Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Voice from the Past

I've had this sampler for a little while but this week was the first time I'd really started researching the background to it. As you can probably see it was made by Florence Shilling in 1895. It was made at Donaldson's Hospital - I've always wondered what this was but discovered this week that it was / is a school in Edinburgh. Founded in 1851 the school focused on the education of poor children in the city and specialised in education for deaf and mute children. Since 1938 the school, now called Donaldson's College, has been exclusively for deaf students. The building the school was originally in was just amazing, although ultimately unsuited to educating children. During WWII the school was used as a prisoner of war camp which housed German and Italian prisoners. The building was recently sold and in 2008 the school moved to a new purpose built facility.

The original building is now being developed into apartments - and to think my little sampler has found its way from this extraordinary place to the other side of the world, to a house where there is another principal of a special school (my husband) who has just been able to open a new facility for his students. Clearly serendipity at work here.

And by way of warning - see if you can spot the image of part of the sampler in the photo below. It's the cardboard that the sampler has been sitting on for an unknown number of years. If you look closely you can see how the acid in the board has leached colour out of the sampler leaving an image on it.

Needless to say now that I know more of its history and condition I'm on the case so it can be framed in an acid-free environment. Hopefully it will then last another 116 years and Florence's creative voice will continue to be seen and heard.


Dana W. Fisher said...

What a wonderful bit of research, Philippa! Just fascinating. Thanks so much for sharing.
All the best,
Dana Fisher

Susan said...

Thank you so much for the wonderful comment on my blog and especially for reading the terrific article that Dawn Goldsmith wrote.

As you likely know, I adore using vintage linens, buttons, and anything that seems to have a sense of history ... a touch of past lives. Thus, of course, I like your work very, very much. (I am also a "magpie" ... so your sense of sparkle and shine also appeal most assuredly!)

Now, about the sampler! First, you are so lucky to have such a beautiful piece and I really enjoyed the shared research. Yet, it was the acid laden corrugated board that got me smiling the most.

My "day job" is custom picture framing. I own a business, Mouse House, with my husband. I can't tell you how many works of precious art have been ruined, damaged, or show signs of potential conservation nightmares due to the invasion of acid from improper backing boards.

The other thing that happens frequently with textiles is that the stitches have been shoved into the frame directly against the glass. After several years, the microscopic drops of condensation that happen due to shifts in humidity pull the oils and natural moistness from the threads ... especially wool. These particles of condensation occur on the inside of the glass ... much the same as the interior of a car getting fogged over windows on sticky, rainy days. (This is an extreme case. In framing the shift of humidity is very subtle and generally cannot be seen by the human eye ... BUT IT IS HAPPENING NONETHELESS.) With time, there's a chemical reaction ... and the entire textile is etched onto the glass ... leaving the stitches more brittle than they would have been had they never touched the glass.

I do hope you find a 100% rag mat board for this piece's mount and include "spacers" between the glass the the stitching. Do not allow any glue to be used. The only appropriate way to adhere a textile is with stitch. Generally, the thread for framing should never be stronger than the piece being stitched. If the piece were jarred or dropped, the framing threads should break before the textile is ever torn.

Although many embroiderers hate glass, I think it best, especially for antique samplers that haven't been in an archival environment. The threads and fabric have been exposed to too much pollution to risk much cleaning. The glass ... when properly used ... will protect these fragile fibers from continued exposure.
PS If you have any questions, please, please just write. Your sampler really should last for more than another 116 or so years.