Diary of the Canterbury Cultural Collections Recovery Centre intern – month 9

By Moya Sherriff, Intern, Canterbury Cultural Collections Recovery Centre

One major highlight this month was the National Services Te Paerangi Expert Knowledge Exchange requested by Kaiapoi Museum. Te Papa textile conservator Rachael Collinge was our expert and over the weekend she ran a workshop on how to care for textiles.

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 Rachael and members from Lyttelton Museum, the Nurses Memorial Chapel and the RSA during the workshop.  

Sometimes people have asked me in the past, how do we clean or restore our textiles? During the workshop Rachael brought up some reasons why it is best not to wash or get out the sewing kit to repair museum textiles. Lord Nelson’s naval coat is an example of a museum textile. This garment is blue, with gold coloured buttons, epaulettes, lace at the cuff and decorated with Lord Nelson’s orders of chivalry. Areas of the coat have stains and holes from wounds that he was inflicted with during battle. Being a military uniform, it is expected that it should be in perfect condition, especially if it was placed on exhibition. But as Rachel expressed, now that this item is in a museum the holes and stains have become part of the history of the garment. It would be inappropriate to repair the bullet holes or try to remove the blood stains from the coat because these features record the life of its owner. They have become part of the garment’s story.

Of course there could be occasions where, after completing extensive research, a museum knows that these points do not apply. But just be aware, washing a garment (in the way we would at home), or even hand washing, places a lot of stress on the item and you could cause damage, the type that should not be part of the garments story!

So what Rachael showed us was a less invasive way to clean textiles by using a vacuum cleaner (one with a HEPA filter is best with the ability to adjust the suction). We used a soft brush attachment to systematically move over the jacket, making sure the intensity of the suction was no higher than what the dentist would use in our mouths! If the textile is lifting off the table, the suction is too high. We would only use this method if the textile was stable – if there were any loose parts or the item was delicate, then we would be getting in contact with a conservator for some advice.

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 RSA member cleaning an Air Force jacket from their collection.

I leave you with a note we found tucked within a worn, well-loved little boot from Kaiapoi Museum’s collection, repackaged during the weekend’s workshop.

October 27th 1930

These little boots were given to me by my Mother Mrs Tamar Smith [unclear] about the year 1890, as a keepsake in memory of my little brother Amos who wore them first prior to his death about the year 1871.

Ellen Sanders (Nee Ellen Smith)

After the note was read out, sighing filled the room as we were all touched by the story of this little leather shoe. The condition of the boot is not the best, but just like Lord Nelson’s coat, the item’s little imperfections give us clues and tells us stories about the life of the garment before it entered the care of the museum.

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Kaiapoi Museum members and Rachael discussing the storage and exhibition of these little shoes.

Images: All images courtesy of Canterbury Cultural Collections Recovery Centre.

Other posts by Moya:
Diary of the CCCRC intern – month 1
Diary of the CCCRC intern – month 2

Diary of the CCCRC intern – month 3
Diary of the CCCRC intern – month 4
Diary of the CCCRC intern – month 5
Diary of the CCCRC intern – month 6
Diary of the CCCRC intern – month 7
Diary of the CCCRC intern – month 8

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