What do conservation interns do at The Bowes Museum?

Since my last blog post the Textiles Conservation Department has been a hive of activity.

Catwalking was de-installed in the first couple of weeks in the year, this was a succession of removing mannequins from the display, condition checking and cleaning as we removed the costumes from them. Then gently packing the costumes in a variety of different sized bags and boxes to be returned to their fashion houses.

It seems like a life-time ago, as now, SOLD! is being de-installed to make way for the LEGO®: Building The Bowes Museum exhibition, which is due to open on the 25th of May.

Packing the Dior Harlequinn dress during de-install of Catwalking.

I have also been working on some framed textiles from the Bowes collection; stored in frames for many years the strings used to hang them are starting to fail. Which has meant, to prevent any damage occurring that they should be re-strung. While they’re out of the store room, it’s a good opportunity to examine them for any further conservation needs. Two samplers were my charges! And both needed the same treatment: I took them out of their frames and removed them from their back boards, then I  used a smoke sponge to remove any surface dirt from the ground fabric followed by a low powered suction vacuum cleaner all over to get anything that the smoke sponge didn’t pick up.  After testing each of the coloured threads it was clear that I couldn’t wash either of them in a bath, but I could do spot treatments on any heavily soiled areas and use a damp swab in all areas.

Sampler: EMB.1.77.A The Bowes Collection

Once this cleaning treatment was done EMB.1.77.A was relocated into a storage box and the other sampler (EMB.582) was returned to its (cleaned) frame. However to ensure that there was no further acidic damage to the sampler from the wood of the frame, I used Melinex® around the edges and over the back to stop the fabric touching the wood and the framed textile is being returned to the store with a much more robust chain instead of a string for hanging.


Working on the Tapestry in the Cube

Work on the tapestry is still going strong, it has been moved down into the Cube (Fashion & Textiles Gallery on Level 1), which means that when we’re working on it we can chat to and answer questions from any visitors (keep an eye on twitter to see when we’re in).

Along with Miranda – The Bowes Museum’s’ HLF/ICON Paintings Intern, we went to Newhailes House to visit with Arielle, who is the HLF/ICON Preventive Intern for the National Trust for Scotland.

Myself, Miranda and Arielle at Newhailes condition checking a bed cover before it goes in to the freezer.

Arielle is currently working on a project with Newhailes in order to deal with a moth infestation in the House. This requires all items to be wrapped up in plastic, removed from the room and frozen in order to kill any moths living in the item and any eggs that have been laid on the item. While the furniture within a room is being frozen, the whole room is cleaned again, ensuring there is no possibility for an egg or moth to remain behind. Items are then returned to the rooms and to their original positions using photographs and floor plans for guidance.

Arielle showed us around the beautiful house and talked us through the project, before we got our hands dirty and helped her wrap up some items – one of which was a bed cover (see picture). Before things are wrapped they’re inspected and condition checked.
In February, Arielle came to The Bowes Museum to see what we get up to here. We showed her around and she also helped us with our dust monitoring project, which is part of our Preventive Conservation programme. To find out more about the project at Newhailes follow this link: https://www.nts.org.uk/stories/mothbusters-at-newhailes

In the studio now we’re working on items from the Tullie House Collection in Carlisle; for the re-display of their Fashion and Textiles galleries. The collection is huge and we’re working with the team there to complete the conservation on specifically selected items they want to include. The process should take the rest of the year and it’s really exciting to be able to work on the project from the very beginning.

                          Silver threads on the brocade, before (left) and after (right) conservation

We have just finished working on the first item which is a Court Mantua, made from a light blue silver brocade with bows and a silver lace trim.  The silver threads in the brocade pattern have been stitched down, as many had split and become a little wayward (see picture).  The silver lace which runs around the neckline, cuffs and along the top of the skirt was then cleaned using swabs to ensure no water or solvent got onto the fabric.

We’re currently working on a silk yellow Polonaise dress, with matching petticoat trimmed with a white gauze. We started by removing lace (that we think is a later addition and notoriginal) and placing marker stitches where the lace was, if the curator later chooses to replace it. Then we moved on to washing the petticoat – just in water, to remove the majority of the ingrained surface dirt. This wash also helps to re-invigorate the silk.


Washing the Polonaise’s petticoat (pre-wash)

We recently went to Tullie House to have a look at the next batch of items to be sent, as well as some possible choices we might see in the future. It’s going to continue to be a fantastic project!


The Bowes Museum, in partnership with the The Institute of Conservation (ICON) and with support from the The National Lottery Heritage Fund, is advertising for a new cohort of Textile Conservation Interns. Application deadline 17th June 2019, 9am

More information can be found here: https://icon.org.uk/training/internships


Written by Laurie Endean-Olsen, The National Lottery Heritage Fund & ICON/The Institute of Conservation Intern in Textiles Conservation at The Bowes Museum.




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