Monday, 11 March 2013

Wedding Dresses galore at the Fashion Museum

In February I was fortunate enough to take part in a one week CPD course at the Fashion Museum, Bath. Rosemary Harden, manager of the gallery, had designed four packing fortnights spread over one year. The idea was to allow museum professionals keen to develop their skills to spend one week in the museum, packing objects. The museum would benefit from some extra pairs of hands and we would gain experience and knowledge in the handling and packing of dress and costume. In teams of two, we were allocated a specific area of the collection. I was paired with the lovely Heather Audin, Curator at the Quilt Museum and Gallery, York. We headed into our packing room and were faced with this:

Courtesy Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council
Courtesy Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council
Plus boxes and boxes of veils, headbands, tiaras, trousseau, going-away outfits and yet more wedding dresses. It was gorgeous yet daunting. A substantial number of dresses were already packaged in store. Our task was to use the accession numbers to match up veils, dresses etc from the same bride and package them together - something that had not been done before. Then we had to package the remaining items into new boxes.

As well as offering us a chance to get to know a specific area of the collection, we also learnt about the museum's unique approach to packing. The museum prides itself on the accessibility of their collection. It is there for people to see and research, not to remain locked in store for decades. As a result dresses need to be packaged in way that makes them easily (and quickly) accessible to staff. The photograph below shows how the dresses are laid on a 'stretcher' of tissue that can be easily lifted out of the box.

Courtesy Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council
To those outside of museums and galleries this experience may not seem like much, but for individuals like me it was fantastic. The work was exhausting and physically hard - in total Heather and I packaged 79 boxes, most of which we had built ourselves. But you cannot beat hands on experience. I went into the course as a novice and can now confidently pack a late-18th Century wedding dress into a box! It is also through courses such as these that professionals from museums around the UK are able to share ideas and knowledge about collections management and practice. What particularly impressed me about the Fashion Museum was how a small team of people with a finite amount of space manage to host an ambitious exhibitions schedule, build a world-class collection (over 80,000 objects and counting) and allow consistent access to that collection for research purposes (whether you be studying 19th Century kimonos or would simply like to see your grandmother's wedding dress from the collection).

For more information about what is currently showing, click here. For the fashionistas out there,  Bath in Fashion is a festival of events and exhibitions taking place in the city.

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