As any lover of vintage fashion knows, historic costumes and textiles often show signs of their age. This gives them character, but it can also mean they are more susceptible to damage. The conservation team’s aim is to stabilise the objects in the collection and slow down the natural deterioration processes.
When we open a box in the costume and textile storerooms, or go searching for an object needed for research or display, we never quite know what we’ll find.
Sometimes the object appears brand new; sometimes...not so much. An object's condition depends on lots of variables, including its age, the materials it's constructed out of, and the environmental conditions it's been exposed to.
Here’s just a taste of some of the conservation issues that pop up regularly. All the images below are of objects from the Otago Museum Collection. As you can see, conserving our costume and textile collection keeps us on our toes!
Damage to the object as a result of shock or strain.
Occasionally the metal components on costume and textile items corrode.
Lines caused by scrunching or folding.
Costume and textiles are very appetising to certain insects. While our Integrated Pest Management program means we are able to keep pests in the storerooms at bay, we often encounter objects that have been targeted by pests at some point in the past.
A change in the original colour. Objects can darken, yellow, or discolour for a variety of reasons.
The object has been warped out of its original shape.
Dust particles often settle on the surface of objects.
When threads have unravelled or worn at the edge and are now loose.
Any kind of perforation; they come in all different shapes and sizes, and varying degrees of difficulty in addressing.
An area where original material is missing.
A score or scrape on an object’s surface.
In the late nineteenth century it became common to add weighting agents, such as metallic salts, to silk fabrics during their production. This weighted silk tends to 'shatter' or split as it ages.
A substance within the fibres causing discolouration. There is massive variation in size and type. We don’t usually know what the stains are, which often means a number of (very controlled) tests when attempting to remove them.
A component has been pulled and no longer holds its original shape.
Damage to the object as a result of use. This can tell us a lot about how the objects were used.