The Voices from the Workhouse HLF funded project to reinstate/recreate the workhouse ‘experience’ at Gressenhall continues apace. In July, we saw some of the social history objects that have been selected and already conserved.
This month, two hats from either end of the social spectrum are being treated. One is a lady’s hat of cream cotton lace with a silk satin crown and ostrich feather plumes, and the other is a workman’s hat of canvas that has been covered with pitch or tar to make it waterproof.
Due to previously poor storage conditions, the cream lace hat was not in good shape. It was extremely dirty and had suffered from past insect attack and light damage. The feathers were in very poor condition with significant loss of barbs and multiple breaks and losses to the shafts. The silk crown was disfigured from dust and dirt and the lace had an unsightly dark grey tinge to it.
Treatment began with the detached pieces of feather being removed and unravelled from the lace. They were then packaged according to the position found. The whole hat was then cleaned using a very low suction museum vacuum cleaner and soft brush. Following this, to remove further dirt, the silk and cotton lace were gently cleaned with cosmetic sponges. This greatly reduced the soiling and enabled us to see the original colour of the silk.
The feathers were supported with blotting paper and brushed with an appropriate solvent which resulted in large quantities of dirt being released and the feathers began to bounce again.
Repairing the damage to the shaft of the feathers required carving and shaping new pieces of feather to bridge and adhere to broken sections.
Hat before conservation
Part way through cleaning with cosmetic sponge
The feathers were solvent cleaned
This image shows a piece of new ostrich feather shaft, carved and adhered to the original to support a missing area
The tarred hat had also suffered from previous bad storage and has had its fair share of insect attack. It appeared to have been well used in its previous life and there are several holes and weak areas associated with use. The hat is also severely crumpled and misshapen.
The many moth cases tucked away under the lifting flakes of the remaining tar were removed with tweezers and the hat was surface cleaned with low suction vacuum cleaner and a variety of brushes.
The tarred hat before cleaning
Cleaned and on its mount ready for display
Both hats have had customised mounts made for them and they will be on display in new showcases. You will be able to see them next year when the Voices from the Workhouse Project is completed.
Follow us on Twitter…..
NMS Conservation Department – @NMSConserve
Gressenhall – @GressenhallFW