A visit to the McCord Museum and the Textiles and Materiality Research Cluster at Milieux Institute, Concordia University

March 2, 2017

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.

27 February 2017

On Friday, 17 February, Gennifer and I joined the Artifacts Conservation students on a trip to Montreal to visit the Milieux Institute of Arts, Culture and Technology at Concordia University, and the Conservation Department at the McCord Museum.

We started off the day with a tour of the Textiles and Materiality Research Cluster at the Milieux Institute. The tour was led by Geneviève Moisan, Research Assistant and the research cluster’s Equipment Support Specialist, and Claire Nadon, Research Assistant and MFA student in Fibres and Material Practices. The Textiles and Materiality Research Cluster is made up of multidisciplinary faculty and students, visual artists and engineers, with expertise in textile arts and innovative textile, electronic and wireless communication technologies. They research and explore new materials, complex weaving and design, as well as create electronic fabrics, interactive garments and smart fashion that function within the realms of both visual arts and the textile industry (https://textilesandmateriality.wordpress.com/about/). During our visit we had the opportunity to see a modern-day Jacquard loom in action, and an industrial embroidery machine capable of couching down metallic (circuit creating) threads. We were all thrilled to see a recent project entitled Maxwell’s Equations, created by Lauren Osmond, a current student in the Master of Art Conservation Program here at Queen’s, and Barbara Layne, Professor of Fibres and Material Practices, Co-director of the Textiles and Materiality Research Cluster and Director of Studio subTela. Maxwell’s Equations, about which Lauren recently presented at this year’s Context and Meaning Graduate Student Conference, is a collective of three garments that are able to communicate with each other via embroidered antennas. Their communication signals depend on the movement of their wearers and, when in alignment, texts scroll across arrays of LEDs incorporated into the fabric of the garments. While hearing about all of these fascinating projects that highlight and augment the role of textiles as interactive and communicative surfaces, I couldn’t help but think of the surfaces of the textiles in our own project, and how they’ve been both receptive—in their history of everyday use on the body, their wear and their soiling—and communicative through the outward signs of their finishes.

After visiting the Textiles and Materiality Research Clusters, we visited two other research clusters, the Speculative Life Cluster and the Indigenous Futures Cluster, and learned about their work and about how they had incorporated textiles into their projects.

In the afternoon, we headed over to the McCord Museum where we were greeted by the Head of Conservation, Anne Mackay, and brought up to the conservation lab. There, we were introduced to Conservators Sara Serban and Sonia Kata, who took us through some of their recent projects treating basketry and textiles. The textiles Sonia showed us are part of the upcoming McCord exhibit Fashioning Expo 67. Stunning examples of 1960s fashion, these garments bring finish into a whole new context of the 20th century, from PVC-coated raincoats to dresses whose body and stiffness was achieved through polyurethane foam linings. Both of these examples face tremendous conservation challenges due to their unstable plastic components. Sonia demonstrated how the polyurethane lining of the dresses had already degraded into a dark powder that had fallen and collected along the dresses’ bottom hems. She showed us the techniques she had used to examine the dresses and locate where these accumulations of degraded polyurethane could be found. After seeing the treatments underway in the lab, we toured through the McCord’s costume storage spaces, and met with their extremely talented Conservation Assistant and costume mount maker, Caroline Bourgeois. We finished off the day by going through two of the McCord’s fantastic exhibitions, Wearing our Identity: The First Peoples Collection and Notman, A Visionary Photographer.

Image Credits

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