Repairing an Old Chilkat Robe at the Burke Museum

In April, 2017, I visited the Burke with my sister, Ursala, on a Bill Holm Research Grant. We viewed Ravenstail and Chilkat weavings in the mornings, and demonstrated weaving in the afternoons.

While looking at an old robe, I asked if we could study the back, and we realized it was in such a state of deterioration, that we couldn’t turn it over. The drawstring between border and main body of the robe was completely gone. I asked if I could fix it for them. The staff said, “Well, we don’t have a budget for conservations right now.” And “Have you repaired one before?” I explained that I’d love to repair it so the robe could live a few hundred years more, and that it would be my honor to assist pro-bono in these tight budget times. I had also added drawstrings to my own weavings many times, when I had forgotten to weave them in, so this must be much the same.

The bosses authorized my contribution.* They handed me a box of 20 year old threads and needles, and I found some strong dark-brown button thread to use.  I spent about 90 minutes gently binding the border and design body back together. I found three other spots in the body of the robe where the weaver yarns could accommodate partial replacement of their drawstrings, too.

When I was finished, I watched them place the robe into a newly acquired flat-drawer. I swear I felt the robe sigh, happy to stretch out and feel it’s newly joined parts.

I’m grateful that visitors and researchers will be able to visit that robe (and many others) at the Burke Museum for years to come.

*This is uncommon behavior for museums to allow researchers to assist in conservation.

 

 

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