Yesterday I had a fun little job - continuing today actually - and maybe tomorrow - helping out at a local museum.
Every few years its important to take textiles out of their storage boxes and open them up, refolding along different areas to keep the deterioration to a minimum. Textiles are incredibly fragile and, unlike wood, metal, or bone for instance, they can end up in crumbles and dust if not properly cared for - and even then. They are stored in acid free boxes, with acid free paper around them, carefully folded as little as possible, or rolled onto special rollers. As boxes were opened it was clear that dyes had been absorbed onto the paper as discoloration was evident. Some paper was yellowed, some pink, and replacing the paper was also part of the project.
There's something very moving about handling objects that are so old. And textiles are markedly different from furniture or other objects. There's something very personal about touching someone's wedding dress, or christening gown for instance. Even shoes belonging to a small child, or a fancy bonnet, becomes a symbol or someone's life. Because clothing is worn. It's placed on a person's body and it reflects their taste, their sense of style, their personality. Opening these pieces up and laying them out on a table feels a bit like sharing a cup of tea with the owner. You can almost hear their voice saying "Could you please use that beautiful blue taffeta?" to the dressmaker, or "I wonder if I can wear this brown silk gown of sister's to the dance Saturday night without shortening it?" Even shoes, worn black leather with satin ribbon laces, seem to hold their owners souls within them. Its magic, really.
I like to imagine the woman who owned the beautiful blue and white striped dress walking down Main Street in her finery, heading to church in her dress and bonnet. Or maybe taking her child out for a walk wearing the small white dress and petticoat that she'd just finished for her. Even the man's navy blue wool two-piece bathing suit brings speculation as the bottom was more faded than the top. Did that mean he only waded to his waist? Probably so considering the c.1850 tag that hung from the corner.
I love treating each textile with the respect it deserves, from the hand woven bed coverlets that adorned private bed chambers to the tiny undershirts used by an infant but lovingly embroidered despite never being seen by anyone other than the child's parents. Each piece represents a life, a family, an era, and most importantly... love. Its a sacred duty.