Sunday, August 31, 2014

Museum Mystery Boxes: 19th Century Drawers


Found among the treasures of the Kearny Museum's mystery boxes, these 19th century drawers were a pleasant surprise. There is a nightgown on display that matches the drawers, so they were likely once a set and perhaps the grape motif that decorates the embroidered trim signifies fertility, marriage, and union--making the nightgown and drawers part of a bride's wedding trousseau.

It was difficult to date the drawers; their long, straight, full legs lead me to believe that they are pre-Edwardian but as early as 1860. All seams have been made on a sewing machine and the lace is also machine-made. These are split-crotch drawers. They are gathered to a narrow waistband which fastens with an interesting purple button--it appears that the top layer of paint or lacquer or whatever has crumbled away.

These cotton drawers are decorate with 6 rows of 1/4 inch wide tucks and trimmed with 2 inch wide cotton scalloped lace that is machine-embroidered with a grape motif. I describe my process of patching a torn area of this lace here. These drawers are also decorated with an interesting vertical arrangement of 1 x 2 inch wide sections of floral-embroidered cotton and gathered lengths of cotton.


In terms of cleaniness, these drawers were in pretty bad shape. There were mysterious stains of nearly every shade of beige/brown splattered all over the drawers, and the entire garment had a dingy beige hue. Remember that this is the time before tampons...and I don't WANT to know what caused those stains (shiver!).


First, I soaked the drawers in cold water. After just a few minutes soaking, the water turned a very murky brown. Yuck! In total I gave the drawers 2 2-hour soaks and 1 4-hour soak; I wanted to let the water do as much of the work as possible before bringing in a light detergent.



Of course, just water isn't strong enough to dissolve all of those stains, but there is a noticeable improvement. Overall, the drawers are a lighter shade of beige, but still not white, like their matching nightgown. The darkest blotches have considerably lightened, too. On the left is the before, and to the right, after!


Have you ever encountered a nasty or mysterious stain on an antique garment?

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