Example of a detachable starched collar in the collection.
Sophia Zweifel, 2017 Isabel Bader Fellow in Textile Conservation and Research
Every two weeks these updates are provided by Sophia Zweifel, the Isabel Bader Fellow in Textile Conservation and Research. In residence at the Agnes and Art Conservation Program until the end of April 2017, Sophia is investigating historical practices of clothing care and cleaning, using the Queen’s University Collection of Canadian Dress and with the assistance of Gennifer Majors, the Isabel Bader Graduate Intern in Textile Conservation and Research.
After a few wonderful weeks of exploring the Queen’s University Collection of Canadian Dress—scouring the collections database and hunting through boxes—we have found 10 objects of study that suit our research interests on historical cleaning and finishing practices. Some of the selected items are of interest because of the challenges they would have presented for their caretakers. For example, we chose dresses with velvets or fur components that would have needed to be cleaned with absorbent powders such as cornmeal, flour, or hot sand. We looked for richly dyed or printed fabrics that would have required dye fixatives in the wash water to keep the sensitive 19th-century dyes from running. We were also particularly interested in black silks and lace which, if stained, would have required strategic spot-cleaning techniques to either retain or replace the black colour at the affected spot.
Other objects were chosen for the social importance of their finishes. A crisp and orderly well-starched collar or maid’s apron, for example, were loaded visual cues that did not go unnoticed in their time. We also looked for objects that might be finished for practical purposes, such as a jacket finished for added weather resistance, or a collar with a highly glossed finish that rendered it less permeable to sweat. Several of these objects warrant further inquiry into the nature of their finishes, and have given us plenty to investigate as we begin the analysis phase of our project.