The final post in Julia’s three-part series dedicated to the gentleman.
Over the years, Caring for Textiles has had the opportunity to conserve the textiles of some of America’s most well-known and historically significant men – including our founding father George Washington, the celebrated President Abraham Lincoln, and baseball greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. It has been both a privilege and challenge to work on iconic pieces that are part of the fabric of our culture and history.
I’m always incredibly nervous when treasures like these arrive for treatment. All intervention must be scrupulously considered – each touch, stitch, surface cleaning or added material is carefully weighed; I rigorously maintain that less is better.
George Washington’s Waistcoats
Imagine holding George Washington’s French silk embroidered waistcoat in your hands! I had the good fortune to work on three of these amazing articles of clothing; it makes one tremble to think the great man himself wore these very pieces some 250 years ago.
Abraham Lincoln’s Greatcoat
There are many moments of satisfaction in my work, but delicately stitching the tears in the coat that President Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated – magical and overwhelming!
This is when I am convinced of the importance of textile conservation, and how it contributes to our shared history for generations to come.
This greatcoat was made by New York City’s Brooks Brothers in 1864 on the occasion of Lincoln’s second inaugural. The patriotic themed lining was hand-quilted by one of the firm’s best stitchers who, having retired, executed the commission as piece-work from her home. The great coat exhibited at Ford’s Theatre is an exact replica made by Brooks Brothers. The original coat is carefully preserved for scholarship and posterity.
The coat was draped over the back of the President’s chair at Ford’s Theater the night he was killed.
The missing sleeve and shoulder are a result of ‘souvenir takers,’ who blithely took pieces of the coat, as well as the bed sheets and wallpaper of the chamber where Lincoln lay dying. Mary Todd gave the coat to Lincoln’s favorite valet in the White House, who held it in safe-keeping with the family until his heirs sold it to the Park Service in 1968.
Since it has been displayed with one side of the coat open to reveal the unique inscription in embroidery, the silk wool fabric has disintegrated from light and exposure. Several conservation campaigns have included applying selective overlays of sheer polyester stabiltex over these fragile areas.
“Beibu Rusu” is how half a million excited Japanese fans greeted Babe Ruth when he arrived for the All Star Games in 1934.
Ruth acquired this Japanese ‘happy coat’ when staying in Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Tokyo Imperial Hotel (circa 1922).
Julia Ruth Stevens, Ruth’s daughter, recounts how, when Pearl Harbor was bombed, Babe took his Japanese treasures and threw them out the window. Luckily for us, his family retrieved them!
Encrusted with dirt, stains, and full of cigar holes – this textile required more than 200 hours of conservation cleaning and treatment. It was both wet and solvent cleaned, and then reconstructed with insertions of orange and black silks, and overlays of sheer stabilitex.
1930s Lou Gehrig’s jersey 1930’s
Made of wool, Gehrig’s NY Yankees #4 jersey came to us in overall good condition. Prior to arriving at Caring for Textiles however, the jersey had been aggressively cleaned, which had caused large holes and tears in the shoulder and back.
Reconstruction included removing coarse repairs, re-aligning the wool warps and wefts, using a thin support fabric, and re-weaving and couching down the original pieces of the fibers and cloth.
Upon completion, all the neighborhood kids came to Caring for Textiles for a ceremonial viewing. Home run!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these pieces – I’ve had such fun looking back at these iconic pieces. I’m honored to be able to contribute to their longevity, and hope that they will be around for many generations to enjoy.