The safest way to support fragile textiles is to store them flat. All too often flags and quilts hang in museum exhibition galleries, stressing the fibers unevenly and weakening the artifacts’ structures.
The Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center at the Nebraska State Historical Society has posted helpful directions for making slant board mounts for quilts. These experts recommend using medite/ medex or aluminum honeycomb as the base of the slant board and then covering it with one or more layers of needle-punched polyester batting, followed by a layer of washed, unbleached muslin, and topped with a layer of white cotton velveteen. These materials are all great ideas to think about to begin strategizing exhibit mounts for your large textile artifacts. Here are a few additional ideas, concerns, and material options for slant board mounts.
- Boards: However, keep in mind that if you use any wood product, such as medite, you will need to seal it appropriately. Aluminum- and coroplast-based mounts will be quicker to produce and safer for long-term preservation, so carefully consider the cost-benefits of the materials you select, depending upon the duration of the exhibit or rotation. For lighter-weight textiles, such as most flags or laces, archival board is probably plenty sturdy to use as a frame base.
- Angles: The linked directions also recommend 20-60 degree slants. Steeper slants often work best for exhibit designs, especially for large textiles, because the footprint of low-angled mounts can be impractical. Smaller and lighter weight textiles are often well supported at a steep angle. Exhibits at the (now closed) Quilt & Textile Museum in Lancaster, PA, incorporated steeply angled slant board mounts, made from metal boards, into their display cases.
- Fabrics: Another fabric covering idea that can be a good choice for slant board mounts is polyester fleece. Its fuzzy texture works to grip the textile artifact on top, similar to velveteen. It comes in colors that are fairly safe from bleeding and fading, and fleece is often an inexpensive option. It is also stretchier than velveteen, which makes mount covering much easier. Cotton jersey is another option with this advantage but is less colorfast. Conservators recommend avoiding acrylic-resin-bonded polyester batting. However, it is difficult to find non-bonded or thermal-bonded batting in local fabric stores. Contact Test Fabrics for pricing on these more preservation-appropriate options. A C2C workshop participant crafted the mount on the left with archival board, polyester batting, and white cotton jersey. Even though the kickstand forms a steep angle, the “artifact” has remained on the mount with no pins or stitches.
- Securing: For quick mount-making, the fabric covering can be taped on the backside of the board. Gaylord’s archival packing tape is a reasonably safe choice. Sewing a narrow border pocket around the cover fabric, threading twill tape through the pocket, and pulling/ tying it like a drawstring is a good technique to keep the fabric cover tight against the board and securely in place.
Stitches count in both textile conservation and mount making. As part of our C2C “Textiles Intensive” workshop during Preservation Week, Instructor Paige Myers led our group in learning four different stitches. Myers, the Textile Conservator at the North Carolina Museum of History, explained why the herringbone stitch is the one she uses most often.
If your job includes any mount-making responsibilities, it may be worthwhile for you to practice this stitch. [Click here for a tutorial on the herringbone stitch.] It is a good way to secure a fabric layer to a substrate—like quilt batting—without having to bring the stitch all the way through the substrate layer. The stitch is also very flat, while being fairly strong. The flatter the stitch, the less pressure the historic textile placed upon it encounters. Another way to keep stitching as flat as possible is to avoid knots. A back stitch or a perpendicular stitch can help keep the thread tail in place without introducing a knot on the mount surface. To see photos of padding layers stitched to a mannequin and learn more about the process, see the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum’s discussion of preparing floating forms for a costume exhibition.
A great way to get an up-close view of herringbone stitches is to look closely at crazy quilts in your institution’s collection. Late-nineteenth-century quilters often used a variety of fancy stitches to join one scrap of fabric to another, while securing them to supportive layers. The herringbone stitch is one of the simpler stitches they used for crazy quilts and served as an important staple stitch. A detail from the Rebecca Wall quilt in the Orange County Historical Museum‘s collection shows herringbone stitches curving along the piece of red calico below the 1862 embroidery. Rebecca and her late fiance’s mother and sister made the quilt in 1883 to commemorate him and embroidered it with the year of his birth as well as many other symbols representing his life. Another example in the North Carolina Museum of History’s collection shows plenty of herringbone stitching throughout. Lina Gough of Lumberton made this quilt in 1890.
Do you have any techniques that work really well for making mounts? If so, please share them with our NC cultural heritage community. Also, consider joining C2C staff and Paige Myers at our upcoming Mount-Making Summer Camp in Yadkinville on July 9th. During the workshop we will share mount-making ideas, practice creating various mounts, and learn more about local sources for preservation-appropriate supports.
Thanks to Terry Hammond, Founding Director & Curator of the Guilford College Art Gallery, for contributions to this post.
When you are a staff member at a small museum and in charge of diverse initiatives, all the rules concerning preservation can be daunting and even discouraging. Most folks working with cultural heritage collections know that acid-free tissue and boxes are good materials for collections storage. Another material to keep in mind and rely on to be preservation-appropriate and versatile is ethafoam.
Made from polyethylene, one of the safer plastics, ethafoam planks are 2” thick or more and are easy to carve by using any new serrated edge knife. The foam will dull the blade fairly quickly, so dollar-store types are a good option. For most purposes, you should cover the carved ethafoam with a layer of tissue, tyvek, or muslin, as the carved edges can be somewhat abrasive.
- Riser blocks: wood can emit harmful acidic vapors that an exhibit case’s microenvironment will trap and intensify, leading to the degradation of artifacts. Ethafoam can be cut in squares or stacked to varying heights and is dense enough to support (and slightly cushion) most objects.
- Storage mounts: carve a cavity for an artifact to rest inside or brackets to protect extrusions. Carved ethafoam can also be used to support the ends of a rolled textile storage tube, keeping the artifact suspended above a shelf. Click here for some helpful video instructions for creating ethafoam cavity mounts.
Display mounts: planks can be stacked, glued, and then carved into hat mounts and even manikins. Tried and true directions for building a manikin out of ethafoam will guide you in this task.
The main draw-back of ethafoam is its price. However, there is an ethafoam manufacturer here in North Carolina—Hibco Plastics—which sells the product for at least 30% less than the cost preservation product suppliers charge. Hibco’s factory is in Yadkinville, just west of Winston-Salem. The company sells ethafoam in bulk to museums all over the country. The advantage for institutions close by is that Hibco will fabricate smaller orders for pick-up. If you are interested in ordering ethafoam from Hibco and arranging pick-up orders, contact Chris Pavlansky, Sales and Marketing, T: 800-849-8683 Ext. 138, F: 336-463-5591 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Ethafoam is a product that exemplifies how buying in bulk can save a great deal of money. Remember, networking with colleagues from other museums and historic sites for coordinated supply purchasing can be a way to “do more with less–” an imperative we all face in today’s cultural heritage institutions.