Thursday, October 31, 2013

More Textile Treasures from Colonial Williamsburg's Collections

Thursday, October 31, 2013
Isabella reporting,

Last week I shared photos of several of the 18th c. men's coats from the textile storage facilities of Colonial Williamsburg that I saw thanks to an informal tour with curator Linda Baumgarten. Obviously, the collection includes more – much more! – than just those coats. Here are a few other items to show the range of the treasures hidden away in those aluminum drawers. As usual, please click on the images to enlarge.

Most museums have many more items in their collections than they can exhibit at any given time. Displaying textiles, however, is a bit more complicated. Old textiles are fragile; they're susceptible to damage from light, water, heat, and even the stress of gravity. Many can't be on constant display in a gallery and survive. Storing them flat, away from light and temperature changes, is a way of preserving them and extending their lives – a kind of "vacation" from display.

For every piece that still has the vibrant colors of those 18th c. coats, there are others that, even with well-intended conservancy, have over time changed or become impossibly delicate. As an example, Linda Baumgarten showed another coat of elegant pale grey silk. Then she flipped up the hem to show the silk's original color – a brilliant purple that had nearly faded away while on display earlier in the 20th c.

Since they're in storage, the items shown here didn't have identifying placards, so I'm afraid I can't supply any exact details about their age or provenance. From top to bottom: detail of an early 18th c. English crewel-work hanging; samples of 18th & 19th c. ribbons and other trimmings, stored and tied on spools; an 18th c. English embroidered linen petticoat, lined with a printed linen; a 19th c. American quilt, lined with an earlier, worn embroidered textile; and a detail of an embroidered squirrel from a 17th c. English box embellished with a raised-work panel.

All items from the textiles from the collections of Colonial Williamsburg. Photographs copyright 2013 by Susan Holloway Scott.


The Greenockian said...

They are certainly doing a fabulous job of conserving these beautiful fabrics. The colours in the first picture are amazing!

Anonymous said...

Your blog is as addictive as morning coffee. Any more details (e.g. scale, construction, textile context), perchance, on the enchanting squirrel?

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Greenockian - I was struck by the vibrancy of the colors too. It was literally breathtaking to see what appeared when those sterile white metal drawers were pulled open.

Anonymous - Thank you! We like being addictive. As for the squirrel...he's only a tiny corner of a much larger piece showing The Four Seasons. It's done in a kind of needlework popular at the time called raised work (sometimes referred to by the modern term stumpwork) that used many raised stitches, beads, and padding as well as wool, silk, and metallic threads to make the work textural and 3-D; the human figures even had tiny carved wooden hands! This piece had been mounted on the top of an elaborate wooden box. The whole thing was described as "schoolgirl work", which seemed an underwhelming description for (to my eye) very sophisticated needlework. I don't know exactly what stitches were used in the squirrel, but from what I could see, his body looked like silk, his tail was clipped wool, and he had a glass bead for an eye. The stitches were quite fine; that photo is about actual size.

Melody said...

Followed the link from today's (11-22-13) post to find that you had kindly responded to my request for for more squirrel detail - thank you! Melody

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

You're welcome, Melody - though I have to admit that it was pure internet luck that Tricia Nguyen emailed me so soon after this post appeared. Good luck replicating that squirrel's fluffy tail! :)

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