43rd Annual Meeting, Textiles Specialty Group, “Breaking Canvas: A Case Study on a French Embroidery,” Rebecca Beyth

Rebecca Beyth, Assistant Conservator, Textile Conservation, Metropolitan Museum of Art, presented an interesting case study of a pair of embroidered curtain panels in the Met’s collection. The panels had been selected for display in the Met’s 2013-14 Invisible Globe exhibit. Beyth noted that in first looking at the pieces while they were being considered for the exhibit, she and her colleagues thought that they would need very little treatment. Once the pieces came into the lab, the conservators were able to examine the pieces more closely and realized that they were much more fragile than they had originally seen. The ground canvas was splitting and shredding.
Beyth reviewed the treatment history of these pieces at the Met, which showed some previous treatments, including stitching repairs, removal of the linings that were on the curtains when they came into the collections (these are now preserved in the Met’s Ratti Center), and attachment of a lining in the 1980s. This review of past treatments conformed to my experiences – no matter how good you think your documentation is, it is never complete and never answers some of your key questions! Beyth and her colleagues felt that the 1980’s lining did not offer enough support for the three month exhibition, for which the curtains were to be displayed vertically. They decided to remove the 1980s lining and begin again.
This time, they used a heavier weight fabric from Creation Bauman. To allow researchers access to the back of the embroidery, they made the lining in three wide, vertical strips, leaving two-inch areas between the lining strips. The back of the embroidery was visible in these areas. To me, this was the best aspect of the treatment. The linings were applied to the curtains by sewing, using couching stitches in areas of damage and herringbone stitches for the main support. A header of the same fabric and a Velcro strip were sewn to the top edges.
To display the curtains, they used what they call a “gallery installation mount,” a fabric-covered rigid mount. They stapled the hook side of the Velcro to the mount and affixed the curtains with the Velcro. For display, the mounted curtains were placed in a five-sided Plexiglas box.
This treatment permitted these colorful objects to be a part of an important exhibit. It allows them to be stored rolled, to save space, and provides access to researchers. I also enjoyed the presentation as it gave a few more views of the Interwoven Globe exhibit, of which I am a huge fan.