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Door to store caring for your collection - hats and shoes from the Glorious Days exhibition

Kerryn Wagg, Carmela Mollia and Michelle Newton-Edwards, National Museum of Australia, 14 March 2013

KERRYN WAGG: My name is Kerryn Wagg and I am a conservation technician in the paper and textiles conservation lab at the National Museum of Australia and I would like to begin today by acknowledging the traditional owners on the land on which we meet. Today’s workshop is part of our Door to Store: Caring for your collection series, and during this session we will be discussing and demonstrates some of the principles of caring for hats and shoes. I would like to welcome everyone here today and advise you that the program is being recorded and your attendance is considered consent to be recorded. Can everyone now please ensure that your mobile phones are switched to silent.

I would also like to extend a welcome to everyone who is tuning in live from the Kiama Library today. Let’s cross to Kiama and to Michelle Hudson, the manager of library services, at Kiama Library, who will be facilitating the program from her end. Thank you and welcome Michelle.

MICHELLE HUDSON: Good afternoon to you all. We are here with a small but very dedicated group of self confessed shoe-aholics who are really interested in hearing your presentation today. We look forward to asking you some questions at the end of the session. Thank you.

KERRYN WAGG: The idea for this session came about because our conservation team has recently been treating and preparing a number of wonderful examples of hats and shoes for our Glorious Days: Australia 1913 exhibition, which is currently on in the Temporary Exhibition Gallery. I urge everyone here today to visit the exhibition and, for those of you in Kiama, the exhibition runs until 13 October this year so you have plenty of time to get to Canberra to check it out.

In addition to treating damage and preparing objects for display, our conservation team also ensures the preservation of the Museum’s collection by implementing preventative measures relating to maintaining suitable environmental conditions for objects, ensuring good handling practices and having the correct types of physical storage for items. Many of the issues surrounding the preservation of our Museum objects are the same as for your treasured items at home. I will go over some of the general preventative principles of providing good care for hats and shoes before handing over to textiles conservator Michelle Newton-Edwards and senior paper and textiles conservator Carmela Mollica who will look at some good techniques for handling and storage.

Deterioration and damage to hats and shoes occurs because of inherent and external factors. The inherent factors relate to aspects of the physical makeup of objects which causes them to deteriorate, and these problems can be difficult to deal with. External factors that contribute to deterioration and damage are easier for us to control.

Something worth thinking with when it comes to your own hats and shoes is whether these are items you wish to wear or whether you are putting them away to be preserved for the future. If you do intend to wear the items, you need to accept that there will be some general damage caused through use. If you wish to preserve the items by putting them away, then dark storage is the best place for shoes and hats, and visible and particularly UV light causes materials to fade and become brittle. Shoes and hats generally are very susceptible to the damage caused by light, and this damage is cumulative and irreversible.

Storage areas should ideally have a relative humidity of between 45 and 55 per cent. This is not always easy to attain, but you also want to try to keep the relative humidity stable. This is important because the amount of moisture in the area can cause materials in hats and shoes to swell and contract, and this leads to distortion of items. The distortion can be accentuated when there are numerous different types of materials present because these will be affected at different rates. So if possible, there should be no dramatic or frequent fluctuations to relative humidity. Stable temperatures are also important as temperature has a direct relationship with relative humidity and, generally speaking, conditions that are comfortable for humans are good for hats and shoes.

When your hats and shoes are affected by pest and mould, this tends to also be related to poor environmental conditions, so look for what the cause of these outbreaks is. Keep your storage areas clean, and check your shoes and hats regularly so that any mould, rodent or insect damage can be detected early. When items do sustain this type of damage, it is probably best to consult a conservator. You can find a conservator in your area by visiting the AICCM [Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials] website at http://www.aiccm.org.au

The conditions in the centre of your house will generally be the best and most stable place to store your items. Try to avoid places against external walls, in roof cavities or under houses and things like that. When you handle your shoes and hats, you should ensure that your hands are clean or, if you prefer, you can wear gloves. Close-fitting, powder-free surgical plastic gloves are good. Cotton gloves can be fine for some things like leather shoes, but you do need to be aware that they can catch on some of the materials on hats and shoes.

