Thursday, September 30, 2010

Responsibilities of Collecting Part 2 of 2

So what CAN you do to help protect and preserve your textiles?

A person need not make a million dollars or have a Masters degree in textile conservation to do these few really simple things, to help keep our cherished textile collections lasting way past our own lifetimes.

Keeping our areas clean is a start. Vacuum and inspect both display and storage areas ON A REGULAR BASIS. UV light can be filtered quite easily actually~ and you don't have to out and buy those horrible light blocking sunshades and live in a dark cave. I have all of my windows covered with a clear UV blocking film~ it can be bought by the roll, and easily applied. I got mine from University Archival Products, and it is relatively inexpensive, and blocks 80% of the UV. You can't even tell its on the windows. You can also buy UV free light bulbs that fit in both regular sockets, and those for spot & flood lamps. University carries a line of UV filters that actually fit over long fluorescent light bulbs that block all the UV emitted from can get a pack of 6 for less than a single UV filtered fluorescent bulb, and they last indefinitely, and can be taken off and switched to a new bulb when that one burns out.

So where should you store your textiles if not in Grandmas old cedar chest???

I always recommend flat storage for any textile, over being hung. Quilts should always be ROLLED, and never folded. Acid free storage boxes are readily available, but they are quite expensive, and will still need to be changed out when they are no longer inert. Same thing with tissue~ you want to pad your garments and flat folds to avoid creasing, and acid free tissue is easy to find~ but good grief! EXPENSIVE! The reason we want to store things in an acid free environment is that acids leach out of products, and can alter the fibers, they can stain and burn fabrics, leaving holes and marks that are irremovable. Have you ever seen an old illustrated book, that the page opposite the illustration has a shadow of the image? That is from the acids in the paper and ink~ the same things will happen to clothing and quilts and blankets~ any textile. Acid free products are not acid free forever~ they all will eventually absorb the acids from the environment and need to be changed~normally at least once a year~ sometimes more often. Of coarse the acid free cardboard boxes are ideal, but if you cannot afford them, the next best thing is to use a cardboard box, and line this with an old cotton sheet, or unbleached muslin that has been washed several times. You can spend around 30 dollars for a tiny roll of acid free tissue, or trek down to your grocery store and spend around 4.00 for the same equivalent, but in paper towel form~ its true!!!! Trust me, I have acid testers, and BOUNTY MICROWAVE PAPER TOWELS are ACID FREE. You have to get the microwave kind, as their other types and printed ones are acidic. I don't use the one at the very first, or end of the roll, that have the glue on them from being attached to the roll. Pad the your hearts content with them, your pocket book and textiles will love you for it :) You should inspect your storage containers at least once a year for any sign of insects, moisture, and at that time, repack with new acid free papers.

When handling your garments and such, do wash your hands with plain soap and water beforehand. Do not use lotions or powders on your hands, or perfumed soaps to wash with, as these will all leave residues behind that can show up as a stain on the fabric over time. Some use white gloves, myself included, when handling their textiles, but one must be very careful to change them out at the first sight of grubbiness~ they pick up a lot of dirt over a day of use, and also will deposit that dirt between the textiles they are meant to be protecting. If you have textiles with metal lace or trims, be particularly careful to not touch these with naked hands, as you could leave finger acid stains on them. Every ones skin chemistry is different, so it is easiest to avoid touching these areas all together.

I feel that if we have chosen to be the keepers of these special artifacts, it is our responsibility to keep them in a safe environment~ its not hard, and once you know what to look for, and how to handle them properly, as fragile as they are, your treasures should enjoy a safe lifetime with you, and be just as nice and in as good of condition when you pass them on.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Collecting....Responsibly (part 1 of 2)

Not all people are gatherers....but for those of us who are, and who feel a strong connection to, and are driven to collect bits and pieces of our Historical past, I would like to share my thoughts on the "Responsibilities" that should go hand in hand with doing so. I have been rather surprised lately on just how many collectors have never given any real thought to the proper care and storage of their collected artifacts....not really out of any malice or disrespect, but just that it had never really crossed their mind, or they don't know who to ask about it.

There are different rules and guidelines for different objects, but I am focusing on textiles. Most everyone has some family heirloom in a textile form that they would like to know how to properly take care of, so that whatever it is, will last for future generations.

I am not going to get into 'Professional' grade storage and conservation, as it is ridiculously expensive, and I'm sure most everyday folks will not want to turn their house into a sterile Industrial environment. The key to responsible collecting is to be able to enjoy our treasures, but at the same time keep them safe from certain environmental factors that we do have easy control over.

