Yarn Bombing a DC-3: A Conservator’s Perspective

As I’ve mentioned before, it takes a team to yarn bomb the DC-3 plane and each of our team members has a unique story to tell about their involvement in the project.  Local Conservator Valery Monahan shares her perspective advice for the yarn bombing of the DC-3.

Museum conservators get the weirdest questions. How do you get caramel off a moose-hide dress? What is this stuff oozing out of my painting?  Can an antique celluloid brush explode if it gets too hot in the sun? Would it be okay to wrap an old DC-3 with yarn?

The best part of this job…I get to try to answer all those weird questions!

Conservators work with other museum staff to protect collections. We test exhibit light levels, analyze storage containers for long-term stability, watch for museum pests and, clean and repair things in the collection that are damaged and dirty. As the Conservator for the Yukon Museums Program, I provide these services for Yukon’s community museums and First Nations cultural centres. My contribution to this yarn bombing has been to consider hazards the process might present to the DC-3 and help figure out how the project could avoid or manage those hazards.

Conservation questions:

  1. Would the yarn-bombing cause structural damage to the DC-3?

Answer:  Contact an industrial artefact conservator to Identify fragile components on the DC-3 and ensure that the yarn-bomb cover design takes them into account. Ensure that the knitted cover is designed to distribute tension/pressure across the largest surfaces of the DC-3.

  1. Would the yarn itself damage/abrade the DC-3’s surface? Airplanes are regularly re-painted and re-coated during their working life-time. The DC-3’s last “working” surface was covered over when it was modified in its current “weather-vane” function. So, the current surface is modern, not vintage. We would like to protect it, though.

Answer:  Use design to avoid/limit movement of the yarn.  Reject overly abrasive yarns/knitted sections during selection process. Assess and identify the current top coat on the DC-3. Is it due for replacement? Test piece of metal coated in the same way with wool to see if any significant abrasion takes place

  1. Could yarn dye transfer stain the DC-3? Many commercial yarns are not colour-fast and readily transfer dye onto surfaces if they get wet. Some will even shed chunks of dye when dry!

Answer:  Soak yarn and knitting donations in warm soapy water and rinse well to remove transferable excess dye before bombing.

Image above: Arrow indicates yellowish stains from “colourfast” black dyed cotton embroider floss transferred onto white cloth by water and pressure.

  1. What about pests?  Do you remember moth balls? Those smelly things people used to put into closets and trunks to protect fur coats and wool blankets?  Moth balls don’t actually work very well, but those people were correct:  there are insects that will EAT fur coats and wool blankets. Clothes moths are one of the most common, but there are carpet beetles too. These insects can live on a diet of keratin and other animal proteins, so fur coats, wool blankets and balls of natural wool yarn are all on their menu. They eat holes in fabric, chew fur and animal fibre and leave a mess of webbing and frass (bug poop) behind.  Once they get into a museum building, they can make themselves at home in collection storage where they will damage artefacts. It takes hours of inspecting, freezing and cleaning to get rid of them.

Answer: quarantine all incoming yarn and knitting donations in sealed plastic bags. The wash process used to prevent dye transfer will kill insects as well.

Image above: Raw sheep’s wool infested with larvae of Tineola bisselliella (the webbing clothes moth). Dark specks are frass.

NOTE: hot water washing is not safe for heirlooms and antiques! If you suspect an insect infestation, contact a conservator or your local museum to get instructions for freeze-killing the insects.

Additional reading…

Care of large artefacts stored/displayed out of doors:

http://www.cci-icc.gc.ca/publications/notes/15-8-eng.aspx http://www.cci-icc.gc.ca/publications/notes/15-9-eng.aspx

Guidelines for selecting safe (or safer!) materials for use with artefacts


Freeze-killing insect pests that can infest museum collections