Always support the hats and shoes when you are moving them, particularly if they are old and fragile. Storing your shoes and hats in boxes will protect them from dust and air pollution, but the enclosure should be correctly dimensioned and constructed from archival quality storage materials.

Now I am going to hand over Carmela and Michelle who will demonstrate some of these types of storage.

CARMELA MOLLICA: Like Kerryn said, there are various techniques we do use to look after our hats and shoes in our collection. What we are going to do here today is touch on three main ones that we look at. As we all know, there is such a variety of shoes, boots and hats so a lot of these techniques can be adapted for each of those different items. We will talk about soft supports; we will talk about rigid supports; and we will talk about boxing. There are times when we combine the different techniques to achieve what we want to achieve.

I will start talking about our soft supports. When we talk about soft supports, it means something that I can actually compress and mould into an item. We can use them in shoes. If we have a pair of shoes that already have a fairly firm toe, a soft support is going to be enough to just help that shape and maintain it in storage because we all know things collapse over time. You might have a collection of shoes that have already compressed. We want to maintain that.

The simplest way to achieve one of those is with either a good old pair of socks that you can buy - we usually go for light colours, if possible, and cotton. Once we have a pair of socks, we then fill them up with a dacron wadding. Dacron wadding is what you will find in your doona covers. A lot of quilters use them. We purchase that from your local haberdashery store.

But even before you start your supports, you really need to look at your item and assess its condition, the materials it’s made out of and see, ‘Well, if I do put in a soft support, is that going to achieve what I am trying to achieve or am I going to cause further damage?’ If you are unsure about it, it’s probably best not to put anything in there - leave it. We do find that a lot of the older shoes have silk linings that have started to disintegrate, so applying or adding something else to it may cause further damage.

Going back to the soft support, I will just demonstrate what we call a sausage. That can vary in size: it can be big flat one or slim one. We roll our dacron and make a little tube out of our smooth fabric. That’s another thing when you look at your socks, make sure they are quite smooth. Don’t have firm ridges on your sock because anything that is rigid can imprint into your item over time, especially if it’s a silk shoe, a leather shoe or something like that.

Here we are using what we call a par silk, which is a polyester lining fabric that dressmakers will use, and again our haberdashery store is our best friend. We find a lot of fabrics from - our local Spotlight is a good one. Whenever we do use any of the fabrics, we need to make sure we do pre wash them just to remove any starches or impurities that may have impregnated into the fabric during manufacture, because again we want to remove any of those impurities that over time will cause damage to our items.

We have filled up this sausage with Dacron and we then need to close off the ends. The reason being we don’t want any little insects crawling into our supports, starting little nests and causing further damage. As Kerryn mentioned, our pest management side of it is a very important thing we need to consider. In order to very quickly close up the end, I just fold over the edge and do a running stitch with my cotton and the needle just in and out, pulling it through, all the way around and then just pulling that thread. You can see it’s filling up and closing that end off. A couple of stitches to then secure it off, and I end up with a finished edge like that. The soft supports are really handy to be able to squeeze into that.

From our softer supports, we can then use in our little bonnets or our bigger hats - a couple of examples here with this little bonnet – you can see we have made almost like a little doona for it inside. One of the things we want to prevent is sharp creases in our textiles, because over time they will cause splitting of the fibres. By providing that little bit of support we will prevent that. In this case there is a lovely little rosette and we want to make sure that is sitting facing upwards in the box that we are going to put it into. As you can see here, I have managed to fit four little bonnets in the one box. If you have the space then put them in an individual box - and Michelle will talk more about boxing - but in this case we have combined a number of them and interleaved them again our little doonas and covers. One thing we do need to look at is dye transfer so we need make sure there is some separation there.

Going on from our soft supports we can go into our rigid supports which are a lot firmer. They are great for our boots. In this case these are quite firm to start off with, but with a lot of boots you sit them up and they will flop over, and eventually they will split along that bent over area. So we want to provide a firm support in there. What we use for the firm supports is what we call an ether foam.

