Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Historic Costume & Textiles

As I'm having a day of relaxation today, I thought I'd write a post on the course that I did at University, why I did it, some of the things I've done, and what I'm looking to do in the future!

From my teenage years I've had somewhat of an obsession with the Victorian era, namely the costumes that they wore, and this soon led me to develop a succinct interest in the dress and textiles of other periods within history. In college, I would often miss hitting criterion relative to achieving higher grades because all I wanted to do was to replicate costumes, and look after them, not wanting to add needless contemporary twists. For example, one absurd idea I was told to think about was to create a Victorian dress out of plastic! No thank you!

Me, aged 15 at Whitby Goth Weekend

I looked into doing costume at University but there were no courses that I could find that would allow me to just replicate so I hit a bit of a brick wall with that one, until I found out about Conservation & Restoration. I realised that this was exactly what I wanted to do, to conserve, clean and restore our history so that others could enjoy it. The thing about historic textiles compared to all other materials is that it is the fastest decaying because it is organic and so hugely prone to damage and decomposition. Baring this in mind, the conservation of textiles is not an easy task. You may even have heard horror stories about antique textiles turning to mush because some silly person has put it in the washing machine! Not good.

The course itself encompasses all materials (archaeological, metal, wooden, textile, paper, ceramic and decorative objects) with a module in science and chemistry, as it is imperative to understand the chemical processes that each object withstands in its lifetime, and also what would happen to use certain chemicals and solvents in cleaning it. It also covers history, as it is important to know where objects come from and what their uses would have been.

I could literally ramble on about my course and the subject all day, so without further ado, here are some of the things I got up to... I should also say, please be aware that I am only able to include a few photos, some not the best quality, as many of them are used in my professional portfolio, so wouldn't want them to go walkies!

The first image shows me standing next to a Victorian mourning dress that I worked so hard to repair and mount for display at our end of year exhibition. Please note, this is a very naughty photo because no one should ever stand ANY WHERE NEAR a textile, or ANY historic object with a glass of drink because accidents do happen!

The second shows me touching up a ceramic goblet with special paints to attempt to disguise the repairs that were made.

The third is taken at a conference I attended outside of University, where we were shown some of the beauties that are in storage in the York collections. Do note, that we did not touch any of these garments. The lady behind me is the technician and she is wearing cotton gloves.


I graduated from my course in September and have had to take a year out due to my health. I did intend to carry on to do the Masters course part time here, but have since found it wiser to do a course that would not jeopardise my health quite so much. So come this September, I shall be partaking in Museum Studies. Exciting!!

Hope you like the post, and hopefully it has given you more of an insight into the backgrounds of museums and collections. I purposefully have not gone into much depth because it is a very specialist area. If you'd like to find out more, look up Object conservation :)

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