Advanced Care of Textiles

Mount Carroll, Illinois, is a quaint, historic town filled with beautiful lush green landscapes, corn fields, and homes that transport visitors back in time. Aside from its charm, the city is also known as the home of The Campbell Center, a place where museum, library, and conservation professionals can expand their knowledge and learn new skills. The center enlists instructors who are well-respected in their field and have dedicated many years to their individual areas of focus. It is where I was given a wonderful opportunity (courtesy of the Homestead Museum) to attend a two-week course on textile conservation.

A sense of excited anticipation filled the classroom as students introduced themselves and shared details about the special textile they brought for repair and/or treatment. One student brought a Civil War-era fan, another, a pair of children’s silk shoes from China. I brought a 1920s beaded dresses from the Homestead’s collection. Using fiber identification, which we were taught on site, I was able to determine that the dress is composed of silk crape. I also learned how to determine how many threads are present per square inch (22 threads is what I counted!). Unfortunately, the dress needed extensive repair work to address the losses and shattering, or tears, to delicate areas such as the side seams and shoulder straps. Due to the inherent, delicate nature of silk, recommended conservation procedures included the application of a textile adhesive and organza, a net fabric, used to provide an underlining layer of stability. Once I learned how to treat the repairs, it was a moment unlike any other; the dress that I silently fretted over many times could be mended and I had the tools to accomplish a task that frankly, I didn’t think could be done by my own two hands. Among other things, our talented instructor taught us how to perform consolidation repair (using textile adhesive) and stabilization repair (using thread and needle). We learned how to wet clean certain textiles, along with a simple procedure for mold abatement.

Working on the 1920s dress in class
Collections Coordinator, Michelle Villarreal, giving a fragile item from the Homestead’s collection some much-needed TLC!

The focused period of study was just a peek into the vast world of textile conservation. Although much was learned, it was evident that many lessons lay ahead. The Campbell Center provided a great starting point in my quest for professional enrichment. As students, we walked away from that beautiful campus and its red brick historic buildings armed with skills that we could apply to help fragile pieces in our collection, those pieces which help to share many stories from the past.


Thanks to Collections Coordinator, Michelle Villarreal, for writing about her experience—and for being so passionate about her work!

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