Antique textiles are the most difficult of all objects to store and conserve, as they are organic, living, breathing things. Most people have heard the common "myth" that their family heirloom clothing and linens should be carefully packed in a cedar chest.....when in fact, this is about the worst thing you could do. Any wood storage container will create a micro environment(as will plastic), and since wood gives off tannic acid, not to mention attracting bugs, storing your textiles in a wooden chest of any type will age and discolor and weaken them faster than if you left them out on a shelf. Cedar does repel insects, but it still gives off acids, and should not be used to store early textiles. Textiles are very fragile in the way that too much humidity and they can mold, if they get wet they can water stain...metal fasteners and buttons can rust, celluloid based trims will dissolve. Too dry, too hot, and they can become brittle and can turn to dust. The thing to remember, is to keep whatever space they are in clean, dry, and at a constant temperature. Do NOT store things in the attic, or basement, or where the temp fluctuates from hot to cold extremes.

Things to avoid around your textiles, both in storage, and on display are....

****FOOD! Crumbs, little dropped bits, oils and smells are just a hint of what is left behind from foodstuffs. Besides the horror of actually spilling food or a beverage on an antique textile that cannot be cleaned, it attracts bugs, and little verminous creatures like mice. It is best to not allow ANY food or drinks in your storage area or displays.

Along the food line, you don't want to display your textiles near a kitchen, or place where food is prepared. Even if you use a hood over your cook top, there will still be particles of grease in the air, that can penetrate your textiles and absolutely ruin them.

*****BUGS!! Ohhh these critters are the worst! Flies don't munch on textiles, but they do leave their droppings, known as 'fly spec', that look like little brown dots. Carpet beetles and silverfish will eat textiles, and their shed skins as they are growing also attract other bugs, and before you know it, you will have an all out infestation....not to mention microscopic eggs from the little buggers multiplying faster than rabbits.....
You don't need to go rushing out to buy a bunch of chemicals, and unless you do have an infestation problem, I don't recommend buying insect traps either~ the pheromones the traps are baited with can actually attract insects. The easiest things to do, is to be clean. Clean Clean Clean, and clutter free. Inspect your storage area and displays often. Vacuum often. A clean area, is a safe area for your textiles.

******SMOKE! I clump nearly all airborne particles into the smoke category. Grease and food particles can be in the air from cooking dinner, carcinogens from a fireplace or an actual person smoking....if you can smell it, it can penetrate the natural fibers of a textile, and cause irreversible damage. Keep your air clean...and that goes for aerosol cans of bug killers, hairsprays, room scents~ all these are chemicals that can alter/stain/destroy fabrics! Keep your air clean.

****LIGHT! Most people know by now, direct sunlight can reduce a textile to dust....and if you didn't know~ it can! ultra Violet (UV) radiation breaks down natural fibers~ we see it first as fading of colors...but it also causes the fibers to become brittle and break. So keep your storage area DARK, and make sure your displays are not in front of a window. Do not use the daytime or UV bulbs in your lamps, and keep spotlights to a minimum~ you can get JUST AS MUCH UV light from sources inside the house, as you can from the sun

*****WATER! Water has NO place around antique textiles. none none none! Do not store, or display things, next to say, a sink, or a water pipe, or next to the water aware of the sources of water in your home, and keep your textiles away from it, then you wont have to worry about a pipe breaking and soaking everything. Dyes and colors of early textiles are not always colorfast, and you could really be in for heartbreak if things get wet. Water can cause irreversible damage

****PETS. Now I love animals~ we live on a farm~ but they have no place around my textiles, and are not allowed anywhere near the gallery. Disaster is easily avoided but keeping pets away from your displays and storage areas.

In part 2, I will touch on some easy things you can do to protect and prolong the life of your collections

Sunday, September 19, 2010

More Early Basket purses~ part 3 of 3~ Shapes, sizes, ect.......

(photo of painting by Joseph Whiting Stock, 1840)

The majority of the baskets I have come across in person, or in images, have most undoubtedly been child size. The very first one I ever bought, is sized tiny for a doll, just 3" in width. Of coarse adult women also had these, tho tending to be on the younger side of life, than the latter, as you can see by the forth coming pictures as we touch on some of the unique shapes of these gorgeous baskets.

Its hard for me to know where to start on this subject, as there are so many~ I want to talk about them all at once! I guess starting with the most common would be easiest, and that is what I call, the pear shape. Of this pear shape, there are two basic varieties~ the solid woven,

and the ones woven with an openwork band around the middle.

This post has a lot of pictures attached to it, so I hope you will indeed wait for them to load~ they are all worth it, and I have used period images to illustrate the shapes as well~ it is really a gift to see them in picture, when they were new and in use, and to have some actual baskets to see how they weathered the years...there are definite weak points, which I will touch on in a bit.

