Catwalking: The exhibition that keeps on giving! By Cecilia Voss, Textile Conservator #BowesStaff

Catwalking is up and proving popular but our work is not complete. The more popular it is the more work we have keeping everything clean. Here in the conservation team we endeavour to keep every item safe throughout its time on display and exhibition cleaning is a big part of that. Everyone who comes in leaves a little of themselves behind and while we love the comments in the visitors books, we’re not so fond of the skin cells and hair you drop off on your way! Dust building up on a textile can cause damage if left so we work to remove it before that happens.

It is standard museum practice to pre-empt any dust build up and undertake a gentle surface clean of the objects on display. This includes the plinths, the frames, the furniture and the fashion pieces. As Textile Conservator at the museum, I look after the textiles.

We did our first clean 5 weeks into the exhibition. I had kept an eye on the costumes, using the red Comme des Garçons dress at the entrance of the exhibition as my monitor. I felt it would probably be one of the most likely to be affected being right in the doorway so wanted to catch it before much dust deposited on it.

Laurie Endean ICON/HLF intern cleaning the red Comme de Garcon ‘monitor’

We use a low powered vacuum suction and a soft brush to gently brush the dust into the vacuum nozzle. Over the top of the nozzle we have a fine muslin cloth so we can keep an eye on what we capture. One of my favourite parts of cleaning is having a little look at the dust we’re collecting. We photographed the dust from each mannequin. It took 4 early mornings in a row, before the public arrived, to carefully remove any dust build up without getting in anyone’s way. Think of us as the little conservation elves!

Laura Levine cleaning the Christopher Kane

The second clean, I had the help of my two new ICON/HLF interns (Institute of Conservation funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund); Laurie Endean and Calum Richardson. We undertook this second clean after another 5 weeks, 10 weeks into the exhibition. I was curious to see if the increase in visitor numbers over the summer months would have led to an increase in dust, but there was very little increase between the cleans. Again, we took photographs of all the dust and patterns were starting to emerge between dust levels and locations. It works in our favour that everything is up on plinths, the plinths seem to be collecting the majority of it but the textiles are far enough away from the public that most of the dust has deposited elsewhere first.

Calum Richardson ICON/HLF intern cleaning Paco Rabanne 2015

In brief, I am pleased with how little dust we are collecting. From a conservation point of view it is really nothing! We are incredibly lucky in our rural setting that all we have to contend with is a little bit of dust and none of the pollutants you would see building up in a big city. Dust is an ongoing preoccupation for conservators and one that keeps on giving. We do our utmost to protect everything that comes into our care, besides, there’s nothing we love more than a bit of dust monitoring! We have just started a project monitoring the dust deposition throughout our own collection so watch this space for more information on that…




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