Behind the scenes with our textile conservators

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Julie prepares flag from 1900s for storage

This week we are going to take you behind the scenes of the museum to meet some of our staff and see the interesting things they get up to!

Today we’ve checked in with our conservators… Julie is preparing a flag from the early 1900s for storage and Sue is painstakingly conserving a sailors woolie from the late 1800s!

To make sure the flag can be safely stored, Julie will need to stabilise the damaged corner of the flag by attaching a temporary patch. She has chosen to use a piece of silk, which is a protein based fabric with a similar weave to the original flag. To avoid further damage she’ll attach the patch with thread, using existing holes created by insect damage to thread her needle through.

The stabilised flag will be stored in the museum’s new textile storage system, along with over 3,000 other textile items including flags, uniforms, shoes, head wear, bedding, towels, and clothing.

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Julie adds a patch to stabilise the flag for storage

Our conservator Sue shows us a beautiful embroidery she has been conserving for a while now – it’s one of her favourite objects to work on. Originally in a wooden frame, she has carefully removed the artwork to conserve it as best she can.

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Sue uses a low suction vacuum to remove insect debris and dust from the sailor’s woolie.

As part of the conservation process Sue uses a low suction vacuum to remove insect debris and dust from the artwork. The wool and silk thread are extremley fragile and in some parts the thread has already snapped or been nibbled by insects.

On the underside of the embroidery you can see how vibrant the original thread was, before being damaged by the sun. It would have been a glorious piece of needlework!

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Julie shows the underside of the sailor’s woolie showing the original colour of the thread

Wool pictures (or ‘woolies’) like these were mostly produced between 1840 and 1900 by British sailors. This one was thought to be made in the late 1800s. They cover many subjects, but commonly show broadside views of ships, ‘patriotic’ flags, and samples of embroidered patterns such as flowers, demonstrating the skill of the embroiderer. They were almost never signed, and are usually naive in character, but the detail of the ships in woolworks indicates that they were the work of seamen. Sewing and sailmaking were important skills of seamen, and woolwork pictures show the expertise they brought to this engaging handcraft.

We’ve uploaded a few more photos of Julie and Sue in action on our Flickr and Facebook pages for you to check out. Otherwise, stay tuned for more behind the scenes posts this week!