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Women’s upholstered armchair, 19th century

Painted, metallic-coloured beech, silk fabric, cotton, steel, 86×90×53 cm, Budapest History Museum – Kiscell Museum, inv. no.: 68.38.1.

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Scientific investigations conducted and manufacturing techniques observed suggest that this rococo-styled women’s armchair was made in the late 19th century. The variety and patchiness of its fabrics, and the technical solutions apparent in the decoration of its wooden parts, reflect the theatricality often seen in the Schmidt collection. The chalk ground layer of paint was peeling, the carved parts had pieces missing, the fabrics were ragged and soiled, and the upholstery nails were to a great extent corroded. The padding had suffered extreme insect damage. The surfaces of the wood were cleaned using foam of aqueous fatty alcohol sulphate, while reattachment of the grounding layer was effected with isinglass. The sculpted parts were repaired with beech and the ground was made good with putty. Retouching was performed using paints made by mixing metal powders and pigments with solutions of Mowilith in acetone.  After wet cleaning of the textiles, gaps were filled by means of thread implantation supported underneath by cotton fabric.

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The photos were made by Gábor Nyíri, Krisztina Szabó and Fruzsina Papp

 

Textile – Perkáta

I obtained the textile fragments pinned on polystyrene board, covered by tulle. According to the inscriptions on the board the textiles remained on the body of a young girl, on her chest and arms. Unfortunately I couldn’t make any reconstruction because of the lack of professional excavation and proper photo documentation. I tried to deduce the type of the original clothing by comparing it with the fashion of the era. I concluded that the fragments are parts of a shoulder corset. It was immediately visible that they are composed of  two different kind of textiles, with one of them conserved in much more intact condition. The silk textiles were richly woven by metal threads.

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I took samples from the metal threads. The chemical examination identified the material as gold, with the a minimal presence of silver. I cleaned the fragments carefully by watering them with a sprayer and sponging back the humidity immediately with a blotting paper (I added Barquat antiseptic to the water). After cleaning I arranged the textile in grainline. After it dried I kept on treating the fitting parts together. I coloured a silk textile (bound in cloth) to similar color as the original parts, then I covered an acid-free board with it. I coloured a silk aid material and an unspun silk thread as well. I fitted the fragments to the board, then covered it with the silk aid material and sewed the edges with silk thread, without sewing into the original textile to avoid further damage. I created a box of acid-free cardboard to safely store the fragments. The unfittable fragments are kept in a different box.

Dress edge remains

 

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We excavated some remains of a midriff edge from a woman’s grave at Szigetszentmiklós. The textile contained metal strings that included silver. I cleared the small elements under the microscope, then I adjusted them grainline on a glass plate by humifying them softly. After drying I sewed the pieces to an acid-free, linen-covered cardboard with a coloured, untwisted silk string.

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Dress edge

 

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At Szigetszentmiklós, in an adult woman’s grave we discovered textile remains on the chest. We dug around under the whole spine and skull, then lifted the remains “in situ” from the ground. We wrapped it up tightly to keep the body and clothing together. In the workshop I freed the textile remains from the soil with a dissector and a brush and they turned out to be the edge of an overgarment around the neck and on the chest. The edge had a soutache on it and the metal helped conserve the textile in the soil. I put the pieces on a polistyrene plate following the original pattern, then I cleared them from the soil under the microscope with an insect needle. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be cleaned with the humifying method. As a next step, I covered an acid-free foamboard plate with linen and sewed the remains carefully onto it with silk thread. At the end, I prepared an acid-free cardboard storage box for them of.

Corolla with soutache

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The other corolla decorated a child’s head as well. Its structure and materials are similar to other artworks with soutache. It didn’t have any beads or sequins and the whole was created of silk string wrapped with metal thread. Examining it under microscope I discovered some tracks of gilding. The corolla base has disappeared totally, but some padding textile parts have remained under the metal.stringed ornament. On these one could notice the cloth binding base – its exact material will be identified in the future. The skull got to the workshop “in situ”. When I started to examine it, it turned out to have a weak structure: it broke down under the weight of the soil. The corolla remains didn’t reach around the whole head. Supposedly, it had been bound with a ribbon at the back of the head. The whole object was rigid and hard, completely unlike a textile, even though it was packed propperly and examined with utmost caution. The corrosion of the metal strings conserved the padding strings. Humifying treatment appeared to be risky in this case as well, so its conservation was proceeded in the same way as the one of the other corolla.

Corolla with pearls

parta_nagyIn one of the graves of Szigetszentmiklós we found
a child’s skeleton, which was in a very bad condition, except for the skull. We carefully broke up the soil around it and lifted it “in situ” from the ground by
digging under it.

