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Steam Stories: Keeping History Alive

Who: Julia Brennan, textile conservator and founder of Caring for Textiles

Jiffy Steamer Model: J-2 personal steamer

Years Using: 25 years

How She Discovered Jiffy: During Brennan’s first textile conservation apprenticeship back in 1983, her mentor used a Jiffy Steamer.

“Jiffy Steamer is rewarding and safe to use in textile conservation. It’s easy to control and transforms wrinkled crushed fabrics into smoother beauties—making our conservation work look better. It’s the gentler solution to relaxing creases and improving the appearance of delicate historic textiles, that cannot be pressed.”

The next time you visit a gallery or museum and see a centuries old gown or a hundred-year-old quilt on display, take a moment to appreciate the people who work behind the scenes to keep these stunning fabrics from wearing away with time.

Julia Brennan is one of them. Based in Washington, D.C., Brennan travels all over the world to work her conservation magic on beautiful—and fragile—historical textiles. Brennan founded Caring for Textiles in 1996 and offers textile treatment, repair, display, storage and other services for institutions, historical sites and private clients all over the world.

Working with everything from quilts and tapestries to antique wedding gowns, Asian embroidery and historical military and judicial uniforms, Brennan is a master of textile conservation.

Jiffy Steamer plays an important role in the amazing work of Brennan and many of her fellow conservators and preservationists. Steam can be used on many of the very old, delicate fabrics involved in the trade.

Brennan stated that “with a lot of clothing, including very old silks, cottons and linens, pushing steam through the fabrics really helps to relax the fibers and release creases.”

That’s how she makes historical garments look amazing on display—as with her work on the gown Lady Nancy Astor wore to the coronations of King George VI in 1937 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, which was recently featured in an article in the Washington Post.

“We’re not trying to restore the textiles to their original conditions,” Brennan says. “But we are trying to stabilize what’s there and extend its life.”

Jiffy Steamers are perfect for this job. As Brennan says, they relax the fibers of the fabrics. And they do it without causing any damage, ensuring that the lives of the textiles are not shortened.

Brennan and her associate Lauren Klamm have also discovered an unconventional use for their Jiffy Steamer: it’s perfect for molding FOSSHAPE®, a polyester fiber they use to create dress forms and hat stands.

“It can be wrapped around any figure and steamed until it’s glass-smooth and perfectly shaped to hold vintage hats and dresses,” Brennan explains. In the photo to the right, Klamm uses the steamer to create a dress form that will hold the amazing 1960s Warhol Souper Dress. Here, Brennan creates a mold at a textile conservation workshop in Jakarta, Indonesia sponsored by the US Embassy and State Department.

Historical textiles tell beautiful stories, and it’s exciting to see our steamers helping to tell them! We love that our Jiffy Steamers are being used in an industry in which fabrics are so important—and discovering another unique way that professionals are utilizing the power of steam!