The ether foam is quite a firm polypropylene plastic. There are no plasticisers that can be emitted from this plastic and cause discolouration or degradation of our items. It’s quite firm so it’s not going to compress. It’s quite nice - you can use a carving knife or a Stanley knife to shape whatever shape you want to make, whether it’s something like that, a little dome for a hat or, in this case, our little shapes for our boots. Once we have the shoe, our little firm inserts don’t bend as easily as our foot does, sometimes we do need to make them into two parts.

In this case it has a little foot section that feeds into the bottom part of the boot. You can probably see my little tail on that, and that is to assist me when I want to retrieve it. So I am not having to put my hand down the middle of the boot, I can gently pull that up and retrieve it again. Then the centre of it can just sit in there and retain its shape.

If you look at the foam, it’s quite a rough surface. We want to achieve a nice smooth surface so we are not catching on anything inside the item. We cover that surface with our dacron wadding - exactly the same as what I explained earlier. The nice thing about this ether foam is you don’t have to do any stitching, you can just slit the foam and it just pokes into that groove and retains in there. So it just has the one seam and the rest of it is quite smooth. Once we have covered that in the Dacron, we then cover it in the par silk again. Again the same method applying over the surface and feeding it back into that original slit that we have, and you have a nice smooth surface.

Ether foam, pool noodles - same thing so that’s something that we can use. It’s the same material. Obviously it comes into various colours that we need to be a bit wary about. By covering it totally in the two layers we will prevent any transference of colours. We can still achieve the firmness for a support, even with our little dacron sausage, by using archival card and slipping that inside the cover. Say, for example, it’s not quite the right size, that would slip inside and the wadding would be in the centre, the card around it and then the par silk covering the whole item. That will create a rigid form for us.

Archival card is also a good thing to use. Sometimes you only need a little bit of support around the inside of the hat. Kerryn mentioned about archival materials that they need to be acid free and inert materials. But we do need to make sure that we don’t use any staples, any metal fastenings, when we join or create that shape. In this case I have just used some cotton thread and stitched the two together. You can see that it has joined them together. That will sit inside the hat nicely.

Here are a couple of examples using the rigid support and you can see that sometimes you need to be quite creative for something like this [hat] with a lovely brim on it. We need to support it. Here we have actually created quite an interesting shape in two bits, a triangular bit to support the brim of it using the rigid system. There are ribbons with the bonnet that have been rolled, and Michelle will talk about rolling later. So it has firmly held its shape, and we are not creating any extra creases in that little bonnet.

Then we have this other little cap. Before I lift it, you can see that it actually sits above the surface. Again, lifting things off the surface so that, when we go to handle these items, we are not touching the edge of the hat, it’s actually the support that we are holding, I suppose. In this case we have a combination of two, it’s the rigid support here and then inside to retain that full shape we have created little sausages inside that sit there and hold their shape.

Going across to these little shoes here, little triangular shapes are enough to support that little shoe tip. We don’t want to make the forms and push them into hard in the shoe. It needs to provide the support but be not crammed in there so that you are causing further damage to it.

Sometimes you may want to consider making little bags for individual shoes or boots just using the par silk fabric to make a simple draw string bag, which is nice to store them in to protect them from dust and things that Kerryn mentioned.

I have a hat stand here. Some people like to display hats. Rather than sitting a hat straight onto the spike of the hat stand - if it’s your general everyday sun hat that you are going to be wearing, that’s not a problem, but if it is something of significance that you want to look after, [then it is a good idea to create] a rigid support with a hole in the end that sits inside your hat and then pokes into the spoke of the hat stand. You can create quite a nice display of hats, again keeping in mind all your parameters - your light levels and dust such as Kerryn mentioned earlier.

I don’t know what else to say. Like I said, there is such a variety of items out there that you just bring in your creativity, keeping in mind your creases when assessing your object: can I put in something soft and not cause any further damage; or yes, I do need to provide support that needs to be a bit rigid, don’t cram it in there. I think a lot of damage does occur with incorrect handling of your item. We use our eyes a lot and look at the item in detail before we even attempt any of these techniques.

