I am joining this group to transfer the discussion that Beth Schoenberg and I started on my page.  In my article about the pre-Columbian lace, I briefly mentioned the Chancay gauze weaving I had the chance to photograph.  It was on loan to a museum and had been placed in a wooden embroidery hoop, with the rest of the much larger piece gathered behind.  I am beginning to feel I should suggest to the museum or the owner a better way to display this 3 foot square piece, given the space available is about the size of the embroidery hoop.  Any suggestions?

The second conservation issue was also not really addressed in my article.  About thirty years ago the Stovall Museum, Univ. of Oklahoma embarked on a program of preservation of the Spiro Mound artifacts in their collection.  Many of the items had been "preserved" by the best known methods at the time of excavation 40 years before that.  In her report, conservation specialist Joan S. Gardiner states that the Spiro lace fragments had ben glued to mat board and pressed behind glass in a frame.  It was her conclusion that it would be less destructive to the fragments to leave them glued to the mat.  It was possible the glue had chemically cross-linked with the fabric and may never be removed.  They placed the mat inside a UF3 plexiglass mount with a cut-out layer to create space for the mat and lace so that it is not touching the plexiglass.  She also states that this "...may indeed have been the only procedure  that could have held the brittle fabric fragments together as they were subjected to poor storage, handling and then, exhibition.  

Kathryn Jakes at Ohio State Univ. tells us that  both charring or proximity to corroding copper helped to preserve the prehistoric fabrics.  I don't think we should go to such extremes to be sure our attempts at needle lace are kept for posterity, but it is interesting to know.

One more bit of info: I attended a workshop at The Lace Museum given by the textile conservator Margaret Geiss-Mooney  of Petaluma, CA.  This link was in the information she gave us.  I need to sit down and read it ,as I believe they keep it updated:   


Maybe this will start a discussion.

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I've described all the basics for one good display method below (with more coming in a later post).   I apologize if it sounds too preachy:  I'm hoping that people very new to the problems of displaying antique and fragile laces & textiles can use these directions, too.

I am grateful to lace collector/historian Jeri Ames, who, many years ago now, taught a few of us the method she's learned (at a museum course, but I've lost my notes as to which museum -- probably one of the big ones in New York, or maybe New Jersey), which was sound at the time and can be easily updated. 

For a limited-time display of a couple of months at most, the method (as best I remember it) is this:  cut a large foam-core board (available from art-supply stores) to the size you need, which should be a minimum of 5 inches (12-13 cm) on each side larger than the lace/textile you are displaying.  Choose a suitable archival-quality fabric to cover the board with:  natural fiber or polyester (chemically stable), woven, never knit, and of a plain solid color that contrasts with the lace.   Wash it thoroughly (to get out any shop soil, hand oils, or manufacturer's sizing).  Iron the fabric. Cut it to the size of the board plus a fold-over allowance of several inches on all sides.

If a board will be used to display more than one item, fold the fabric over the board and arrange the textiles in a way that looks good, then measure the outer limits and add 10 inches (25 cm) to the length and the width your arrangement works out to.  Just make sure that you don't make the mistake of squishing as many pieces as possible onto one panel:  leave lots of room around each lace so that every item stands out like a beautifully-set jewel.

Now the foam-core board can be covered with the fabric.  Lay the fabric face-side down on the cleanest surface you can manage to find.  Lay the foam-core board on top.  Fold the extending edges of the fabric onto the board:  this will be the back of the display panel.  Starting at the center of one long side, tack-stitch a very long double thread an inch or so in from the raw edge of the fabric, then take the thread to the center of the opposite flap of folded-over cloth and take a stitch.  Take another stitch on the first side, and keep zig-zagging the thread across from one side to the other, until you've reached the end of the panel.  Tack a couple of final stitches to secure;  then repeat the process from the center to the other end of the panel. 

All through this process, the cloth should be firmly (but not tightly) stretched on the front of the panel so that there are no wrinkles.  There will probably be some puckering across the width of the panel, but that will be taken up with the next step.  The fabric should end up pretty much taut: not so loose that ordinary changes in heat and humidity will cause the cloth to sag once it's hanging vertically, but not so drum-tight that the board would be pulled into a curved surface.

