Monday, July 10, 2017

Conservation Blog: A Rare Shade of Green


This is a rare pair of shagreen leather riding shoes originating from 16th Century Persia. When they were acquired by the BSM in 2006 a large piece of leather was missing from one of the shoes. As well, both shoes had short tears on the quarters (the sides) and the vamps (the front upper sections).




Shagreen was created by using the skin from the hind quarters of a horse, donkey or onager (wild ass). The skin was cleaned by removing the hair and flesh and skived to produce a thinner material. Then it was washed and placed on a stretcher frame. Goosefoot seeds, a member of the amaranth family, were pressed into the dampened skin. Once the skin had dried, the seeds were knocked off and the pimply surface they created was smoothed with a knife. The skin was washed again, causing the impressions to swell, treated with an alkaline solution and then dyed.

In order to stabilize these shoes for display, a similar technique was used to create infills that would not be visually distracting. To replace the losses, pieces of thick Japanese paper were toned with acrylic paints to match the colour of the surrounding shagreen. Each patch was moistened with distilled water, then mustard seeds, with their hulls intact, were pressed into the paper. The fills were sandwiched between two layers of thin foam sheeting and weighted until dry.


Checking the faux shagreen for colour and texture.



 Building up the fill with unpainted Japanese paper.


Unpainted pieces of the same Japanese paper were cut to the size of the holes. They were stacked on top of each other until the height of the hole was achieved as the shagreen is rather thick. The faux shagreen was cut to appropriate size using a template traced onto polyester film. The edges of each fill were feathered by applying a thin moistened brush along the outline of the fill, then tearing along this line. This feathering technique makes the fill blend in more evenly instead of leaving the paper with exacting lines.


Come and see the final results! These shagreen horseback riding shoes are on display in Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels until the exhibition closes on November 22nd, 2017.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Sea Me Now: Treatment of a Pair of Deep Sea Diving Boots


These deep sea diver’s boots were made in the 1920s by Siebe Gorman, a company originally based in London, England. They are made with a thick leather boot anchored by a heavy brass sole each weighing 8.2kg (18 lbs). The strap over the vamp is 4cm wide (1 ½”) with 2 narrower straps, 2cm wide (3/4”), that wrap around the ankle and top edge. All components are secured with copper rivets which were covered with waxy green residue.







This residue is caused by fatty acids in the leather and the oil of a leather dressing applied by the previous owner reacting with the copper rivets and creating a metal soap. If left in place, this corrosion byproduct expands, damaging the leather and obscuring the rivets.




The treatment involved removing this residue from the surface of the rivets and the leather. Since copper is easily scratched it was decided to limit the tools for mechanical cleaning to wooden picks and soft micro brushes. The other consideration was to prevent the residue from becoming embedded in the leather so a short length of polyethylene surgical tubing was fitted into the terminal end of a micro nozzle attached to a low suction vacuum. The technique used required some ambidexterity as the cleaning was done with one hand while the other hand held the vacuum nozzle close to the work surface. After the residue was removed the rivets were cleaned with an organic solvent.


This treatment does not stop of development of metal soaps but removing it makes it easier to spot future accumulations. A half pair of the diving boots is now on display in the What’s Their Line? section of the All About Shoes exhibition on the lower level of the museum.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

In Need of Some Polish: Conservation of a Late 19th C Shoe Polish Box

Sometimes when a museum curator is planning an exhibition, they discover that there are artifacts needed to tell a story that are not yet part of the overall collection. This box was acquired by the BSM for just such a reason.  It was purchased, along with its accompanying glass bottle containing remnants of black shoe polish, for our exhibition Fashion Victims: The Pleasures & Perils of Dress in the 19th Century.

As you can see from the photographs taken at the time of acquisition, the box was in poor condition. The paper wrapping covering the cardstock form was very dirty and had many losses. The corners of the box were torn and misshapen making it structurally unsound for display.





The paper was cleaned with cosmetic sponges and vinyl erasers to remove surface dirt. The box and its lid were gently humidified to reshape the distorted sides back into the intended shape. Holes in the torn paper wrapping were filled with a Kozo paper of similar weight. Kozo is made from the inner bark of the mulberry bush. The paper fills and torn corners were glued with wheat starch paste.






One side of the lid was missing some of its descriptive text. The gold ink drop shadow letters were recreated by photocopying an ‘R’, ‘H’, ‘E’ and ‘S’, cutting them around them with a scalpel, then gluing them on to the Kozo paper patch.





