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Restoration and Stabilization of Mrs. Lukes dress

Vintage Runway P2 –

When preparing an item for an exhibit, the first thing to do is examine the outfit to determine its suitability for display. Is it stable enough to be supported on a body, or does it need to be shown flat? In our case, we had decided to display as many items as we could on a mannequin. When I first started working on this dress, it was structurally very stable, but had a few minor condition issues with the lace and it needed repair and reinforcement in a few stress points.

I tackled the sleeve lace first….

This is one of the sleeves. As the lace is a natural fiber (linen), there was some minor deterioration. (i.e., started to rot.) You can see how it had pulled away from the base layer and become crinkled. Underneath the lace, was a supporting layer of very sheer silk backing. The supporting silk had badly shattered in a few places, but for the most part, was in decent shape.

So, I decided to repair the lace and the backing in one unit. With the use of a lot of steam, I first had to get the lace to lay flat and then was able to see what was salvageable and what had to be snipped away. I put a piece of net underneath the entire area I wanted to repair and started making tiny stitches through all three layers along the more significant motifs

So, now you can see where I am missing lace. The next job was to rebuild and fill in the missing lace. Luckily, I was able to salvage some thread from another part of the lace to make the repair. It's not perfect, but it looks much better than it did and… its much stronger.

The next part to deal with would be the neck. Over time, the lace had rotted and come apart from the body. The seams between the neckline and the bodice were either in questionable shape or nonexistent. Unfortunately, the neck stays (which were an early cellulose) literally disintegrated in my hands.

This is a view of the bodice and back collar. All those strange little threads are from a previous repair, and the seam bindings are rotting away. On the top center, just under the ascension tape is what's left of the collar stays.

I wasn't comfortable with putting this on a dummy with the shape the collar was in, so I removed the silk binding and put the lace back where it was supposed to go. I then added another patch of the net and sewed down all three layers. A new binding completed the neck closure. Lots of fiddly tiny hand stitches here folks. Best to do this in bright daylight with a magnifying glass. (and no curious kitty..) Before I could go any further, I had to come up with a way to attach the bodice to the collar piece.

This is one of the bodice and neck views. The stabilizing silk has rotted away from the collar and shoulder seam. This pic was taken ½ way through nudging the lace back into place. I removed all the strange little threads that were going to be in the way of stabilization and added a layer of silk gauze that I used for a seam allowance. You can see where some of the lace has disappeared, and there was nothing to attach it to the shoulder. The gauze worked great. Lastly, once I had two stable pieces, I overlapped the seams and placed a layer of net on top. Then all the parts were couched down so that the "sculpted" portion of the neck and body behaved like one piece of fabrics

Here's the repaired side of the collar assembly. All the missing lace has been repaired and tacked down to its stabilizing base. I then reattached the old hooks and eyes and made sure everything matched.

Here are the front and back neck and shoulder – all finished and stable enough to hang on a dummy. If you look close, you will see where I fixed a couple issues with the bib lace. The join between the two lengths of lace and the large flower motif had started to come away from the backing.

Here's the back view with the hooks and eyes done up. At the back is the one place I couldn't make look relatively new… There was too much deterioration, so I stabilized it best as I could. I am quite happy with the way it looks, as the collar was literally falling off the bodice when I first started.

Here's the front view with the lace on both arms restored and reattached to the black part of the bodice.

What an interesting and satisfying exercise. Our "lady" is prettied up and stable enough to have another 100 years on exhibit. I hope whoever gets work on this dress in 2119, enjoys working with it as much as I did.

I like to believe Mrs. Luke is smiling at her gown from heaven.

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