Six hats belonging to the Laraine Day Collection (MSS 2351) have recently come through our Conservation Lab. Laraine Day was a Utah-born actress who became prominent in Hollywood and on television from the late 1930s into the mid-1980s. She starred alongside big names such as Lana Turner, Cary Grant and John Wayne. When the Library acquired her papers, the collection also included some clothing items, including these hats.
The hats came to the Lab in archival boxes but were resting on top of other, putting them at risk of losing their shape over time. The point of the project was to find a way to support the hats from the interior without taking up too much space inside the box. Our solution was to create soft domes that fit inside the hats and mount the domes on stands made from a dense, polyethylene foam.
We began by measuring the inside rim of each hat. Because the rims weren’t perfectly round we measured horizontally and vertically.
After finding the measurements, we transferred them to an archival corrugated board and cut out two circles.
These two circles fit snugly inside the rim but not so snug that they could get stuck. We wanted them to be removable if there ever were a need in the future to remove them.
We roughly cut out a piece of knit fabric that was about twice the size of the board circle. Knit fabric is good because it has some stretch to it and doesn’t fray.
We then rounded the corners with this little trick from one of our student employees. Fold the fabric twice into a square so all the corners end up together. Place the board circle covering about a fourth and follow its curve when rounding the corners.
The end result looked something like this for each of the hats. We found the fabric piece couldn’t be too large because the extra fabric got in the way later. However, repeating the above trick and trimming a little more off fixed the situation.
Next, we made a running stitch all along the edges of the knit fabric. The running stitch allowed us to easily pull the fabric tight around the board.
We stuffed the stitched knit with “cotton candy” (polyester fiber fill), placed one (just one!) of the board circles on top, and pulled the thread tight.
At this stage, it was important to test how well the dome fit inside the hat. With a couple of the hats we had to add more cotton candy fluff and with others we needed to remove some. The point was for the dome to support the shape of the hat and to prevent it from caving in. We didn’t stuff them so tight that there wasn’t any give at all, but we made sure the hat wouldn’t get any deep dents in it. Once the dome had reached a sufficient state of fullness we tied off the thread tight.
After stuffing, the second piece of board was glued over the sewing. Using a hot glue gun we put glue in the middle of the board, stuck it on, and then ran the glue along the edges sealing it.
The completed dome bottom looked like this.
Now the hat won’t get easily squashed or lose its shape over time!
The final stage in the storage process was to box the hats, which was a bit like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. With a total of six hats we had to split them into three boxes to allow sufficient room for each hat. First, we glued a layer of dense polyethylene foam onto the bottom of the box with holes cut out for the foam stands.
The holes were made to fit the stands we hot glued to the bottom of the hat’s supporting dome. The hot glue gun was useful for this project because we didn’t have to sit around twiddling our thumbs for the glue to dry, and it adhered well to the foam and the corrugated board.
All the cutting, planning, and jigsaw-puzzling happened before the hot glue gun fun. This part took careful organizing to allow the hats to rest in their boxes without resting on each other or the sides of the box.
Finally, we took pictures of the hats and stuck them onto the side of the box to make them easier to find in storage. Just a small organizational detail.