The box and bottle of shoe polish will be on display until the exhibition closes in April 2018.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Spotlight on Conservation: Gutskin Parka (Part 2)

Mounting the gutskin parka for the Arctic exhibition required some creativity. It is so light and translucent and we wanted to impart these features to museum guests. Putting the parka on a mannequin wouldn’t be suitable since the intestine when dry is brittle, making for a very stiff form.

We decided to use an acrylic support, displaying the parka in a vertical position as this would take up less space in the showcase than positioning it on a slanted, horizontal board. The solution to this conundrum needed to be strong yet invisible. 


The parka was placed on a table covered with brown paper; its outline was traced in pencil. The exhibit fabricators used this stencil to cut an acrylic support adding 15cm around the entire perimeter. A padded internal support for the hood was cut from polyethylene foam, then covered with polyester batting and encased in a poly cotton neutral coloured stretch knit. Once the exact location of the hood was determined, the covered support was hot melt glued to the acrylic. 

Encapsulated magnets
Rare earth magnets are used by museums to display posters and textiles. This seemed to be the perfect solution for holding the parka on the support. Four centimeter-wide cotton twill tape was used to encase the circular magnets, which were spaced every 15cm and held in place by stitching 2 layers of twill tape around each magnet. One magnetized tape was placed horizontally passing through both arms from wrist to wrist. Two magnetized tapes were placed vertically below the previous tape. The interior of the parka was stuffed with polyester tulle to provide support. 

Magnets placed horizontally through both arms




Come and see the final product - the parka on display -  in Art and Innovation: Traditional Arctic Footwear from the Bata Shoe Museum Collection, on now at the BSM!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Spotlight on Conservation: Gutskin Parka (Part I)

Unrolled parka
While it might not look like it at first glance, this rolled up bundle is a parka made and worn by Irene Davis of Nunivik Island, Alaska. The parka was slated for display in our Arctic-themed exhibition “Art and Innovation” but in order to assess its condition for display the parka had to be completely unrolled.

Partially unrolled parka


The parka is composed of bearded seal intestine decorated with tufts of red dyed dog hair inserted into the seams. The hair was dyed by laying it between layers of moistened red crepe paper. The string-sewn seams are reinforced with grass which prevents the stitches from tearing through the skin.

Intestines of sea mammals have been used in Alaska for centuries in the production of waterproof garments worn when hunting at sea in kayaks or, if highly decorated, for special occasions. After the viscera is removed from the carcass, the contents of the intestines are cleaned by washing and scraping. The length of intestine is then inflated and left outside to dry. When the gut is needed, it is sliced open, then sewn in strips either vertically or horizontally.

The unrolling of the parka was a gradual process. Each tuft of dog hair is encapsulated in a plastic pouch to prevent contact with water and the possibility of releasing the fugitive red dye. A very soft Japanese Hake brush (made with sheep hair bristles) is moistened with distilled water and applied to the surface of the gut. The wetted gut (although brittle when dry, it is quite strong when wet) is gently manipulated to ease out hard creases. Acid free tissue paper supports the gutskin as it dries. Once the parka was reshaped, tears and holes in the gutskin were patched with commercial sausage casing and an appropriate adhesive.

Tear in chest of parka

Tear in shoulder hood of parka








Monday, October 24, 2016

The Arctic Landscape - Sápmi

The Sami are an indigenous peoples of northern Europe whose traditional homeland, known as Sápmi, includes parts of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. In 1999, on behalf of the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation, researchers Jill Oakes and Rick Riewe travelled to these regions in order to collect Sami footwear, as well as learn about bootmaking technology. During their field research, they worked alongside bootmakers to learn about the diversity of traditional footwear from across Sápmi. In doing so, they acquired about 170 artifacts for the museum. Several special highlight pieces from this collection are currently on view in our exhibition Art and Innovation: Traditional Arctic Footwear from the Bata Shoe Museum Collection.

Tall, waterproof boots worn by Mettans Persson. Purnu, Sweden. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

Traditional Sami footwear was often made of reindeer skins and colorful textiles, producing distinctive boots that were both fashionable and warm. The incorporation of textiles into clothing and footwear production has quite a long history in Sami culture due to their close proximity with other European communities. Though textiles originated south of the Arctic Circle, Sami seamstresses creatively adapted these materials into their crafts, creating unique and distinctively Sami clothing and footwear. Textiles most often appeared on boots through the woven ties that helped to bind the boot shaft to the leg. These ties were often intricately designed, and could feature either geometric or curvilinear motifs. These colorful straps could provide a great deal of information about the wearer, including their regional identity, gender, as well as marital and social status.

