This week we’re taking a look at the conservation of a beautiful, beaded evening coat from the 1920s. When it came into the collection in 2013 as part of the Betty Clunas Gift, it was in such fragile condition that it was difficult to handle, move and even examine.
In need of repair, the Art Deco outerwear was sent to the Scottish Conservation Studio, near Edinburgh. The work was generously supported by Betty’s daughter and, after a few months of careful attention, it has been restored to its former glory.
Fashions in the 1920s show dresses and coats that flare at the hip. This coat would have fitted well over an elegant flared gown. Clothing of the decade features elaborate beading and fringes. Beads that sparkled under the light contributed to the era’s emphasis on movement.
Most of the damage was in the white beaded areas. The original fine cotton thread holding the beads in place had broken in 11 different areas. In places, by pulling the loose dangling threads, it was possible to pull more thread out, releasing even more of the beads.
To stabilise the coat, the loose beads and threads were painstakingly sewn in place. For the conservator, sewing the beads back on was time-consuming but straightforward. The real challenge came with untangling loose original threads from each other – a task that required a great deal of patience. The photos show the most challenging areas to repair.
The coat has some staining and areas of discolouration. In some cases, a light conservation-grade bleaching treatment can remove these but, in this case, wet cleaning was judged to be too risky. The coat is awkwardly floppy and poor handling is likely to result in further damage. A rigid fabric-covered board was made to support it. It’s now possible to lift the coat out of its custom-made box using the board.
The time spent on this beautiful garment means that it’s now suitable for display, research and examination at Aberdeen Treasure Hub, our specialist storage facility. We’re grateful to everyone involved in its care and maintenance for future generations to enjoy.
Images with kind permission from the Scottish Conservation Studio.
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