Here is an ambrotype of a pretty little girl holding a solid woven pear shape purse

Double swing handles are most common on all baskets, where singles are used, they are placed directly in the center~ as is the case with this chubby cheeks holding her pear shape purse, of the style with the openwork band around the center

This next ambrotype is my most favorite I think, I had to include it here
The next most common, is what I call the oval shape. Most all of these were made to have either a snap in or hinged lid. Often times the lids are missing, but one can still see the loops where they were attached to. For this variety, there is a type with rounded ends, being truly oval in shape,

and then there are some slightly angular, having eight straight sides

Looking from the side, it is hard to see, but easy from the top, as the next picture of the two baskets are together
The one on the left is clearly octagonal in shape. The following image is an early cdv copy of an earlier yet daguerreotype, the clip to hold it steady for the cdv photo can been seen center bottom. This very well to do little girl has her oval shape purse stuffed to overflowing!

Another daguerreotype of a girl holding an oval shape purse

I love this next daguerreotype, as not only is she holding an octagonal shape purse, the sitter is an older woman.

Fancy weaves are common in this shape as well~ this next one is one of my favorites

This next shape is unique for the outer rib that runs horizontally across the center of the basket.

The body is very full, still kind of an oval shape tho.... and an ambrotype of a girl holding a bit larger of one, you can clearly see the horizontal rib whipped onto the outside of the basket

The above are by far the most common shapes, the rest I sort into the fancy basket department. Just when I think I have a grasp on all the shapes, I will come across something a little different, its always exciting!

Such was the case when I found this ambrotype of a very rectangular basket. It looks to have a yellow daisy painted in the center. This girl had been sitting for a long time with me, keeping her basket's details a secret, until I found this one in the flesh

One of its lids has gone missing, but otherwise, this basket is in near pristine condition, and besides its angular shape, it also has a unique 2 part lid~

Instead of having a one piece lid that snaps into place within an inner ring woven into the basket, or the same on woven hinges, this one's are two separately woven smaller lids, that are hinged to the outside. They open upwards from the center~ the remaining one still has half of the little locking latch attached, you can see it at the top of the center rib on the open lid above

Do you remember my 'chopped' basket that I spoke of in my first segment on these baskets? Here is is, sitting in front of one nearly identical to it. It is easy to see how the delicate openwork was damaged, and then that section taken out all together. The lid's rim has been hand stitched onto the base. These two baskets are nearly identical in weave to the basket in this next daguerreotype, tho if you look closely, it has the 2 part center opening set of hinged lids as that of the rectangle basket above.

This next basket is unique for the foot on its bottom

It is attached at each point where it meets the bottom of the basket. If it were to break off, there would be telltale signs easily seen of where it was attached~ of these I have looked for in my other baskets, and besides one other that still retains its foot, this is the only other example I have

This young teens basket's foot is clearly visible.

I have 6 different daguerreotypes of girls holding wonderful round purses, tho I have only ever seen one painted version in person. I think they were extremely delicate, and easily broken. The handles on all of these are a round loop that was to go over the wrist. Some of the handle loops were attached thru a hole in the top of the basket,

others suspended on a stem of sorts...the one above looks sort of like a an apple

I have but one of this type, the wrist right has been stitched to the hinge end of the middle opening, I think I would have originally been thru the hole you can see at the right side there

I am still searching for shapes~ like this round one above, with the wide openwork section above it

This woman's basket has a great domed lid, and tight solid weave.

This basket is woven entirely in the hex weave, I call it the 'boat basket', because how the lid has a raised section, reminds me of a boat

This adult purse is kind of a combination of the above two~ open weave like the boat basket, with a great domed lid like the one before that

This basket is unique for a couple of reasons~ it has a stationery handle, and the weave is made primarily without the horizontal splints. It is nearly identical to Martha Washington's 1789 sewing basket kept At Mt Vernon in Virginia (her extant basket has no lids)

Adult Baskets......

These are 2 of 3 large adult size baskets I have. The one on the right has has the original paint 'brightened' sometime in its long history, at least it was by a sensitive hand, that did not change the original design, but just paint over it in brighter colors. From base to top of the stationery handle, they measure 14" tall, and length horizontal is the same 14". These adult size baskets differ from the others we have touched on in just one element, and that is that they have the broad center fixed handle. It is not attached in swing fashion like the others, but instead has its ends tapered to a point and woven tightly into the sides of the basket itself. This was obviously a strength point, so the basket could hold articles of some weight and not have the handle break off.

The tapering end can been seen reaching down to over the half way point of the body of the basket.

The loop around the handle slips over the diagonal loop on the lid, to latch it closed
Here is a comparison of the adult basket, to the more common child/youth size. The big basket on the left had been handed down in its original family before it came ot me~ the written provenance states : " Lunch was carried to Church in this basket by Frances Whitman Tillotson, b. 1794" .