I will hand you over to Michelle who will talk about once we assess all of this and work out our system of padding we then look at boxing, which is very important.

MICHELLE NEWTON-EDWARDS: I will talk generally about the two main types of storage boxes that we use in the Museum first of all, and then I will take you through a few examples to give you some specific ideas about how you can store components of your hats and shoes. We use archival corrugated board for our boxes, which we have in both ready made sizes and also we can make these to a custom size for our hats and shoes. The benefit of the corrugated archival board is that, as well as protecting your object from dust and light, it also reduces the rate of exchange in temperature and humidity for your object, particularly if you have other buffering materials inside, which helps keep your object in a more stable environment. They can also be used inside a larger box, so you can have a number of objects together in a box and have them separated.

One of the considerations with the corrugated board is that, because it is corrugated, it does leave a nice little space for insects to get into the warmth of the box. In the Museum we have a preventive conservation officer who obviously is monitoring our collection; but at home you can overcome this by using archival tape along the edges of your box to prevent insects making a home in there.

The other type of box that we use is polypropylene and these are a ready made size that we use. The disadvantage with them is that they can create a micro-climate inside. While they obviously keep moisture out, if you have them in a situation where you have a sudden change in high humidity, you can cause condensation inside that box which can then lead to mould or mildew on your objects. So you possibly need more buffering material inside those boxes.

Obviously when you have a cardboard box, you want to put it in a situation in your house where it is not going to have any direct moisture. You need to be careful about placing it, say, in the floor of a cupboard where you might have moisture coming up underneath. You also want to make sure they are not stored near a hot water system or where you possibly may have leaks through the roof or from leaky pipes. It’s important to make sure that you monitor your storage frequently, keep an eye on that, and obviously move objects to a better place in the house if that’s happening.

Inside the box, once we have the dimensions which are best suited to our object, we can then use the internal supports that Carmela has spoken about, especially if you have multiple objects together. For example, with these hats, the supports are actually connected to the base which then can be lifted into your box, which means the objects are separated from each other. If you have a special significant object, it means that you can have your family around to view those objects and really reduce the amount of handling of those objects.

This is another example where we have a drop down side, we have some cotton tape threaded to a hole through the side and we have a support, which is again connected to a tray that can be lifted out, and that can easily be viewed without handling.

The other consideration when you are storing objects together is to try to put similar weights and materials together. For example, you wouldn’t put a military helmet with a christening bonnet, because you would have the danger of one falling on top of another and crushing it. It’s a good idea to have like objects together in a box. You would keep pairs of shoes together in a box.

I will show you this example, which is a pair of flat shoes which have just been placed inside. What we have done here is used the corrugated card to cut a template out, which sits inside the box and prevents those objects moving around, and then they are tied in place. We also have a photo of that object on the lid. It’s a good idea if you have multiple boxes to have labelling and photos so that you know exactly what is in those boxes without having to rummage through them all the time.

Another consideration is dye transfer. If you have coloured flowers or coloured feathers, it’s a good idea to have those objects separated from perhaps light coloured fabrics so you don’t have any dye transfer transferring. You need adequate space inside your box so that the decorative aspects of your object do not suffer any damage from being crushed against the side of the box.

This one is a good example where it has ribbons that we have actually rolled onto cardboard rolls that have been covered in tissue, which reduces the amount of space that we need for the boxing and also keeps the ribbons flat. So they are held there in a very good situation. We have plenty of room around our fabric flowers here so that they are not being crushed. Then our solid support underneath is connected again to the bottom of the box.

Here we have an example where we have multiple components that are together. We actually have a lift-out section at the bottom. We have a tray with handles which fits inside this box where we have other components that are related to this object as well.

With this one you can see it’s a matter of having a look at what types of materials your object is made from to decide what supports are here going to be best. Here we have a very soft dacron sausage roll, which is actually supporting the daisies on the back of these shoes. It’s a matter of analysing your object, working out where it needs the best kind of support, you can fit out your boxes with separate components, separate compartments, and again you can use trays or smaller boxes inside to separate your objects.

