Thursday, August 19, 2010

Conserving History

Shoes pre-conservation
As our special exhibition "On a Pedestal: From Renaissance Chopines to Baroque Heels" comes to an end, the many rare and precious artefacts in it will be returned to either the European museums who generously loaned them to us or to the storage rooms of the Bata Shoe Museum. When presenting an exhibit which displays such rare and fragile items, it often means some of the artefacts will need to conserved and repaired in order to keep them in the best condition possible. This was the case with this pair of 17th century slapsole shoes. Among many of the conservation efforts made in this exhibition was a repair to the delicate 17th century fabric of these shoes.

These shoes had suffered serious fabric losses to both sides of the vamp (the upper part of a boot or shoe covering the instep and usually extending over the toe), as well as minor fabric losses along the topline. The silver filament metallic lace had unraveled around the corners of the toes and the backs of the heels. Our conservator, Ada Hopkins, needed to find a way to create a fabric which could be used to fill in these losses but not look out of place on a 17th century shoe.

In order to achieve this, a silk satin of similar weight was dyed in a hot bath of Earl Grey tea which was historically used to dye small batches of textiles and lace made from natural fibres. This method gives a pinky-yellow faded-antique colour to the bright white silk. Strands of hair silk were dyed to match in the same manner. Dyed fabric for each shoe was cut using templates which had been created by placing small pieces of plastic over the area of loss and tracing the outline. Next, tiny strips of an adhesive film were cut to the shape of the existing satin. The fabric infill was then inserted along with adhesive strips which are vapour activated. Any frayed fibres which had not been secured were then stitched into place using the hair silk.

Back seam of shoe
During the conservation of this shoe, a small treasure, a tiny section of the original coloured fabric which had not been changed by the effects of time, was discovered on the back seam of the heel. These unusual shoes were originally peachy-pink with shiny silver lace that would have glittered when exposed to the candlelight in the wearer's room!

This rare pair of 17th century slapsoles can be seen on display in "On a Pedestal" only until September 20th, 2010.
Slapshoes after conservation

All images (c) 2010 Bata Shoe Museum

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