“Tech” Corner

Highlights from behind-the-scenes with Collections Technician,
Barbara Chernyavsky and the Friends Historical Association Collection.

Hi! My name is Barbara and I work as a Collections Technician at the Atwater Kent Collection. My focus here is assessing and documenting the status of the many objects that were donated by the Friends Historical Association, as well as mounting garments so they can be photographed for the online database. A typical day of work involves locating objects that live amongst the many shelves and cabinets, taking a close look at each object and what kind of state they are in, documenting their dimensions and condition in PastPerfect (database), and carefully padding and dressing mannequins to bring to life some of the historical garments that have made their way to the Atwater Kent Collection over the years.

While working at the Atwater Kent Collection, much of my time is spent looking closely at the woven structure of Quaker shirts, dresses, night caps, handkerchiefs, and even doll dresses and accessories to check for tears and losses, pest damage, and stains. I look at the seams of these pieces to see if dresses are stable enough for dressing onto mannequins. Some fabrics are particularly fragile, like treated silks, which can be extremely brittle and prone to “shattering”. Silks that have been treated with metallic salts will tear if not handled properly. It’s really quite a treat to work with objects that have withstood the test of time, but it’s rare for objects to come out completely unscathed. Sometimes bugs make their way to a garment during the object’s life, and so sometimes I’ll find small holes along the fabric’s surface. Holes or losses can occur for several reasons, but if you’re working with wool or silk, chances are a little critter has made a meal of the garment.

Sometimes clothes have tears from mechanical wear – think of the times your clothes has caught onto something and gave way to external forces. Stains are another common sight. I’ve seen stains of varying sizes and colors, and I make diligent notes about what they look like and where on the garment they are located. I don’t make any guesses about what the origin of these stains are, but some visual indicators can help me identify if they’re aqueous or oil-based. For example, if I see a ring or discolored perimeter on a given stain, “tidelines”, then that can be an indication that the stain came from a water-based fluid. Sweat stains are an example of aqueous stains that I’ll find on some of the dresses we have here at AKC.

Among the donated objects, I have been largely focused on textiles. The way I tailor my thoughts during my process is by focusing on the physical condition of the objects and how the piece may have deteriorated so that there is a record of what state this object is currently in – a checkpoint of information that future stewards and conservators can reference to review its physical history. I also dedicate time to learn about the historical and social contexts of the objects I work with to better get to know what I am working with. Learning about the values of Quakers has helped inform me what kind of colors were deemed appropriate for example, as well as how these values fluctuated over time.

It’s interesting to look through a series of what seem like plain dresses and begin to notice subtle differences in craft. These dresses aren’t anything like the things we might find at the mall today. The seams are strong, and some bodices have boning to give more structure to the garment and the wearer’s silhouette. It takes a lot of fabric to make these modestly designed dresses, which also means they’re much heavier and more cumbersome than your average polyester or rayon dress.

Image Info: All photographs are details from various objects in the Friends Historical Association collection. Objects from top row to bottom, left to right are: 87.35.264 Handkerchief; 87.35.304 Kerchief; 87.35.325 Bed Jacket; 87.35.321 Baby Cap; 87.35.201 Glove; 87.35.245 Kerchief; 87.35.242 Dress; 88.13.21 Stocking; 87.35.1106 Kerchief; 87.35.380.1 Collar; 87.35.205 Dress; 87.35.178 Quilt (unfinished).