Student Projects: Part III of III

This is the last blog in the series which reflects on the amazing skills of interns who chose the BSM lab for their placements. This particular intern was enrolled in the Master of Textile Conservation program at the University of Southampton, located in a port city on the south coast of England. They had worked as a shoe designer for Clarks, a British manufacturer and retailer founded in 1825, before enrolling in the conservation program. This previous experience made them uniquely qualified in understanding the physical structure of shoes, which was definitely an asset for a shoe conservator! In the summer of 2007 they traveled to Toronto for a two-month internship.

All conservation interns participate in the day-to-day activities of the conservation lab and are given a project to work on throughout their time at the museum. The shoes selected were made in the 1910s by Paris, France based company, Nicklich. These shoes were originally purchased by the BSM in 1986 from an Italian historic clothing dealer, as part of a collection of 22 pairs of shoes. Most were in good condition, however 3 pairs needed conservation, and this pair was in the worst condition.

The project required a strategic approach, first addressing the most fragile elements, then adding the final touches that would stabilize the shoes. The silk fibres of the satin upper had significant loss and the remaining strands were tangled; the topline ribbon binding was either missing or hanging loosely and the leather lining was distorted. The decorative buckle needed support as its weight, exacerbated by gravity, was creating stress on both vamps.

The first step was to remove accumulated surface dirt and dust with a low suction vacuum through a screen to prevent the fabric from being pulled into the nozzle. Particulate matter causes damage over time as these small particles become imbedded between the fibres of the fabric creating mechanical damage. Next, the leather lining and the satin fibres were passively humidified back into their original shape and alignment.

The picture on the left shows the satin upper/leather lining being humidified and reshaped. Passive humidification was accomplished using Gortex, dampened blotting paper and Mylar. The beige mat board sections were burnished to the shape of the distorted areas and held in place with rare earth magnets. The picture on the right shows how the twisted and tangled satin fibres were separated, gently humidified, then realigned. As work continued, these strands were held in place with entomology pins stuck into padded foam blocks.

The satin upper sections requiring support for the loose fibres were mapped with Mylar to create the templates for the plain weave silk fills. These fills were inserted between the upper and the lining then the loose fibres were couch stitched with dyed hair silk to the support. Silk crepeline ribbon was dyed to match the peacock blue of the original ribbon. This was used to encase the extant topline binding and was also stitched with the hair silk using an extremely fine beading needle through the existing stitch holes in the leather lining.

In the picture above you can see the stitching on the side of the shoe that holds the once loose satin fibres to the support fill underneath. The crepeline ribbon has been attached to the side of the topline closest to the viewer; the ribbon at the back of the photograph has yet to be stitched in place.

This was a time consuming but rewarding project. Before conservation, it was not possible to display these shoes. Now they are ready to be shown in future exhibitions.

Ada Hopkins, Conservator

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