A UFDC Mini Seminar

An Excerpt from “The ABCs of Conservation”

The first rule of conservation:

“Do nothing that cannot be undone.”

She is in original, but poor, condition. Her box is shattered and dirty from a long stint in the attic. The box top has been missing for some time, and she was lying beneath an open attic louvre which received sun for part of the day.

Lignin, an acid found in cardboard, causes brittleness, spotting, yellowing and ultimately disintegration in textiles. The original box is important, but the doll should be protected from direct contact with it by layers of acid-free barrier paper.


When cleaning always use as little of the cleaning medium as possible. Dip the swab into to mixture, then roll it on a paper towel to remove excess before applying to surfaces. Use the same care when rinsing with clean water.

The bisque face is gently cleaned with cotton swabs, using one part soap to seven parts water mixture of Orvus WA Paste or Vulpex Liquid Soap. Remove all traces of soap with swabs dipped in clean water. Wear gloves when using Vulpex.

Always place the object to be cleaned on a thick white towel while you work.

The body has slight normal wear at the joints, with some areas of paint loss. It was cleaned with Renaissance Wax Polish and stablized with white pH neutral adhesive where needed.

The lower arm had been cleanly broken off but the original stringing remained. A simple regluing of the part caused the least damage, and was a visually acceptable repair.

Pictures of each step of the conservation process are very useful. Often when a repair is completed, it is difficult to recall the “before” condition of the object.



The sleep eyes were found inside the head, as was the plaster used to hold them in place.

Replacing eyes that have fallen into the head can be difficult. If the original plaster rocker can be used, with a little judicious repair, it is the conservative option. Most of this one was still in place and could be utilized.

While the eyes were out, the teeth, tongue and protective weight cork were checked and re-glued.


After vermin check and cleaning, the wig is carefully teased into order with a large corsage pin. Always begin at the very tip of the strand, and work slowly to the base of the wig. Hold strands between your fingers so that there is no strain on the base. Just take your time and be gentle.

This is a good project to work on while watching television.

A styrofoam base covered with muslin makes a good wig holder. The fabric is removed and washed after every use. The cone was cut into a rough head shape prior to covering. Large pins with black heads (for easy removal) hold the wig in place.

Dampen strands slightly and form into curls. Pin in place and let dry.


The original clothing had never been cleaned. Wet or dry cleaning is an irreversible procedure.

The dress was vacuumed, placed on a clean white towel, and covered with baking soda. After several days, the soda was shaken out, and the dress vacuumed again. This technique leaves the original sizing in the fabric, and does not alter the shape of the textile.

Common baking soda or pharmaceutical talc are both good for removing oily residue on textiles, and have the added advantage of being deodorants.



Every attempt should be made to retain the original condition of doll clothing. Many of the elaborate costumes were created with heavily sized fabric which loses shape and texture when wet or dry cleaned.

The bonnet with a covering of baking soda.

While the soda treatment will remove oily residue, dust and dirt, it will not help a great deal with staining.

It does leave the clothing in original condition and shape, and does not alter the historical and monetary value of the doll wearing it.

.No cleaning procedure should ever be used solely for cosmetic reasons.



Vacuuming textiles through a screen prevents damage to delicate fabric and trims. Keep the screen firmly against the textile while cleaning.

The baking soda has been gently shaken from the costume. It was then placed between a folded and tied screen, and vacuumed thoroughly.

Make fold-over polyester screens in several sizes for both vacuuming and wet cleaning.

The edges of the screen are bound with white cotton fabric, which is also used for ties, on three sides. These screens are also used for wet cleaning.
Ironing small costumes is risky. It is safer to steam and finger-press the fabric.

The dress is lightly steamed and finger-pressed to remove wrinkles.

If you MUST iron, use spade-tipped tacking iron on a low setting. When purchasing an iron, make certain that it has a thermostat.



From this, to the lady below….

The box was tenderly cleaned with a book cleaning pad, and glued back together. You can see it, in its preserved state behind the doll, as well as the original price of $1.50, written on the bottom..

Note that no attempt was made to remove the “rust” spots. The costume is cleaner, and the color is brighter. The back of the costume has retained more of the blue color because it was beneath the doll as she lay in an open box. The original undergarments required only vacuuming. The socks were gently washed and finger-pressed on a glass surface to dry. The shoes were cleaned with Renaissance Wax.

The doll should not be kept in the box unless protected by several layers of acid free tissue or muslin.

Nothing has been done that cannot be reversed, and her historical and monetary value has been enhanced by conservative treatment.

Except, that now she has regained some of her original appeal, and would be a welcome addition to many collections.

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