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Not sure how to care for fabric diplomas

This topic contains 5 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of Jenny Wiley Arena Jenny Wiley Arena 3 years, 5 months ago.

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    Profile photo of Leslie Wyman
    Leslie Wyman

    We recently received 3 large framed diplomas on fabric – possibly silk, or satin. One of these is from West Point, and is signed by “a” Douglas MacArthur. All 3 are wrinkled in their frames, and the West Point one is stained in one corner, plus the signatures are starting to fade. Does anyone have ideas on how we can care for these? I think they should come out of the frames, as they are just resting on regular cardboard, but am hesitant on the next step. I’ve checked our bookshelf, but it doesn’t address this particular type of item. Thanks! – Leslie


    Thanks for the question Leslie, the diplomas sound like interesting artifacts. You will definitely want to consult a textile conservator regarding the wrinkles and staining and advice on how the diplomas might be exhibited without further damaging them. You can locate a conservator on the American Institute for Conservation site (see tiny.cc/rjdnc). Click on “start search” under the Textiles section. You may just wish to search by geography to find a textile conservator closest to you. Because you are not located near a large city, you may be able to take photographs of the diplomas and how they are framed and send those to a conservator for some preliminary advice.

    If you won’t be able to get the diplomas to a conservator soon it may be possible to carefully remove them from their frames. I consulted a conservator for some instructions. You’ll want to take your time, proceed step by step, and make sure that you keep the textile supported throughout. Place the frame, diploma side down on a table that has been lightly padded a clean towel. First, examine whether the frame looks like it could easily be disassembled. If so, remove the nails other fasteners that are holding the backing in and gently push the glass up from below so that you are lifting the diploma, backing, and framing glass all out at once. This will keep the diploma supported. Then check to make sure that the backing cardboard can be gently lifted at a corner and that it’s not stuck or glued down. If the cardboard can be lifted off easily, then remove it and place a new piece of acid-free matboard or archival board on the back of the diploma. Then flip the glass/diploma/matboard over and investigate whether the glass is stuck to the diploma and whether it can be lifted off easily. If so, lift off the glass. Then transfer the diploma on the matboard to a flat archival box and store it flat. If at any point the frame, backing, or glass cannot be removed easily, stop work and just store the diploma face up in a flat archival box. This will at least keep it away from dust and light. Keep us posted!

    Profile photo of Bronwyn Eves
    Bronwyn Eves

    To add to Kristin’s excellent suggestions: If you haven’t unframed them yet, photograph them thoroughly front and back and note any markings on the frames. Have the frames evaluated separately; if the frames are old enough, they could have some value (historical or monetary) on their own. The framing has become part of the history of these pieces and unfortunately may have lead to some damage. It sounds like unframing is necessary for preservation, but make sure and document the framing.


    Thanks Bronwyn,
    Very good suggestions–it is important to document each step and to save the framing materials. It is also possible that a conservator may want to see them to understand what the textiles have been exposed to. Kristen

    Profile photo of Leslie Wyman
    Leslie Wyman

    Thank you both for those great ideas! I’m definitely going to take it very slowly, and am also going to check with some college in our region to see if they have someone on staff who might come down and take a look without charging. (Our collection care funds for this year are already designated for other projects). We have some small fundraisers coming up that we might dedicate toward this project, or might be able to tap into an interested donor or two. Thank you both again! Kristen, I’m really glad this blog was developed – very helpful – Leslie


    That’s a good idea Leslie–if they have an archivist on staff they might be knowledgeable.

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