45th Annual Meeting – Textiles Session, May 31, “A Worthwhile Endeavor: The Conservation of a Woth and Bobergh Ensemble” by Johanna Tower

Johanna shared her experiences treating an ensemble labeled Worth & Bobergh at the Museum of Fine Art, Boston.  The ensemble includes a skirt, day bodice, and evening bodice of silk faille and dates to about 1870.  The petersham label inside the day bodice identifying it “Worth & Bobergh” means it dates from Worth’s early years when his investor (Bobergh) was included in his labels.  In spite of its unique history, the ensemble had been the victim of some “refashioning” to update it for later fashions or possibly to make it into “fancy dress.”  The alterations included sewing the evening bodice to the skirt, adding panels to the sides to extend the bodice, and stitching the skirt up so that it would no longer accommodate the crinoline and bustle combination of its original fashionable design.

Johanna’s complicated treatment called upon a mix of both skills and techniques that covered the gamut between precise and delicate to practical and bold (but well-researched and justified) choices.   While firmly rooted in “conservatorial” thinking and using some familiar techniques, the treatment ranged beyond the conventional to draw upon newer techniques such as digital printing of fabrics to recreate the patterned silk of the underskirt and Johanna’s knowledge of dress-making to prepare a half-size model of the to-be-reworked skirt and to recreate the waistband and original cartridge pleats.  Dyed-to-match fabrics were used not only for treatment of the solid purple, but also for the patterned fabric.  Johanna dyed the silk first, before delivering it the digital printer, who then only had to match the printed pattern, which avoided the “over crisp” and new look of some digitally-printed fabric infills.  The treatment ultimately represented a thoughtful and nuanced blending of old and new, dressmaker and conservator, that breathed new life into an object that Johanna described before treatment as “not the most beautiful” of the MFA Boston’s Worth examples, making the treatment “A Worthwhile Endeavor” indeed.