Lacy underwear, starched collars, a beaded bodice: these are just a few of the objects in the Queen’s University Collection of Canadian Dress that Sophia Zweifel and Gennifer Majors have been examining as the 2017 Isabel Bader Fellow and Graduate Intern in Textile Conservation and Research. In residence until the end of April at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre and Queen’s Master of Art Conservation Program, Zweifel and Majors have been delving into fashion items from Kingston’s past as part of Zweifel’s investigation into the underexplored history of textile cleaning and finishing. Under microscope and ultraviolet light, they have been scrutinizing stains, residues and fibre samples on objects to determine the techniques and products that housekeepers, domestic workers and launderers used, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to make clothes look their best. As Zweifel explains, “Whether a fabric is made of plant-based fibres, such as cotton, or protein-based fibres, such as silk or wool, dictates how the fabric would have been cared for, cleaned, and finished.” This period coincides with the rise of Home Economics as a discipline and laundry as an industry. Zweifel is interested in situating “the practices of historical textile cleaning within a broader context of what it meant to be clean,” as well as in the implications that this history has for future approaches to textile conservation in museums and galleries.
Zweifel and Majors have lab space in the Master of Art Conservation Program, the only graduate program of its kind in Canada. Throughout the project, they have been sharing their expertise with conservation students through workshops and discussions, as well as consulting with other conservators and professionals in the field about their research. Every two weeks Zweifel provides updates on the progress of her and Majors’s work in a blog on the Agnes website: https://agnes.queensu.ca/research/projects/. On Thursday, 6 April, 7–8 pm at the Agnes, Zweifel and Majors will present a public talk, “The Textile Conservator Meets the 19th-Century Housekeeper.”
Sophia Zweifel holds graduate degrees in both Art History and Art Conservation, respectively from University College London, UK, and Queen’s University, Kingston. She also brings to her role a wealth of conservation experience with various public and private institutions, including the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI); Conservation of Sculpture, Monuments and Objects (CMSO); McCord Museum; Canadian Museum of History; and Canadian Centre for Architecture. She is co-chair and co-founder of the Advocacy Committee for the Canadian Association for Conservation.
Gennifer Majors has a Masters of Philosophy in Textile Conservation from the University of Glasgow UK. For the past year, she was the Conservation Fellow at The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, where she worked with the newly donated Bea Roberts collection of Chinese minority textiles. Majors has also interned in the Costume and Textile Conservation Department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.