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Meet conservator Carmela Mollica
A passion for the history of costume
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.
Burgundy satin two-piece dress, about 1875, Springfield – Faithfull 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.
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.
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.