Positively dating early objects is difficult, as there is no known and documented 'scource' in, some proof to say that a certain person wove these baskets from this time to this time....and so we must do our best to sleuth out clues. Precious few come with written provenance, but we are fortunate that these were so highly regarded to be included in photos, and before that, paintings and engravings. I date the large lunch baskets to first quarter 19th c, with the smaller ones coming in after. The ones with the triangluar designed foot are only seen in early 1840 daguerreotypes and not after. The fancy weaves I date earlier than the pear & oval shapes~most popular in the late 1850s and early 1860s~ from the clothing of their owners. Daguerreotypes were the first photographic process invented in 1837. These were made up to the mid 1850s, Ambrotypes came on the scene 1855, with tin types following in 1856. cdv's became very popular just before and during the American Civil War.
A Few Parting thoughts.....
These are wonderful pieces of both basketry and folk art, and if you want to collect them, by all means~ do! If I have any advise for would be buyers or sellers, it would be one, to keep them out of direct & incandescent lights to keep the paints from fading, and two, to have extra care for the handles. Below, is how they are originally made and attached~ with the rim splint punctured, and another splint circled around and up thru the handles 3 times. These are the most delicate & failing parts of the baskets

In this picture, you can see 3 arrows~ the center points to where the original single swing handle was attached, and the thinner arrows to each side, where the hinges that attach the lid are.

As seen in the picture below, and in images of the period, it seems these parts have always been an easy breaking point. Some have been wired in place, alot have been re-attached with pretty ribbons, such as these apple green silk ties below

I hope you have enjoyed learning more about these awsome little baskets~ and if you ever see one or have one for sale, by all means, let me know!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Early Fancy Baskets....Decorations

This week, I will touch on some examples of how these early baskets were decorated. I wish you all could come and see them in person, it is hard to convey how delicate they are in pictures! I have here at the Museum baskets that are both painted and unpainted, beaded and embroidered, but as decoration goes, I also include the weave in this area as well.

Starting plainly, with the unpainted versions, I have found them to be actually in the minority. Most unpainted types are the fancy open weaves, to which there really is no place on the basket 'to' paint, but some can be found of a solid tight weave, that have been left unpainted

Don't forget to click on the pictures to enlarge them! The really intricately woven types are by far the most delicate, as you can see in this close up I have one example, my beloved 'chopped' basket, that is nearly identical to the oblong basket in the 9 o'clock position in the group photo above, that was broken long ago. All that remains is the bottom, and top ring with the lid and 2 handles. So highly prized it was, that instead of throwing it into the fire, the lid was stitched onto the base, making for a rather peculiar looking flat basket! The fact that these baskets were highly prized in their day, is a definite contributing factor to their existence to modern times, having been put up carefully out of harms way

Several of the unpainted types also utilize two different shades of natural splint in the weave, to make a pattern within a pattern.
I have a scant precious few that still retain their once bright wool embroidery.... these have a distinct open work grid area that is perfect for counted embroidery

The daguerreotype below shows a wonderful embroidered sewing basket. It is easy to tell it is embroidered and not painted, as the wool back side of the embroidery can be seen inside the basket

This charming sweetness is holding an embroidered flower basket nearly identical to my round one above (mine missing the single swing handle it had originally)

This rare rectangular shape, in really rough condition, but still has its awesome bead work band around the center, and tho the rim has breakage in areas, still retains both its swing handles

The majority of these I have found to be painted

Of the painted types, the design differs along with the different shapes~ certain similarities I have found are very interesting~ as in, the pear shape purses most have their rims & lids decorated in a dot pattern, as seen below

Of the color palette, there are two distinct groups~ those mainly designed with an orangey red and indigo blue flower scheme.....

and then those with a brighter color palette of red, pink, baby blue and bright grass greens.....

The orange/blue color grouping have also a different flower shape in the painting, whereas the second category ones tend to be decorated with the very folky and Germanesque Rosemalled buds~ the body of the flowers being shaped by c strokes in pink or red, then a couple in white, with simple black dot for the stamens.

The daguerreotype below shows a little girl proudly holding her basket purse front and center, with this same style floral paint

And of coarse, the lids are just as prettily painted as the sides

This next wonderful basket is very stylistic, and quite unique. ...

Not only is the basket woven with solid sides and no open work band, but the leaves of the single rosebud are very stylish and folky. The same design is on both sides.

I would think that a person would be able to go to the basket maker and order a particular design, as I think is the case with this fabulous basket with a Pineapple. Perhaps it was a welcoming gift?

I will leave you with a favorite of mine, already shared on the blog here,

Next week I will touch on the different sizes and shapes, as well as the periods in time to which these were produced