42nd Annual Meeting- Textile Group Session, May 30, 2014 "Blown-Up: Collaborative conservation and sustainable treatment for an inflatable dress" by Chandra Obie

Chandra Obie, textile conservator at the Cincinnati Art Museum, presented her work on the conservation of an Issey Miyake pneumatic dress with inflatable puffy sleeve caps.  The circa 2000 dress had lost its ability to remain inflated with the failure/deterioration of adhesion on the rubber valve sleeve stoppers.  The dress was donated to the museum by Mary Baskett, a collector of Japanese contemporary fashion, who’s costume has been displayed in the 2007 Cincinnati exhibition Where would you wear that? and 2009 at The Textile Museum in DC.  This particular dress presented the unique challenge that Mary had full intention on wearing the dress out in public to special events after treatment.  Therefore,  the treatment methodology combined the collaboration of appeasing a major donor while conserving the original shape of the sleeve.
The dress came with a 4-page care/construction tag displaying that the dress was 42%Nylon, 40%Polyester, and 18%Polyurethane.  The photo oxidation of the urethane caused yellowing and deterioration of adhesion around the valves which prevented the sleeves from remaining inflated.  Chandra further consulted with scientists and conservators via the Conservation distlist before beginning treatment.  Step one involved testing different methods for recreating the inflated sleeve shape.  Initial solutions of creating a cage structure inside the sleeve or using a medical plastic balloon failed due to access and stability of materials.  The re-adhesion of the vinyl inflation valves was attempted with craft glue, silicone, and BEVA, which all failed adhesion.  Step two developed the creation of a sleeve pattern using Stabiltex, a semi-transparent light weight polyester fabric, filled with polystyrene beads and a polyethafoam cap.  The Stabiltex edges were finished using a heated spatula to weld the polyester and prevent fraying, and a double layer was used for strength.  The sleeve was inserted into the cap and carefully placed along the original pattern, while a funnel was used to fill the cap with polystyrene beads.  The inflatable valves were tacked back into place with a few stitches.  After treatment, Mary Baskett wore her Miyake dress out for her birthday party, and was very pleased with the return of the inflatable sleeve shape.  The only noticeable difference while wearing the garment was the tendency for the sleeves to shift forward on her body.
While the treatment was successful, post-talk discussions with other conservators presented the apprehension of long-term stability of the polystyrene beads.

One thought on “42nd Annual Meeting- Textile Group Session, May 30, 2014 "Blown-Up: Collaborative conservation and sustainable treatment for an inflatable dress" by Chandra Obie”

  1. Thank you so much for reporting on the discussion of the inflatable dress treatment! It may be worth noting that this dress has not yet been donated by Mary Baskett. The museum anticipates receiving it one day, but at the time of the treatment it belonged to her private collection. We work closely with Mary Baskett whenever possible to care for her collection in anticipation of it one day becoming part of the museum’s collection. The stability of the polystyrene beads is certainly a question, though what I could find about polystyrene indicated it should be quite stable (especially in the low-light, low-oxygen environment of the sleeves’ interiors). Nevertheless, the treatment is completely reversible by removing the filling and the Stabiltex forms if that becomes necessary in the future.

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