We were recently blessed with a gift for our newborn daughter...a late 1800's christening gown. My husband's aunt sent it to us to use at her baptism. She indicated that it was her husband's aunt's gown and that her christening was probably somewhere around 1895. She called the fabric handkerchief linen and it is embellished with exquisite lacework at the collar cuffs and hem. It is about 2.5 to 3 ft. in length.
My question is this...after the baptism we would like to have the piece mounted in a shadowbox for display. Is this a BAD idea? If not...what precautions should we request the framer use? I know acid free everything Does it need to be airtight or should the air bed able to circulate? What type of materials and shapes are suggested for holding the form?
What a wonderful thing to have your daughter baptized in a great great aunt's christening gown. I recently had my daughter baptized in her great grandmother's christening gown, so I know what a thrill it is to feel that connection with the past and the responsibility for preserving it for the future.
Since this christening gown is irreplaceable and carries with it great sentimental value, I would not recommend putting it in a shadow box and putting it on permanent display. Many shadow boxes are made of plastics which can cause white fabrics to prematurely yellow and accelerate the aging process. Also, constant exposure to light will cause the fabric to fade and the fibers to weaken. However, the gown could be displayed periodically by hanging it up on a custom made padded hanger on the back of a door or on a wall hook just like a picture. It is important that the gown does not rest or come in contact with the wooden door or wall.
The padded hanger I would suggest is one you make yourself using 100% cotton muslin for the cover and polyester fiberfill for the padding. These materials can be bought at any fabric shop. It is important to shop around for a hanger small enough to support the gown without putting any stress on the fabric. You may have to cut down a larger wooden hanger to get a good fit. I made padded hangers for christening gowns by taking plastic baby hangers and tracing around the hanger to make a pattern. I would add on an extra 1/2 inch all the way around as a seam allowance. Using the pattern, cut out two hanger covers from the 100% cotton muslin that has been washed and pressed. Sew the right sides together, leaving the bottom open. Turn the cover, place over the hanger, stuff with the polyester fiberfill, and whip stitch the bottom closed. It is important that all surfaces are covered so the hanger does not come in contact with the gown. Resist the temptation to buy pre-made padded hangers covered with satin or other fabrics. Sometimes the dyes on those fabrics can transfer and cause a terrible problem. If you want to "dress up" the hanger, you can embellish it with satin ribbon flowers, etc as long as they do not come in contact with the christening gown.
Now with your custom made padded hanger, you can easily pull your christening gown out of storage and hange it up for diaplay. Museum's adhere to a strict policy of not having clothing or textile items on display for more than three months at a time to reduce the risk of light fading.
When your gown is off exhibit, it is best stored flat in an acid free box in a clean, dry, insect-free, dark storage area.
Michelle "AskMisty" Oberly has worked for many years in the education and museum fields. For nine years, she was a senior faculty member at Ray College of Design (now the Illinois Institute of Art) teaching fashion history and textiles. She also worked as executive director for the Mt. Prospect Historical Society, Mt. Prospect, Illinois; curator of costumes at Germantown Historical Society, Germantown, PA.; and guest curator at numerous exhibits at local history museums. She has lectured and organized workshops on the preservation of historic clothing and textiles for a number of historical organizations. Oberly currrently lives in Yardley, Pennsylvania and is writing a "help" guide for collectors of historic clothing.
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Sally Queen & Associates