The next step is to repeat the zig-zag of thread between the short sides on the back, starting at the centers, same as for the long sides.  The final result should be a flat panel with a smooth (and professional-looking -- it's so cool!) woven textile on the front, and a mess of taut threads criss-crossing all over the back.

To mount lace on the panel, use half-inch stainless steel pins (very hard to find, but worth the effort). With white textiles, the silver of the pins shows a tad less than brass, plus there is a slower corrosion rate that helps preserve the lace during its display time.  With colored textiles, use your judgment about the choice of brass or stainless steel.

With the panel lying face up, lay the lace out carefully in position.  Put a pin through the lace into the foam-core at an angle, with the head toward the outer edge of the lace.  At the opposite edge from the first pin, set the second pin.  At a 90-degree angle from the "line" between these two pins, set the third pin into the lace edge, keeping the lace smoothed and ever-so-slightly stretched all this while.  At the opposite edge from pin # 3, set pin # 4.  Now you can set all the remaining pins around the edges.

Push the pins as far into the board as you can without risking releasing the lace.  Never split a lace thread with a pin, always aim for a hole between threads (same for other textiles, recognizing that some tightly-woven cloth makes this caveat difficult to keep). Try to avoid pinning in "obvious" places -- the tip of a vandyke point, for example, or the corner of a square.  Offset the pins:  put them near the obvious, but not at them.

If a lace/textile seems heavy, maybe prone to sagging when vertical, put a few more pins in judicious places in the center area.  The pins should always be put in at angles.  The idea is that they become "invisible" to the viewers as they look at the lace -- no shininess, no pin-heads, etc.

And it's done.  It's up to the display organizers whether or not to enclose the panel inside a frame or case of some sort, or hang it vertically, or open-air.  If the panel will be laid flat in a case, as for very fragile things, only a couple of pins might be needed at the edge -- just enough to keep the textile from shifting during display set-up & dismantling -- or no pins may be wanted at all.

Paula, is there any chance that the museum could make some room in a horizontal vitrine display case for their Chancay gauze?  What a shame if an irreplaceable textile like this is allowed to self-destruct through casual neglect.  It's not like the Chancay Culture is still making more of them!

Paula, is it known whether or not the mat-board that the Spiro Mound lace was glued to was acid-free?  If it wasn't, then obviously the board itself could still do damage, and in that case I would be inclined to remove the fragments -- with a microscope and scalpel, if need be. 

She makes a good point about the glue chemically "fusing" with the lace.  When were the fragments attached to the mat-board, and was the gluing done at the same time as the Plexiglass encasement?  I didn't think there was Plexiglass in general use before the 1960s. Or maybe '50s.  (I've never investigated this, though.)

Beth, if there was room for a 3 ft+ square display piece at the rock museum, I guess it could be mounted as you describe above.  Thank you for the detailed description.  

Ha!  I didn't realize that the Crater Rock Museum specializes in rocks.   :-D   (I was thinking of it as, say, something called the South Bend Museum would specialize in collecting bends:  not to be assumed.  Love the English language.)

I wonder:  would the curators/directors/owner be inspired to take more conservatory care of their gauze if they knew that these gauzes are routinely selling online for anywhere from $500-$2000 (US) each, for gauzes under a yard square?  The most expensive I saw online was $7000 -- it was a beautiful figural panel, in excellent condition, of course. That one has been there a while, so I can't say these are actually selling at that price.

If the museum or owner has no particular interest in textiles, maybe they'd want to "de-accession" this piece, and use the money from the sale to add to their specialty-interest collections?

It absolutely should be taken out of the embroidery hoop, at the least.  Embroidery hoops are never an appropriate method of handling fragile old textiles, whether on display or forgotten in storage.  Preservation goes out the window under the stress and strain.

I was not really recommending that the Spiro Mound fragments be removed from the backing -- I was only suggesting one little possibility on one consideration.  I'm a hobbyist conservator -- doing my best to keep my knowledge up-to-date, but not having the time, contacts, or resources to do a really great job of it.  I do find out more when I ask questions -- though I don't mean to be a pain about it.   :-D

I will post another essay on displaying laces, as promised, but I think I'll move it to a new discussion, along with the gist of what I posted above.  Conservatory display methods are a particular interest to me (see the caveat above about my hobbyist status).


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