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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Summery White Dress—Only 150 Years Old!

by Obie Linn, Associate Conservator of Textiles


CAMConservation , textile conservation , historic childrenswear

The forecourt display case in the Conversations Gallery is fresh! A new rotation arrived last week, and it is practically aglow with summery white freshness. How does a 150-year-old child’s dress look this crisp and breezy? The dress (made in the U.S.) has a few tricks up its airy, white sleeves—and under the rest of it, too. First, the dress had a refreshing bath in textile conservation. In a shallow tray of water, it was cleaned with a conservation-safe soap, rinsed thoroughly with cool deionized water, and patted dry. When it was nearly dry (but not quite all the way!) it was pressed with a heated spatula (a fancy, temperature-controlled iron used in the conservation lab) much like how you might use an iron at home. It looked better already, but the final bit of magic is in the custom-made padded form underneath, made of conservation-safe foam, batting, and a fabric covering.

Take a break from the heat outside and come visit the cool galleries of the Cincinnati Art Museum where you can see this sparkling “new” object on view.