approach to fashion and clothing reminded me very much of Zandra Rhodes. At the exhibition I learned that she had a previous Boston/Cambridge connection, lecturing at Harvard & MIT a few years ago. To which J and I responded “how come we weren’t aware of that?” Well, now I’m aware. Very aware. And in the tradition of my compulsive behavior, I want to learn everything about her work. And this is the jump-off.

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This small, yet bold exhibition had it all: Fashion, art, a timeline, thoughtful and interesting exhibition design, and videos of the creating process. But best of all, it had a reference table to look at books and try on some of her pieces. Always one to be a participant, I had J try on some of the amazingly crafted wooden bangles.

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And of course, I had my OOTD (outfit of the day) moment when I was able to try on one of her simple yet brilliant gourd masks.

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  • Carla Fernandez gourd mask (borrowed)
  • American Apparel T-shirt
  • Marc Jacobs cuff bracelet
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J. Raul Cornier as Busco Mas Sandra Cornier as Mira Menos. Second-hand vintage and designer fashion sourcing. For sale at: www.etsy.com/shop/TheSinEmbargo.