‘Costume Days’ at the Durham Light Infantry Museum

Through the Conservation Advisory Network, we provide assistance to museums in the region with conservation and collections care. The Durham Light Infantry Museum in Durham is currently going through a process of cataloguing and improving the storage of its collection. I took the opportunity to get involved in a ‘costume day’, view the collections, and see where we can provide further help.

Uniforms on display at the DLI

The DLI Museum covers the history of the regiment from its formation in 1758 until its closure in 1968, with a wide collection of textiles, weapons, medals, and battlefield relics. The textile collection includes military uniforms, and accessories, including hats and boots, and military colours (flags).

Military hats on display

Through a series of ‘Costume Days’, a team of volunteers are processing the costume collection. All objects are audited against the museum’s database, and any uncatalogued objects are registered. All objects have their accession number written (in permanent ink) on a length of cotton twill tape, which is stitched into the inside collar. The costume is fully catalogued, with measurements taken, and a description written, then given a thorough surface clean with a specialist museum vac. The costume was then dressed onto a mannequin, with some quick padding to give the correct profile or shape, and a photograph taken for the records. Lastly, the costumes were put on hangers, covered with a protective Tyvek bag (a barrier to dust, light, and museum pests) and returned to the costume stores.

The costume store

After helping to process the costumes, and advising on various aspects of hoovering, condition checking, and labelling, I settled down with a needle and thread to carry out some quick conservation repairs. This wool jacket looked in relatively good condition, but the lining was coming apart at the seams – the original thread had disintegrated, and the weight of the fabric had slowly pulled down on the seams until the fabric was hanging loose.

Working on a DLI jacket [1928]
With a fine curved needle, and polyester thread – colour-matched to the jacket – I restitched all of the open seams, re-instating the lining into it’s rightful place.

Military jacket [1928]
I’ll be returning in early 2015 with the rest of the Textile Conservation team, we’ll assist with another ‘Costume Day’, and check the condition of some objects from The Bowes Museum’s costume collection, which are on long-term loan to the DLI.

Katy Smith, Textile Conservator

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