Unfortunately, the corolla had partly slipped off the head already in the past, so a part of it was unfolded only in small fragments. But as one part of the corolla was conserved in it original position on the skull, the position of the fallen parts could be reconstructed as well.
The headdress consists of complex materials: it had
a bast-like base covered in linen-weaved cotton fabric and a thin copper plate laid onto it. Double rows of metal and textile wire spirals were archedly sewn up to it and beads decorated every element in the centre. The copper plate might have been gilded, which could be verified by later examinations. Some traces of gilding could be found on the metal stringed spirals too. The plate was almost completely corroded, being in a very bad condition: it crumbled and broke at the slightest touch. The whole object has become almost unsubstantial; its rigid, dry, fragile condition seemed to exclude any traditional cleaning processes.

As a first step, I removed the contaminations under a microscope with the help of an insect needle. I cleaned it with an ion-exchange resin which is a proven cleaning solution for objects with complex materials.

I carefully stitched the corolla parts onto a thin silk base-layer following the original order and put them into the ion-exchange resin. I was monitoring the pH continually and cared about not overcleaning the object as at some parts it was kept together only by the corrosion of the metal threads. After a short, careful rinse I sewed the parts with an untwisted, coloured silk thread to an acid-free cardboard covered with linen. I had to glue the copper plate parts, but besides that I didn’t treat the object with any chemicals. At the end, I created a storage box for it of acid-free cardboard. Appropriate photo documentation of the process and reconstruction illustrations were also created.

Archaeological textiles

The term “archaeological textile” refers to objects and remains that either have to be freed from the dirt after excavation or turned up as clothing of the deceased in crypts. The soil of the Carpathian Basin doesn’t favour the conservation of organic matter so, the findings mean very precious material for researches regarding the history of dressing.

Significant pieces:

Corolla with pearls
Corolla with soutache
Dress edge
Dress edge remains
Textile – Perkáta

 

The corolla (fabric headpiece)

Corollas are usually the most intactly remained clothing objects in Middle Age cemeteries due to their complex materials – the textile parts, for example, are conserved by the metal salts corroded onto them. The grade of deterioration of threaded cloth can of course hinge on many factors, such as the pH of the cemetery soil or the decompositional process of the corpse. During excavations we suddenly break the equilibrium between the object and its environment so sometimes a remain crumbles to dust in front of our eyes due to the changed circumstances. At first these remains often appear to be metal because of the corrodation of the metal on their surface, when in fact they are textile. Thread materials in the process of decomposition crumble and break easily, as soil and sand has dried onto them. It is vital to keep these remains within the same circumstances as their original environment until conservation, as totally dried textiles can’t be “rehumified”.

So generally used excavational techniques can’t be applied at the excavation of textile remains, and cooperation with a professional restorer is highly recommended.

On an excavation at Szigetszentmiklós I had the chance to apply several techniques. The best solution was not to clear the skull, but to lift it “in situ” with the soil, and then clean and examine it in the laboratory. Thus, the parts of the corolla could be removed from the skull and its original position could be defined, even though some time earlier it had halfly slipped from the head.

If the find is too weakened, dried out, or fragmented, one must do pre-conversation on the spot. In this case we can fix and soldify the floating, moving elements by impregnating them. During examination we must carefully prevent the wet corolla parts from drying out suddenly, because this can cause the fragmentation of the find.

Korean scroll picture

My task was to conserve and amend the weakened, torn and contaminated object. The hardest part of the process was the cleaning of the textile as examination showed that two colours dissolve, so I had to work very fast and gently. I was faced with another complication too: during cleaning the object strongly started to turn undulated.

Date and place of origin: the owner acquired the silk picture in the fifties in China. According to expert judgement, it was made in Korea in the early 19th century.

The silk picture can be classified to the genre paintings. It shows a peaceful, calm quotidian scene. It shows a forest landscape with mountains in the background and two houses among the trees. People walk around the houses, running their peaceful everyday lives. We can see among others a mother with her child, a playing couple, and a reading man. The bottom part of the picture has the liveliest colours, the space representation is achieved by a smoother, blurrier usage of paint. The colour palette doesn’t consist of many colours: mainly greens, blue-grays, brown and red shades are used.

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The base is pale green silk and the edges of the cloth-bound textile aren’t worked off. The silk picture was fixed to a cardboard at its four corners with four pins. Two staves were attached to the upper and bottom part of the back of the paper, the picture was hung up to the wall by their help.

The silk picture was rather dusty and contaminated. It hung on a wall – according the statement of the owner windows were washed next to it and the liquid detergent splashed out to the textile, that’s why the surface is distorted by many stains. The silk base dried out a little bit, became hard and torn at many points, especially at the bottom. The textile was gappy, as a small part at the lower left corner broke off and the supporting cardboard turned acidulous, splitting up the material in numerous places.

Before getting on with the restoration, I made a colour dissolving analysis on the picture. Unfortunately, the results showed that the white colour was dissolving, so a humifying cleaning with surfactants became out of question. I cleared the picture by swabbing it very gently with cotton wool that was dry at the bottom and wet upwards.  As the textile got a little bit wet from above, the dry layer mopped up the dirt. With this method I reached a spectacular result. At the end, I fixed it in grainline with insect needles. The first difficulty showed itself at this point: the silk started to be undulated immediately after a bit of humifying.

