JAIC 1992, Volume 31, Number 3, Article 6 (pp. 343 to 353)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1992, Volume 31, Number 3, Article 6 (pp. 343 to 353)

THE RECOVERY AND DRYING OF TEXTILES FROM A DEEP OCEAN HISTORIC SHIPWRECK

KATHRYN A. JAKES, & JOHN C. MITCHELL



3 RECOVERY OPERATION

Although the Plexiglas tanks containing the trunk halves were lined with trapaulins to reduce water loss, water had to be added to the tanks during the transport of the trunk to Columbus, where the trunk halves were stored temporarily in a warehouse. A few items were taken out of the trunk and unrolled. These garments appeared contiguous and withstood the operation of unrolling without obvious damage. They quickly were reimmersed until a plan was devised for their care. When it was discovered that the contents were garments in recognizable condition, the Department of Textiles and Clothing at Ohio State University was contacted and an emergency salvage plan was initiated. The trunk obviously contained a large quantity of items, but they were submerged in black water. The change in ionic state of the water in the tanks as tap water was added in order to keep the contents submerged was a concern, as was the much warmer temperatures of the storage environment compared to that in the deep ocean. Not only could some structural change occur as the water conditions changed, but microbial activity could be much increased. Given the need to assess the items in the trunk and the possible danger of their deterioration in the storage environment, a plan for freezing the garments was devised and carried out.

On November 5 and 6, 1990, the items were assessed and frozen. Each garment was lifted from the black water within the trunk and unrolled while submerged in demineralized water in a large tank. The items were kept wet at all times because the plasticized state helped minimize damage during unrolling and arrangement. The tanks in which the garments were unrolled were refilled with clean water for the immersion of each item; after removal of the item, samples of water were taken for later pH measurement. Each item was numbered and photographed, and an inventory was made. For future fiber identification, small samples were taken from inconspicuous locations, such as inside seams. Some garments were not sampled, either because the information would be redundant (e.g., only one sample was taken from nine handkerchiefs of the same construction) or because the item of clothing appeared to be so special that sampling would be damaging (e.g., a silklike scarf that was hand hemmed on all four sides). Each garment was arranged underwater on a fiberglass screen, raised from the water, allowed to drain briefly, and placed on another screen stretched over a wooden 6 3 ft frame. Each garment was arranged to provide a thin flat surface that would freeze quickly and to provide a pleasing garment configuration in the event that the item would not be flexible after it was dried. The framed screens were placed on racks in a freezer at −19F. Rapid freezing of the water within the textile was desirable, so that smaller ice crystals would result. Slow cooling allows molecules to align themselves, thus creating large crystals (Mellor 1978). Smaller crystals would be desirable because they would be potentially less disruptive of the fiber structure. Thin garments were frozen as quickly as they were brought into the freezer and carried to the rack that held the framed screens; within 5 minutes even the heaviest garments appeared to be frozen. The racks of screens were covered with black plastic to exclude light during storage. Some wind chill was apparent even within the covered screen racks, and apparent slow drying has occurred during storage.

The trunk contained 8 woolenlike long underwear shirts or pants; 2 pairs of men's pants; 53 linenlike shirts, collars, chemises, gowns, long underwear (men's and women's), and handkerchiefs; 11 sashes of varieties of construction; 15 pairs of stockings or socks; 3 silklike scarves; 2 pairs of gloves; 1 leather jacket; 1 leather vest; 4 other vests; 2 smoking jackets or robes; and 1 towel. Other artifacts in the trunk that were frozen included a newspaper, the baffle material, and the lining of the trunk. Large fragments of the lining fell free from the trunk interior, so some were removed in the wet state and stored wrapped in plastic in a refrigerator until the drying experiments were conducted. A database of the artifact types, samples taken, and descriptions has been constructed.


Copyright 1992 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works