At Attention–Storing Our Militaria Textiles overview image

At Attention–Storing Our Militaria Textiles

  • Post Date3/22/2017
  • AuthorJon Sweitzer-Lamme
  • Reading Time3 minute read

Over the summer and fall of 2016, a special project was developed to understand and better house some 80 military uniforms and their accessories at Spurlock. These textiles, much like the clothes you might have at home today, are fitted and are much better off put on hangers than laying flat.

To achieve this, the first step was to make sure that we were handling them correctly. Many of these military items came to the museum with medals and other items attached to them—in one case, a whistle. Generally, we would remove these items, record that they were once attached and where they were attached, then store them separately. In this case, however, we decided that it was more respectful to leave the medals (and the whistle) attached.

  • Close-up of whistle
    Close–up of whistle; it was supported so that it would not pull on the fabric. The high–quality plastic bag prevents the metal from interacting with the wool of the jacket. Sergeant's Dress Jacket (1998.09.0001)

The artifacts then needed to be cleaned. We used a commercial HEPA filter vacuum cleaner (with a mesh screen protecting the fabric) to remove dust. Simple adhesive tape was used to remove stubborn lint, and tweezers helped to remove more persistent pieces of dirt.

In this process, we sometimes discovered new information about an item—in a World War I uniform jacket pocket, for example, we discovered World War I–era cigar wrappers, documenting, perhaps, a celebratory smoke at the end of the war before the jacket was removed for the last time. These wrappers were recorded and stored separately from the item.

As we cleaned the artifacts, we wrote a detailed condition report—recording fading, holes, stains, and other damages that they had accumulated over the years.

Next, we constructed new hangers for the artifacts—larger and more padded than your average hanger at home, these are shaped like a human shoulder, and can be sculpted to fit the shoulder shape and size of a specific jacket or shirt.

  • prepare shaped hangers to support artifacts.
    Collections workers JW and Sarah prepare shaped hangers to support artifacts. Four hands are necessary to put all the pieces together.

Finally, it was time for the artifacts to be returned to storage. They were separated by item type, and organized to be hung uniformly (pun intended) for ease of browsing. These textiles are now much better off; they’ve been cleaned, documented, properly padded and systematically hung so that future generations may learn from these important snapshots in history.

  • puts an artifact back into hanging storage
    Collections worker Sarah puts an artifact back into hanging storage after it had been cleaned, a condition report written, and custom hanger built.