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Student Blog: Senior Capstone Project

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A student, wearing glasses. lightly presses a wet sponge onto a piece of lace in a washing tray.

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​In progress image of Hailey Kremenek washing lace piece.

​As an honors student, my art conservation senior capstone course required an additional project. I jumped at the opportunity to work with a material of my choosing — lace!

Throughout my undergraduate art conservation career I have cultivated an interest in textiles. Their woven structures reveal knowledge that has been passed down through generations of humanity, and it was most often women who produced them. This peek into the lives of a population who is often left out of the historical narrative is endlessly fascinating to me. Over this past summer, I traveled through Europe as part of an independent study funded by the Plastino Award to learn about past textile makers and the environments in which their craft developed. My time in Belgium was centered around the handmade lace trade that prospered in the country from the 16th-19th century. In gorgeous medieval city centers like Bruges and Antwerp, I learned how it was most often impoverished girls and women who created this luxury textile that trimmed the clothing of the nobility. Only recently has there been increasing interest in the people who produced lace rather than those who wore it. As a conservation student, I want to learn more about caring for lace in order to preserve the work and knowledge of generations of young women, and give these largely unknown makers their recognition.​

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Four pieces of lace trim, curled and yellowed from age.

​Lace samples from the Winterthur Student Study Collection, before treatment.

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A beaker half filled with dirty water.

​Rinse water from a particularly soiled lace piece.

​This project served as a hands-on introduction to the world of lace conservation. The textile conservation lab at Winterthur Museum graciously allowed me to work with samples of lace trim  fromtheir study collection. I found many great pieces, but I identified 5 lengths of lace trim that were great candidates for general cleaning and reshaping. They all varied in structure and condition, and were all most likely machine-made but some may have been produced by hand. To form my treatment proposal, I looked for information on lace within conservation publications. It was difficult to find sources that were specific to my needs. Student thesis’ providing a general overview of lace conservation were published sporadically through the decades, and some treatment reports focusing on objects with lace components were available. I ultimately compiled these resources with general textile conservation ethics for fragile materials.

My goals for the treatment were to remove pollutants that yellowed and degraded the lace, and to flatten the samples in order to make their weave structure more legible. I started by vacuuming the front and back of each sample to remove any loose particulate. I then created a solution of .5% Orvus WVA Paste (a cleaner that is commonly used in textile conservation, but originated as a shampoo for horses!) in deionized water. I poured a small amount of this solution into a flat metal tub so that just the surface of the bottom would be covered. Over individual cleaning cycles, I placed a lace sample carefully in the tub and lightly dabbed the surface along the entire length with an organic sponge. Wet cleaning was necessary to improve the appearance and longevity of the lace, but this process was not without risk. Once saturated with water, the lace became far more at risk of tears in threads, and movement of the wet lace was carried out with caution. After this initial cleaning, the lace piece was put aside so the tub and sponge could be thoroughly rinsed. I then refilled the tub with enough deionized water to cover the bottom surface, and started the process of rinsing the Orvus solution from the lace pieces. I repeated the same dabbing motion with the sponge along the surface, but with just deionized water. This process was repeated 2-4 times until the rinse water no longer effervesced. Cleaning the lace gave me the opportunity to see how dirty some of the pieces really were.

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Images of the student pinning the washed lace trim onto fabric and under weights for drying.

Hailey strategically placing pins (left), and the lace drying under weights and with pins (right).

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The pieces of lace trim after washing and drying, no longer curled and discolored.

​Lace samples, after treatment.

​Wet cleaning meant that I could utilize the drying process to flatten the lace. I created a base upon which the lace would dry by layering Japanese paper above a layer of felt blotter and blue board. Immediately after washing, I laid each piece out completely straight over this base. I placed a layer of blotter paper over each piece as it dried and added a light weight on top. Some lace had previously been curling inward, so I placed pins into openings in their structure to ensure they dried flat. One lace piece is almost 8 ft long, so I had to use a lot of pins! 

The drying process successfully flattened the lace. I could then create a new storage method for the samples, as they had previously been kept in a box together without structural support. I decided to create a rolled storage mount that would preserve the flat shape. I made a cardboard roll safe for long-term storage by sealing its ends with squares of tinfoil, and adhered them to the cardboard with hot glue. I rolled a flat sheet of Marvelseal around the tube to cover the surface and adhered it with hot glue as well. Once dry, I individually wrapped each piece of lace around the tube, with each wrap interleaved with Japanese tissue paper to reduce friction. A piece of thin mylar was then wrapped around the lace, and twill tape was tied around to secure it in place. This method allows for the lace pieces to be removed and unraveled individually while still being conscious of their condition and collection’s space.​

— Hailey Kremenek, UD Class of 2024

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The pieces of lace, placed against fabric strips, are rolled onto a tube and secured for storage.

​The lace on new rolled storage mount.

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In her undergraduate ARTC studies, Class of 2024 honors student Hailey Kremenek cultivated an interest in textiles. Her senior project took her through Europe and into the conservation lab to work with lace trim from the Winterthur study collection.
 
 
12/18/2023
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