The Braintree Museum and The Warner Textile Archive are responsible for over 60,000 textile samples, as well other objects. Like many small museums today they do not have a conservation department, and rely heavily on volunteers. With no trained conservators within the institution the collection’s care falls to the Collections Manager, Claire Willets, and her team.
One of the projects currently in progress in the packing and freezing of a large number of textiles before they re-enter storage at the Textile Archive. Simple but important work. By freezing all the textiles before they are put into storage again we are preventing any possible infestations from starting the store. This step is taken with all new and returning material as integrated pest control.
The first step was to create new and better labels for the textiles that required them. These were done by writing the available details on a piece of white ribbon and sewing it to the textile at each end. The ladies from the North East Essex Decorative and Fine Arts Society (NEEDFAS) were a wonderful help during this process and quickly labelled a box or two of textiles. They volunteer with the museum once a month and are an invaluable resource for the care of collection.
There was some difficulty in this first step as the documentation was often poor. Quite often letters had been dropped from archive numbers which were later traced in the paper trail. Descriptions of the pattern and colour scheme were unclear and occasionally numbers had been mixed up. I found it difficult to match them up as I didn’t know what a brochette or damask silk was!
Once labelled, the the textiles were wrapped in acid free tissue. This acts as a buffer for the textile and prevents any parts of the material from touching one another. They were then stacked, fifteen to twenty pieces, within a bin liner. This was sealed with duct tape after the excess air was removed, and a list of its contents taped to the bag.
The freezer, a large domestic one, is located in the stores of the Warner Textile Archive. With enough room for about four bags of textiles; we layered them in. The textiles will be in the freezer for a minimum of two weeks. This will be enough time for all the stages of insect life to have died.
This kind of work is vital to the running of museums, and having experience with freezing material is great. Many museums run extensive voluntary programs, allowing people to work with collections and visitors. Braintree Museum is no different, however, with its limited staff the volunteers are so important. It was wonderful to work with my local museum, and help them to complete the project, as well gain experience with textile care. I would like to thank Claire Willets for giving me the opportunity and guiding me through the process.