Inside the Collection

The finer details of textiles storage

The first group of the week to take part in the object handling refresher
The first group of the week to take part in the object handling refresher. Photography by Melanie Pitkin.

This week staff from the Museum’s curatorial, registration and conservation departments took part in an object handling refresher focusing on the Museum’s vast textiles collection with Registrar, Sarah Pointon and Conservator, Suzanne Chee. For the past few months, Sarah and Suzanne have been doing an incredible job re-housing some of the Museum’s most beautiful textiles in the basement, not only improving their accessibility to staff, researchers and members of the public participating in basement tours, but also concentrating on the finer and often overlooked details of what it takes to achieve best level storage practices.

Assistant Collections Manager, Einar Docker demonstrates the single sheet of acid free tissue used to protect textiles
Assistant Collections Manager, Einar Docker demonstrates the single sheet of acid free tissue used to protect textiles. Photography by Melanie Pitkin.

Sarah started the session by explaining the move to using one single sheet of acid free tissue paper to protect garments in storage trays as opposed to several sheets arranged together. When returning a tray into a drawer, the individual sheets of tissue (whose lightweight means they are very sensitive to movement) often bunch up or slide around and can be prone to catching on heavily embroidered or detailed garments. By using one single sheet, the sides can be gently tucked in to prevent movement and you can easily lift the sheet in one go (an especially practical capability for those curators among us who lead group basement tours and move about from one stored garment to the next!).

Displaying storage of a dress in a drawer protected by tissue paper
Photography by Melanie Pitkin.
Sarah shows the little details to make object packing and storage easier
Sarah shows the little details to make object packing and storage easier. Photography by Melanie Pitkin.

To make sure we cut the single sheet of acid free tissue to the right size of the storage tray each time, Sarah and Suzanne attached a piece of fabric to the correct length of the tray to our packaging rack (as Sarah demonstrates above).

Coat hangers tagged and barcoded, with items from the MAAS collection
Every object is tagged and barcoded (see around the tops of the coat hangers). Photography by Melanie Pitkin.

The Museum also physically labels every object. In addition to a number written on a fabric strip, which is then sewn to a concealed part of the garment, an acid free paper tag describing the object, its location and barcode is placed with it (in the case of the vests, above, they hang around the neck of the coat hanger). To minimise object handling, all tags suspended from the coat hanger face in the same direction (to the left). But, of course, they only continue to hang in that direction if we all remember to return the label to its original position!

We were also reminded of the importance of working with and handling objects more generally, not just in terms of textiles, and I’ve decided to include them here:

1. Always wear gloves when handling objects both for the object’s protection, as well as your own
2. Lift objects – never drag, push or pull them. Lift objects by their most stable surface – never use handles or other projecting parts.
3. Don’t stack fragile objects such as ceramics and glass.
4. Pad objects with pillows and tissues to prevent rolling and vibration.
5. Some objects may need to be secured by ties and straps during transit. Always use a barrier between the tie and the object.
6. Ask for assistance with the move if you are not confident doing it yourself. Always ask for assistance when moving large or heavy objects and large paper objects.
7. Use as few moves as possible. Move the trolley/tray etc. to the object, not the other way around.
8. Always use special equipment such as tweezers for stamps, flat support boards for paper objects etc.
9. Cover objects when it is required to move them outdoors
10. Never rush as this is when accidents are most likely to happen

You can never be reminded of safe object handling practices too many times and the Museum organises such refresher sessions as these on a fairly regular basis to ensure consistency and best standard practice across all departments working with collections. As further upgrades to our storage takes place, we will also share these with you on our blog.

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