A guest blog by Conservator Jenny Barsby
At PHM we collect objects which have a story and this is often told through the physical condition of the piece, if a banner has holes or stains these may be a clue to how, where or why it was used. As is often the case with social history collections we sometimes deal with complex objects made from a variety of materials, many of the textiles I treat show signs of wear and tear or may be disfiguring if viewed in a different context. It is my job as a conservator to preserve this evidence while ensuring that the object is safe for storage and display.
As well as maintaining our existing collection and preparing objects for display we treat new objects as they come in. When a new object comes into the Textile Conservation Studio the first thing I do is a condition report, this is a detailed document which I use to assess the current condition and will help me to track any future changes so the next time it is taken out I can compare against the report. I also note down as much information as possible about the object including a physical description, take measurements and lots of photos.
An example of this approach is a banner I recently worked on, it was donated by York and District Trades Union Council in 2014. It was made in 1975 but was used by the York TUC in fairly recent rallies. It is a single sided banner made from one length of red cotton sateen with appliquéd black cotton lettering cut out and machine sewn to the cloth. The interesting thing about this banner is that it is adorned with 21 self adhesive stickers pertaining to different campaigns when the banner was used.
We know from images provided by York TUC that the banner was taken on several marches from an anti-nuclear demo in 1980 where the banner appears to be fairly plain to the signal workers rally in 1994 when you can see from the photo that many stickers have been added. As part of the conservation I carefully assessed each sticker and noted its condition, although most are now well adhered to the fabric beneath, this could change over time meaning I may need to adjust my treatment. When these stickers were made they were probably not expected to last long, but this ephemeral nature is part of the reason we value such items, if they weren’t being cared for in museums they might be lost forever.
Some of the stickers were coming loose so they required treatment to make them stable and fit for display. To do this I used small amounts of conservation grade adhesive applied in patches underneath the loose areas. This provides adequate support without forming too strong a bond and can be removed if necessary in the future.
The banner was also quite creased from folding in storage, and in diagonal lines running across from the corners. As a rule we do try to smooth out creases because they can distort the fabric and eventually lead to splits and tears along the crease. With this banner, the fold lines were eased by introducing moisture as vapour and weighting down the creases, basically a really gentle form of ironing! The diagonal creases however were not treated because they demonstrate how it was carried, between two poles with little or no tension across the top. Of course this creasing will need to be monitored to make sure it doesn’t deteriorate and cause further damage. This is the balancing act we play as conservators, trying to preserve as much physical evidence as we can without putting the object at further risk.
For the time being the York TUC banner has been wrapped up for storage but it will hopefully be on display soon. In the meantime please come and see some of the other wonderful banners which have been lovingly treated and installed by our conservation team.