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Carmela Mollica

Meet conservator Carmela Mollica

A passion for the history of costume

Colour photograph showing a woman stitching
Carmela Mollica. Photo: George Serras.


Carmela Mollica has been a textiles conservator at the National Museum for more than 20 years.

An intense interest in costume and the history of costume led Carmela into conservation. With this type of work she is able to, as she says, 'get up close and personal with the objects'.

Carmela cares for all things textile in the collections, from woven fabrics, embroideries, baskets and furnishings, to clothing and the many accessories of costume – shoes, hats, buttons and gloves.

Carmela will be working in the Museum Workshop exhibition, preparing items for display in the upcoming exhibition Glorious Days: Australia 1913, opening in March 2013.

Colour photograph showing a woman standing behind a high bench in a laboratory. The woman lifts a piece of fabric with one hand, and takes notes in the other. Laid out on the bench is a garment of brown and beige colour, with dark lace trim.
Carmela Mollica inspects and documents a two-piece full-length dress from the Springfield collection. Photo: George Serras.

Burgundy satin two-piece dress, about 1875, SpringfieldFaithfull family collection

One of Carmela’s favourite periods for costume is the 1870s. Costumes with very small waists and full skirts, often supported by a bustle, have beautiful feminine lines. The National Museum has a number of very fine examples of beautifully made and exquisitely detailed dresses from the mid to late 1800s. One of these dresses will be on display in Museum Workshop. It is a two-piece full-length dress, consisting of a bodice and a skirt in burgundy duchess satin with inserts of cut velvet in a geometric and floral pattern.

Colour photograph showing a side view of a burgundy dress mounted on a mannequin. The skirt and bodice of the dress have inserts of cut velvet in a geometric and floral pattern. The bodice is boned and close-fitting and the long skirt is pleated from the waist.
Burgundy satin two-piece dress, about 1875. Springfield – Faithfull family collection, National Museum of Australia. Photo: George Serras.

The dress was acquired by the National Museum in 2005 along with about 2000 other objects from Springfield, an historic property near Goulburn in New South Wales. Springfield was established by William Pitt Faithfull in 1827, and the dress is thought to have belonged to his eldest daughter, Florence.

Conservators marvelled at the quality of the dress, the detailing in the cut velvet panels, and at the bodice’s extremely small waist, when preparing this dress for exhibition.

The bodice of the dress is fitted and boned and is an eight-piece construction. It has coffee-coloured polished cotton lining, a high collar with lace trim, a front opening with 12 metal buttons with mother-of-pearl insets, and full-length fitted sleeves with three buttons and lace at each cuff. Pleating detail and velvet inserts feature on the front and at the cuff.

The skirt has three internal bustle loops, a full wool lining and a V-shaped velvet insert at the front, with four inserts at the back.

The Springfield dress will be displayed on a mannequin that has been specially manufactured to display costume from this period, in the Museum Workshop exhibition.

More on the Springfield – Faithfull family collection

Brown silk jacket and skirt, 1880s, Elizabeth Oates collection

Carmela applies her eye for detail to the meticulous preparation of costume for exhibition. She also researches specific collection items and adds to the information the Museum holds about these objects. Carmela's research into a costume worn by Grace Milne in the 1880s changed the perception of the way it was classified. The silk jacket and skirt from the Elizabeth Oates collection were originally described as a riding habit.

However, the style and the materials used to make these garments did not match the style and construction of riding habits of the period. The delicate material and the stylish cut of the bodice and skirt pointed more to a dress that was not for everyday wear or strenuous activity. The bodice and the skirt of this costume have decorative features that are unlikely to have been part of a riding habit, which would of necessity been made of much tougher fabric and with little adornment.

More on Grace Milne's jacket and skirt

Colour photograph showing a full, brown skirt and small jacket laid out on a table in a laboratory. Images of the complete outfit and detailed sections are laid on the table too.
The brown silk jacket and skirt owned by Grace Milne of Bordertown in South Australia in the 1880s, featured in the Museum’s Open Day at Mitchell in 2011, along with some of the images which informed conservator Carmela Mollica's work.