It is always a privilege for our team to be able to preserve items which have special historical significance. This was the case recently when we restored a 1940 army beret that was in need of cleaning and restoration. The beret is very special to our client, who wished to have a sympathetic restoration focused on preserving the beret for the years to come. We were only too happy to assist in treating the historically important beret and ensuring it remained in good condition for the future.
Upon receiving the beret into the studio, our conservators completed a thorough assessment of its current condition and the treatments required.
When our client initially enquired into restoring the beret, they had a wish for the restoration to be sympathetic and in keeping with the beret’s history, age and style. Understandably, their focus was on preserving the beret for the long-term and showing its story. Therefore, the objective with the restoration was never to make it pristine, but to provide appropriate treatment for its continued stability and care. They were also looking to store the item in a display case so it could be enjoyed for the years to come.
Our client initially asked for delicate cleaning to remove dirt or substances that were corroding the beret, in addition to any other treatments we recommend to aid its preservation. Our full assessment showed that the beret had previously got wet and was exhibiting extensive mould growth. This caused a stained green and white deposit across the surface of the wool. Around the edge of the leather trim, there was also some red bleed into the silk lining, possibly due to an effect of moisture in the beret. There was discolouration in the centre of the lining which appeared to be from use, as the printed logo was also worn away. The beret had been flattened in storage and the opening for the head was pulled to one side and creased out of shape. The circular shape of the beret remained however and there was no overall distortion.
In the silk lining, there was one minor area of damage in the seam of the lining where the stitching had failed resulting in that area to fray. The two black patches on the beret, one inside and the other being the army badge, were also coming away slightly at the corners where the stitching had loosened.
There were also several areas of the previous repair to the beret, where holes have been stitched up using white cotton thread. Since these repairs were not damaging to the beret, had full stability, and tell a part of the history of the beret, these repairs would not be removed and re-done.
Since the beret was structurally sound, treatment was focused on the mould removal and stabilisation. When it first arrived, the beret was frozen to halt the active mould spores and prevent future growth. This left behind only the mould that was already present on the beret. The mould was rather unsightly and still had the potential to cause damage in the future, so it was comprehensively removed.This was a very careful process and soon yielded effective results. After removal of the mould, attention was turned to the creasing of the beret after being kept in storage. The opening of the hat had been pulled to one side which had caused some slight distortion to its shape. The beret was humidified after mould removal, and filled with acid-free tissue paper to reshape the opening and the sides. The humidification process carefully continued until the beret was able to stay in shape without the aid of the tissue paper. As we mentioned during the assessment, the previously repaired tears would be respected as being part of the beret’s story and so left as they are. We ensured that the other slight structural losses were stabilised and would not be at risk of any future fraying or deterioration.
During the process, we also spoke with our client about continued aftercare for when the beret was returned. Due to the past history of the beret and its recent treatment, we advised keeping the beret in a dry environment with a relative humidity of 50% or less. This should discourage the regrowth of any mould spores. Keeping out of direct light would also be helpful and ensuring that no moisture comes into contact with the wool. Furthermore, we also advised on a simple mount to safely display and store the beret. The mount was made using Plastazote with a layer of polyester wadding around to give the mount soft padding. To cover this unbleached calico was stitched around it. The mount was also made with a hole in the base so if the beret was to be displayed it could be simply placed onto a pole. We also advised our client to obtain an acid-free box for safekeeping. With the treatment completed, we delivered the beret back to our client who was very pleased with the result. As per their request, we stabilised the beret and provided the appropriate conservation to ensure it could be preserved and enjoyed for the future.