Monday, December 2, 2013

Museum Mysteries: Grimy Edwardian Petticoat

If you remember, underneath the 1909-14 Silk Wedding Gown was a surprisingly filthy Edwardian petticoat. The petticoat did nothing for the shape of the dress, but it seemed to have somehow absorbed whatever was leaking from the ceiling onto the dress...

Interestingly, the upper folds and waistband seem to be the worst areas affected by the moisture damage, but the entire petticoat is dirty. This leads me to believe that it was left dirty before it was even displayed under the wedding gown (Hint: don't put dirty petticoats under antique gowns).

The material was finely machine-pleated to a yoke.
The lace trim has also torn at the seam in a few places.
Submerged in water. I'm not sure what the accession number (written in marker) means.
I had to wash it before storing it. I took a deep black basin from the staff kitchen of the library and soaked the petticoat in water. I let it soak for 24 hours and tried not to agitate it, since it had a few tears. The petticoat really needs a decent wash and more time soaking (maybe some soap, too). Within minutes the water looked like urine and now I'm really curious as to what was leaking from the ceiling and what was dirtying up this petticoat!

A sample of the water after I removed the petticoat from its soak.
I was so curious, in fact, that I took a sample of the water post-wash. After about two weeks, something must've happened to all the oxygen molecules because the sealed bottle was all sucked in. Also, something rather brown and dust-like had settled at the bottom of the bottle...

My method for drying the petticoat in a limited space: folding it up and propping it on a bookstand hooked onto the drawer pulls. Unorthodox, but it worked!
The not-so cleaned definitely needs some soap and a larger washing vessel. Laying it flat to dry would also help!


  1. Eeeee! Gross! Fascinating about the bottle being sucked in. I wonder what it could have been?

  2. I'm not a scientist, but a scientist's kid, and the vacuum effect seems to me possibly the result of a bacterium consuming the oxygen ...

  3. Vinegar and vodka, baby! If it is a bacterial thing sucking in the sides, a good soak in cheap vodka will kill the bacteria and help whiten the fabric. I also like using vinegar (1 cup per gallon of water). I had an 1890s dress that turned the water coffee brown the first time I soaked it. It took 3 soaks to get the majority of the crud out.

  4. Petticoats are also most likely made of cotton, so they can usually handle a gentle wash in a mild soap. Once you get the bacteria situation sorted out (the vodka soak is a good idea), you can wash it by hand in a sink of warm water and baby shampoo or Ivory liquid soap, or even put it through the gentle cycle on a washing machine, if you zip it into a mesh laundry bag first. Be sure to rinse it really well to get all the soap residue out. An initial rinse in plain cold water (to get out most of the soap), then a rinse in cold water with a splash or two of vinegar in it (to get out the remaining soap), and a final rinse in plain water (to get out the vinegar). Gently press (not wring) most of the water out, then roll it up in a clean bath towel and let it sit for an hour to get it almost completely dry. Air dry it the rest of the way. Edwardian white cotton underthings are almost the only antique garments you can do all this to, and they'll be o.k.!