Marguerite McLoughlin’s Sewing Cabinet

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Marguerite McLoughlin’s Lacquer Sewing Cabinet
shown above, before, left, and after, right.

The Chinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinet was a gift to Marguerite McLoughlin From a grateful member of the Fort Vancouver community for the sewing she performed.  One can imagine the excitement this exotic and beautiful cabinet must have caused in Fort Vancouver.  The cabinet consisted of four parts: cabinet, cornice, table, and sewing box, and is one of the few items in the collection which belonged to the family.

Her sewing items were also part of the exhibit.

The cabinet consisted of four parts: cabinet, cornice, table, and sewing box.
It was meant to be used in its entirety or as separate entities, as the owner chose.
When unpacked the table could be used for sewing projects, and the cabinet with drawers sat next to the table.  The table design has a lip to keep items from rolling off the edges.  Our goal was to allow the piece to continue to be capable of disassembly, while stabilizing so legs would not fall of it it was moved during cleaning.
A flexible plan was devised.

Prior repairs proved challenging in both finish and structure.
Broken and rotted screws were removed in several areas.
All hinges were loose or had already come apart.

Several areas of the sewing cabinet and table had structural problems
due to rotting wood, including the cabinet base. Our goal was to stabilize
and strengthen with minimal invasion, and to preserve and protect the lacquer finish from further degradation. Microcrystalline balloons suspended in
pigmented Rhoplex® provided strength to desiccated areas.

Other items to repair were leg-to-table connections,
cornice + pediment mount, and hinges.

The lacquer was severely damaged on 50% of the exterior carcass:
environmental shifts, both in temperature and humidity, caused lacquer to lift,
discolor and fail.  Wood smoke and direct sunlight further damaged areas, causing the left-facing side to exhibit a thermochromatic shift, seen clearly right.
Lacquer was extremely unstable in these areas.

MPFC cleaned the entire cabinet, which was a month of patient small movements, above right, using over 6,000 cotton swabs.  Sometimes a light dab of distilled water was used for stubborn grime.
In the process discovered more lifting areas, which we treated, below.

The best comparison showing the brightening of the cabinet is below, in the crest!

A dry rub “polished” the cabinet.

We adhesed loose and lifting lacquer by softening then gluing.
We infilled with paints over barriers, selectively. The goal of the infill
was not to fool the eye, but to cover the bare areas from a distance,
so a visitor did not see gaping holes of missing lacquer when first encountering the cabinet.  In a few areas we infilled patterns and/or gold.

Below, the cabinet after treatment.

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