In terms of your buffering material, archival tissue or soft supports are what we would generally use at the Museum. For long term storage, soft supports in fabrics that are inert and are not going to cause any damage by off gas into our objects are our preference. So we would use again the par silk sausages, par silk inside of a box with a layer of dacron underneath. Something very simple that you can incorporate into the storage of your shoes in a shoe box is a layer of dacron with the par silk covering over the top or, as Carmela mentioned, you can store your objects separately in bags. I think that has really covered most aspects of the boxing.

CARMELA MOLLICA: You can use general plastic tubs that you purchase or food containers like Tupperware - I won’t say the $2 containers that you buy to store food in as a temporary measure - as long term storage containers, but keeping in mind what Michelle was saying about the buffering and things like that.

If you still want to retain and store your shoe in your shoe boxes, obviously they are not archival so we need to provide that interleaving layer like Michelle mentioned polyethylene sheeting is something that you can line, but then always use your fabric layer between your object and the plastic. There are other general items out there that you can use to create the same system as what we are looking at with the boxes that Michelle talked about.

KERRYN WAGG: Thank you, Carmela and Michelle. Now we have time for questions. We are going to have questions from our Visions audience first and then we will cross to Kiama for questions. Please wait until a microphone comes around to ask your question, and you can say your name, if you like, before your question as well.

QUESTION: Thank you, that was really wonderful and so interesting. I have a million questions but I will just ask one. Once upon a time people used to wrap these items in tissue paper, but there is not a skerrick here. Is there a reason for that?

CARMELA MOLLICA: There is nothing wrong with using acid-free tissue paper. I suppose we are trying to move away from it in terms of long term storage for a number of reasons: one is you don’t get that nice smooth surface necessarily; over time it does compress so you are having to revisit your item again to keep the shape of the object, whether it’s a shoe, hat or anything else. There is also a possibility of insects harbouring within the tissue. Silverfish insects do like to eat tissue. They don’t necessarily like to eat polyester material. There is nothing wrong with acid free tissue. If you are looking at long term storage and that sort of prevention, we are moving more towards these other materials to create that support.

QUESTION: I was just wondering: what happens when you have a longer gown that might need to be folded multiple times - how would you deal with that? And also a second question: where do you source the archival cardboard boxes and things from?

MICHELLE NEWTON-EDWARDS: If you have a large textile object, you can purchase boxes for textiles storage specifically. If you have a very long train, veil or long christening gown, it’s preferable if you can support the whole object flat in a box. But if you a bit limited with space, you can again use the par silk dacron sausages as a roll to carefully wrap your object, and again you would be interleaving that with the par silk to prevent layers contacting.

The main thing you want to do is prevent any definite creases from forming in your textile because, if you are putting it away for long term storage, those fibres can eventually if they are breaking down cause splits in your object. The other thing you can do, too, is make soft doonas to fit inside your object as long as it is not going to cause any compression or permanent creases.

In terms of the boxes, they can be sourced through archival suppliers. If you just do a web search for archival suppliers they are quite a number online that you can purchase from.

QUESTION: Thank you for your interesting lecture. I notice that with the ribbon you roll that in around a core, but what do you do with long leather straps? How do you conserve the leather that might be a strap with a shoe that is maybe half a metre long or something like that? What process would you use for that?

MICHELLE NEWTON-EDWARDS: The example I have given here you would really only use for a flat single-layer ribbon. If you have a ribbon on the edge of a bonnet or a shoe strap that is multiple layers, you really don’t want to wind that tightly, you would want that to be wound very loosely around the outside. If you have your shoes say in the centre of the box and have them very loosely around the outside because if you are storing something in the long term you don’t want to have that memory of them being tightly rolled, which would then cause another issue.

QUESTION: I had another question about cleaning the objects. What do you do to clean them before you put them away?

