Packing away a velvet dress

Some of the clothes donated to our museum date from the late 19th and early 20th century and show signs of their age. We try to tread a careful line between making sure that they can be put on view from time to time, whilst ensuring that we look after them carefully for the future. We are a volunteer run museum and rely on the professional staff in the county museum service to train us to care for our costume appropriately.

We have seen this crushed velvet dress before and will now watch as it is packed away into storage.

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Whilst on display, it had been supported on a ‘body’ make of wire and covered in unbleached calico. It was now carefully removed from this dummy, whilst being supported to avoid any strain, which could cause it to tear. It already had seam rips in places, as can be seen in this view from inside the garment.

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Also, inside the dress, we can see museum labels. Every museum item is numbered to enable us to find it and its records. Following expert guidance, we might do this by attaching a museum quality, acid free label loosely around a buttonhole. Sometimes the only option is to sew a label onto a seam. The number is written with a laundry marker on acid free tape and sewn in with a few loose stitches.

The storage location for this dress is in an acid free, museum quality box, so it will need folding to fit.

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Tight folds will cause creasing and may lead to the fabric being prone to tearing along the crease line, so we used acid free tissue paper in the sleeves and between the folded layers of the garment to lessen the likelihood of damage.

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Once it was folded to size and totally wrapped in the tissue, it was carefully placed in its box, to be stored in dark and dry conditions until it is next needed for display.

Some of our bulkier items, which are not suited to box storage, are hung on padded hangers in a bag of unbleached calico. Either way, we aim to follow the guidance of our professional colleagues to prevent our old and sometimes fragile garments from deteriorating whilst in our care.

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