White reindeer-skin boots with colorful, woven ties. Aiddejavre, Norway. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

A distinctive feature of many Sami boots is their upturned toes. It has been suggested that this toe helped to ‘kick-off’ snow when walking in the wintery climate. In addition, it has been said that the curled toes were helpful in affixing boots to skis, as they could be slipped under lashings to ensure a secure fit. Travelling across ice and snow presented many challenges, and many features of Sami boot design respond to the often harsh arctic environment.

Dark reindeer-skin boots with textile cuff. Vuotso, Finland © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

Boot soles were another feature of footwear that demonstrated the technological innovation of bootmakers in response to the environment. Many boot soles were made of two or more pieces of reindeer skin that were sewn with the nap of the fur facing in different directions, providing much needed traction for winter wear. For wear in wet conditions, including the summer and along the coasts, boots were made of dehaired reindeer skin that was smoked and tanned for water repellency.

Ellen Marit Eria Solbakke making boots. Kautokeino. Photo by Jill Oakes © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

Over the course of the 20th century, many Sami communities united to create strong local and transnational organizations to push for greater political and socioeconomic opportunities. Sami traditional dress, including reindeer skin boots, was used to help proclaim cultural identity. Many contemporary Sami wear their national dress, called Gakti, during special occasions and holidays to celebrate their cultural heritage.

Jill Oakes learning to make boot ties. Jokkmokk, Sweden. Photo by Rick Riewe © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada



Monday, August 29, 2016

The Arctic Landscape - Siberia

For centuries, Siberia has been the traditional home to numerous indigenous groups including the Nenets, Evens, Evenki, and Chukchi. In many of these communities, reindeer husbandry was historically an important economic and cultural practice. In addition to their valuable meat, reindeer provide warm furs which are crucial in an environment where temperatures can drop as low as – 50 degrees Celsius. The Siberian boots featured in our exhibit, Art and Innovation: Arctic Footwear form the Bata Shoe Museum Collection, are all made from reindeer fur, and feature a wide variety of cuts, colors and styles, illustrating the creativity and cultural diversity of this region.

This pair of Khanty boots features felted strips sewn into the seam, as well as wool pompoms just below the knee. Image © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada (Photo: Ron Wood)

Reindeer skins were often harvested in the late summer or the early fall, just as their coats started to thicken. In the spring, these coats were quite thin and filled with holes made by flies whereas in the winter, they were too thick and bulky to be of use when sewing clothing.


After they were harvested, these skins were mechanically and chemically treated before sewing. This process made the skins soft and flexible, impermeable to water, and resistant to decomposition. Though the method with which these reindeer skins were prepared could vary greatly between different communities throughout Siberia, the general process shared similar steps. Using a variety of different techniques and tools, these skins were repeatedly dried, scraped and softened until ready.

This pair of Evens boots feature colorful beaded cuffs. Image © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada (Photo: Ron Wood)
Assorted types of reindeer skins were useful for making different types of boots, or different parts of the same boot. For example, thinner reindeer skins were ideal to create inner boots that could be layered. In addition, the leg skins of reindeer were often used to create tall boots, as they were the ideal shape to create the center front and back panels of boot shafts. Often, the skins found between the toes of a reindeer were innovatively used to create boot soles. These thick and coarse hairs splayed out in different directions, creating lots of traction, and ensuring the wearer wouldn’t slip.

These Chukchi boots feature thick, furry soles made of reindeer toe-skins. Image © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada (Photo: Ron Wood)
Most reindeer-skin boots, particularly those reserved for special occasions, featured some form of decoration. These designs were an important form of visual communication. The use and placement of certain patterns and materials could reveal a great deal of information about the boot maker or wearer, including their gender, marital status, regional or local identity as well as personal tastes. In addition, certain patterns and embellishments could function as spiritual markers, and convey information about different belief systems. Common forms of embellishment include beaded panels, strips of different textiles, hair and skin embroidery, and decorations made out of contrasting pieces of light and dark reindeer skin.

Though reindeer skins were used for bootmaking across Siberia, there is tremendous diversity in the cuts, colors, shapes, sewing styles, decorative techniques, and fashions in footwear from this region. This is not only true within Siberia, but throughout the arctic region.