MICHELLE NEWTON-EDWARDS: I didn’t run through that but I can run through briefly what our process would be at the Museum. It’s ideal to store your objects clean because, if you are putting them away dirty, they can attract insects particularly if they have food stains and that type of thing on them. Very generally, we would be removing dust from the surface by a very low suction vacuum. We have a special set of tools that we would use just at a raking angle and sometimes through a screen to reduce the dust on an object before we put it away, particularly if you have an object with a pile - say velvet, fur or that type of thing - you want to make sure all of the dust is removed from that before it goes into storage. Does that answer your question?

QUESTION: I have a beaded christening gown [off mike].

MICHELLE NEWTON-EDWARDS: Again a very low suction vacuum, and obviously you are not going to be vacuuming straight onto your object. It needs to be at a raking angle and a very low suction. The screen is ideal for beaded objects, because you are not going to inadvertently suck up any of your beads if they happen to be loose. A very soft brush is good as well for the beaded areas where you can gently brush your areas to remove any loose dust.

CARMELA MOLLICA: But certainly assess the object to determine how fragile is the silk and the beads. We would normally need to do that assessment before we go to whatever treatment we look at. If it’s something of concern, you may need to contact someone to look at it closer.

MICHELLE NEWTON-EDWARDS: If you can see any loose fibres or beads, it’s probably a good idea to have a conservator look at cleaning that for you.

QUESTION: Was there a list of conservators that you could contact?

KERRYN WAGG: If you visit the AICCM website there is a link to conservators in your area. All of the conservators on that website are good people to contact. We will cross to Kiama now and take questions from everyone there.

QUESTION: We really enjoyed your presentation at Kiama. We got some fabulous hints with what we can do. One of my questions would be: I have an old top hat displayed on a wooden hat stand and it’s quite a solid hat stand. Would there be any problems with that situation? Would there be any transfer from the wood across to the hat?

CARMELA MOLLICA: Depending on the wood that’s been used for the hat stand, there could possibly be acidity being transferred. Normally a top hat may have a silk lining so that may react with the silk. It might be an idea to provide a barrier, a par silk barrier, that would help reduce any of that.

QUESTION: Thank you, that sounds like a good idea. Thanks very much. That’s all the questions from Kiama.

KERRYN WAGG: We will take more questions from Visions, if there are any.

QUESTION: This question might be out of the scope of this discussion about shoes and hats. But in terms of accessories, delicate things like parasols or fans that might be made of fabric feathers, is that out of the scope of this particular discussion in terms of storage for those kinds of objects?

CARMELA MOLLICA: No, it’s similar. You do have shoes that have a combination of silk material that is silk and you have hats with feathers, so it’s not out of scope. The principles are the same, whether it’s a shoe, a hat or a parasol. Use similar techniques for your packing, assessing the object before actually handling it, boxing it so you are supporting all areas. With a fan, if it’s able to be opened out, obviously it doesn’t sit flat so you will need to support the area that is slightly raised. With your parasol, we normally like to store them upside down so that the weight of it, but it does need to have a special support to support the handle. I don’t know what sort of a handle your object has, whether it’s a carriage parasol or a straight handle on it. Sometimes you can store them upside down but you need to assess the item. You can make a little cover for them like that where, if you are storing it upside down, the cover actually supports the parasol. There is a number of ways. A lot of the techniques that we have talked about here can be adapted to those objects.

QUESTION: I am assuming that a normal cardboard box is not acid free and even with a par silk lining or good buffering this is not a good idea. Is that correct? Not just a shoe box but ordinary brown, cardboard, corrugated boxes I presume have acid in them.

CARMELA MOLLICA: It wouldn’t necessarily be acid free. We were talking about providing a barrier, and that can be through using your polyethylene sheeting as your initial layer and then using your fabric as your contact with your object.

QUESTION: So you could use a plain box as long as you had the barrier and sufficient buffering in par silk?

CARMELA MOLLICA: Yes. A lot of your oven bags are suitable for lining and providing that barrier as well.

QUESTION: Lovely, thanks very much.

KERRYN WAGG: Thank you everyone and thank you for your participation, Kiama. I would like to urge everyone to go and check out our Glorious Days: Australia 1913 exhibition and thank you for coming along to our workshop today. [applause]

Date published: 4 April 2013