One of the jobs that keeps us quite busy down here in the collection is that of repairing and cleaning pieces with wear and tear. Most pieces we vaccum very delicately before we put them in storage to get dust and dirt off of them. Others that have large and plausibly removable stains on them are washed carefully in alternating baths of hydrogen peroxide and distilled water. When it comes to any sort of stitching repair, we only do so either to prevent frays or tears from getting any worse, or to reverse alterations made to the garment later in its life which contradict the original style.
As a part of my first summer as an intern for SCHCC, I was trained by costume and textile historian and museum consultant Lynne Bassett (whom we are lucky enough to have work with us weekly) in some very basic techniques used to repair these garments. (This is in no way however, professional conservation work. We’ll leave that to the professional professionals)
In areas where a seam had been removed, or where the thread has decayed, the area can simply be stitched right back up, with special attention payed to imitating the type of stitching used in the rest of the garment. Places in which the fabric has ripped, frayed, or been otherwise compromised need to be supported with a patch sewn into the inside of the garment. This patch should be matched as closely as possible to the color and weight of the original fabric, and sheer fabrics are generally preferred to provide both support while remaining discreet in appearance.
Before I was allowed to do any work on the collection itself, Lynne had me sew a few samplers to ensure that I knew how to do the common types of repair stitches properly. Below are two out of the three stitch samples I did. The one on the left shows the stitch we use to keep frayed fabric in place, as well as the herringbone stitch we use to secure the edges of all of our patches to the garment. The one on the right shows the stitch we use to secure holes and prevent them from getting any larger.
The third stitch I learned, which I have used most regularly in my repair work, is used when there is a relatively clean tear or split in the fabric. With this figure eight patterned stitch, I can both pull both sides of the fabric together and secure it to a patch to prevent it from pulling open again or extending further along the fabric. I used this method to repair the dotted lace on the first petticoat below, as well as the upper back of the second. The photos in which you can see the entirety of the herringbone stitch are of the inside of the garment. Penny included for scale.
My latest, and most ambitious project, will be to repair and reconstruct a silk dress from roughly 1860 which has been heavily altered, and seriously damaged. It will have to be almost entirely deconstructed and reconstructed, and the entire skirt will have to be supported with a sheer silk patch as the original silk is shredding. I began by carefully detaching the waistband from both the bodice and the skirt, as it had been reattached upside down by whomever altered it. I will continue to post updates of the process as it moves along, but it will definitely be difficult and slow moving, so wish me luck!
Special thanks to Lynne Bassett for all her help.