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Wednesday, May 31 • 11:00am - 11:30am
(Textiles) A Worthwhile Endeavor: The Conservation of a Worth and Bobergh Ensemble

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During a time when clothing was a costly commodity, restyling, resizing, and re-purposing garments to accommodate changing fashions and bodies were common practices. Such well-worn items of dress are a common feature of museum collections and pose a number of treatment challenges to the conservators who care for them. A circa 1870 Worth and Bobergh ensemble in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston is a prime example: the evening/day bodices and skirt had each undergone multiple generations of alterations by the time the ensemble was acquired by the museum in 2002. Over the course of a year-long Mellon Fellowship in the MFA's Textile Conservation Lab, the author undertook extensive conservation of this ensemble in preparation for its inclusion in a 2017 touring exhibition entitled La Parisienne. The ensemble's silk faille fabric suffered from numerous condition issues requiring myriad conservation treatments, the successes and challenges of which will be discussed in this presentation. Losses necessitated custom-dyed materials to compensate for parts of the skirt that had been cut away. Two different dyeing procedures were used to approximate the early synthetic purple of the garments' primary fabric and the off-white tint of the contrasting patterned fabric. A large stain on the front of the skirt in a section of the patterned fabric further involved generating a digitally printed reproduction of the pattern to mask the stain for exhibition. Heavy creasing throughout the fabric and trimmings required multiple humidification treatments using both water vapor and steam. Splits and tears in weakened areas of ruffle and lace trimmings had to be stabilized with both stitch- and adhesive-based repairs. The scope of these treatments provided the author with the opportunity to experience and compare the implementation and efficacy of different conservation techniques. In addition to the fabric damage wrought by wear and aging, changes made to the construction of the garments also had to be addressed in this treatment. Inexpertly worked alterations drastically changed the silhouette of the skirt and, by permanently joining the skirt to the evening bodice, made it impossible to dress it interchangeably with either day or evening bodice as has been originally intended. Returning the skirt closer to its original configuration involved a study of Worth and Bobergh construction methods seen in other extant examples, an in-depth analysis of evidence remaining in the skirt itself, and the construction of a half-scale mock-up based on the garment's conjectured configuration. The early alterations made to the ensemble to keep current with fashions during the transitional period of the late 1860s and early 1870s also had to be carefully considered when determining the best approach to its treatment and display. This treatment involved a wide-ranging approach that drew from both 21st-century conservation methods and 19th-century dressmaking techniques, exemplifying the breadth of knowledge and skill that is often called upon in costume conservation.

avatar for Johanna Tower

Johanna Tower

Assistant Conservator of Costume and Textiles, Windsor Conservation
Johanna Tower was the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow for Advanced Training in Textile Conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston from November 2015 to November 2016. She received her Master of Science degree in 2015 from the University of Rhode Island's Department of Textiles, Fashion... Read More →

Wednesday May 31, 2017 11:00am - 11:30am CDT
Crystal Ballroom C Lobby Level, West Tower