The Fashion and Textiles conservation section is responsible for the care of the ever-growing textiles collection. The section consists of a specially trained team of Textile Conservators and a Textile Display Specialist. While the collection includes many fashion and clothing items, it also boasts tapestries, embroideries, shoes, hats and fashion accessories which all require specialist skills for their storage, handling and safe display.
Display of the textiles collection involves careful consideration of each piece and the specific objectives of the intended display, whether it be clothing draped on a mannequin or a sumptuous embroidery mounted in a frame. Every item is meticulously photographed, documented, and provenance research undertaken to fully assess the history of use and record condition.
Analytical methods of examination and identification, such as FTIR and XRF, are used alongside visual examination to asses condition, longevity of materials, and inform treatment proposals. Microscopic examination of threads and fibres is commonly carried out, with X-radiography used to examine complex pieces.
Treating historic textiles is intricate and time-consuming work, not only because of the inherent fragility of the textile, but also due to the minute scale of work required. Often taking several months to complete, common treatments include reducing stains, stabilising fabrics to withstand the weight of heavy beading, reattaching loose beads and resecuring threads. Other treatments involve replacing missing elements with infils colour-matched using custom dyes. Colour matching is time consuming and precise, therefore the section holds thousands of different colour recipes, each with a small sample swatch to make future colour matching easier.
Repairs are carried out with materials as close as possible to the original used in the construction of the collection item. Lustrous silks are sourced and used to repair duchess silk dresses and vibrant kimonos, while single source linen is used to repair 16th century wall hangings and original skirt linings. This is an important treatment consideration as it ensures new repairs will not only age in a similar way to the original, they will not cause undue stress to the original while on display.
Storage for the collection consists of wardrobes with custom-made padded hangers, archival boxes and drawer storage units. Storage systems must include padding to support the shape of each individual textile, whether they be modern polymer coated shoes or felted hats.
Mannequins used for displaying fashion items are required to echo the correct era in which the garment was made and provide a suitable historic silhouette. The Textiles Display Specialist ensures every fashion piece on display appears as closely as possible to the day it was worn. While the gallery is fortunate to have a suite of specialist mannequins, each piece requires a set of underpinnings made specifically to ensure the correct silhouette is achieved. These underpinnings may just be a simple petticoat, but most historic fashion items require a bespoke full boned corset with a hooped petticoat, full crinolines, panniers and even padded peplums. Fashion and Textile Conservators are often heavily involved with the installation and deinstallation of the works they care for, managing the sourcing, fitting and dressing of often hundreds of specific mannequins for just one exhibition.
Covering an almost endless array of materials, our conservators work with a treasure-trove of tactile and fascinating items, their skills ever adapting to each specific collection piece.