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As a next step, I coloured the supporting and additional materials with acidulous paint. I coloured the silk-like supporting textile in two sections with Lanaset acidulous paint, so its two ends got different shades, fitting to the original picture parts. Then I fixed it in grainline. I painted the sewing threads to two shades and the additional silk layer got colours fitting the missing parts of the original painting.

As the first step of supporting and sewing conservation, I fixed the silk to the supporting textile with sliding basting stitches, then conserved the gaps with broad stitches.

Before the sewing conservation, I fixed the supporting textile to the surface of the desk, but as it turned out this made working quite difficult. The silk would slide very easily on the desk, so I chose to gradually fix the picture to the supporting cardboard during the process. I stretched it out by its sides, then fixed it to the cardboard with pins. When the picture stood solidly and precisely on the board, I glued the supporting textile to the back of the cardboard with Planatol. After drying, I continued the sewing conservation which now went ahead much faster and easier. The broad stitches that earlier looked loose now smoothened and turned to grainline. The next step was to replace the missing parts with a similarly thick, coloured textile. I coloured the textile to multiple shades then sewed it punctually to the missing parts. After the cleaning, supporting, sewing restoration and replacements the picture became beautiful and stable again.

Biedermeier chair

The chair belongs to the first saloon furniture set of the Károlyi palace. The fabric on it is the original biedermeier – neo rococo textile, proven by the silk wallpaper remains of the palace found during the excavations.

The chair was in very bad condition: one of its legs was missing, it had been re-upholstered twice before, the fabric was torn and full of holes. Basically the re-upholstering saved the original textile, as during the process the original textile wasn’t taken off, just a new layer was nailed onto it. So the edges of the original textile were ragged and damaged because of the nailing. The chair probably got soaked in the past as the colour of the upper pink layer strongly “bleeded” down and got ingrained to the layers underneath. The silk fabric dried out so it was torn immediately at the smallest touch. The textile of the back-rest was especially in bad condition.

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The aim of the restoration was to save the original cover, as wholly original furniture from this period is very rare in Hungary. I removed the textile pieces carefully – the hardest part was to take out the nails without destroying the silk.

I created a cutplan of the textile pieces so I could place them back properly after cleaning. After the humifying cleaning process I fixed them to grainline, then needled them with a stainless insect needle.

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The weakened state of the silk necessitated full underneath support. For this I coloured a cotton fabric to a similar shade as of the original silk. I laid the cleaned fabric onto it and sewed them together. I fixed the gaps with broad stitches.

At the end we nailed the textile back to the chair without straining it. So the fabric got strengthened and the object gained back it original beauty.

Little jacket

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Excavated at Albertirsa. Size: 54 cm/120 cm. White lambskin jacket, with white lamb fur on its chest, back, sleeves and with rich black embroidery. Frilled bottom edge. Tailored of several pieces. Can be closed with three buttons at the front. The openings of two pockets can be seen at the front. At the back the decoration closes with frippery. The sewing lines are hidden by a white overlay.

The jacket had an upstanding form, but was rather contaminated with grease and dust, especially at the end of the sleeves. The damages on it were mainly caused by usage.

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The pocket openings were torn, the pockets missing. The black embroidery thread had fallen out of the sample at several points. At the back the leather frippers were rather curled up, and the leather was cracked and weakened, especially the brown overlay leather on the sleeves and the floating decorated leather ribbon at the front. These leathers are all similar, so maybe the way of tanning was incorrect and that caused this strong decay. On the neck, the sewing has ruptured on one part. The inner parts seemed to be in good condition, but they were rather dusty. On some parts, I found insect’s chewing tracks, though no active infestation could be recognized. The aim of the restoration was conserving the jacket and strengthening the weakened parts.

First, I cleaned the furless leather parts with Wishab latex eraser. I vacuumed the inside of the jacket, putting a thick net to the tube of the vacuum cleaner to avoid sipping up any small parts. The furry part had to be cleaned fractionally, avoiding strong humification as otherwise it would have reached through to the other side. So, I put cotton wool under each line of fur, then washed it with the foam of a mixture of distilled water (200ml), isopropyl-alcohol (300 ml) and some drops of surfactants  (Prenol 10), moving from the inside to the edge. With that method, the inside of the jacket became very clean. For the finish, I wiped it over with a mixture of distilled water and alcohol.

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I didn’t replace the missing embroideries. I sewed the torn pocket openings, the gap at the neck and the bottom with thread painted with CIBA-IRGADERM. The front overlay was in a very weakened condition. I had to take it off the jacket and restore it separately. I fixated it with a thin, coloured stripe of leather that I glued to the original leather with rice starch. After drying, I cut it to form with a dissector, then sewed it back following the original sewing lines. After finishing the restoration, I prepared a wadded coat rack (from artificial wad and canvas) that protects the jacket from later deforming.