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The Museum’s doors might be closed but we are still collecting and sharing Australia’s stories. Over the coming weeks you can join us virtually as we tour the Museum’s galleries and exhibitions, take part in family craft activities and watch our staff as they continue their vital work on object research and conservation.

Two female conservators work on a dress with intricate pattern and lace detail in a laboratory.
Textile conservators Michelle Newton-Edwards and Kerryn Wagg discuss areas of the dress that require detailed documentation

COVID-19 certainly hasn’t stopped the Museum’s indomitable dress detectives, Senior Curator Cheryl Crilly, Textile Conservator Michelle Newton-Edwards and Paper and Textile Conservator Kerryn Wagg. All three are continuing their work on the Museum’s oldest dress.

This hand-stitched silk-brocade gown is part of the Springfield-Faithful Family collection. It was made in the 1700s, most probably in England, and was brought to Australia 100 years later by English schoolteacher Mary Deane when she and her family immigrated to Australia.

The dress was the focus of the Museum’s 2019 Annual Appeal and the incredible generosity of our donor community has seen us raise enough to conserve and display this wonderful piece of Australian history.

Making the dress fit for display involves months of work by Museum experts, from global research and painstaking conservation to the design of a mannequin made specifically for the dress’ dimensions.

The COVID-19 restrictions mean much of the hands-on conservation work has been postponed, as staff are no longer able to access the conservation labs.

Just over a fortnight ago, Michelle and Kerryn carefully padded and packed the gown away and placed it back into storage. However, there is much our dress detectives can and will be doing during isolation.

A woman is sittings at table with various items related to textiles including samples and photocopies of lace.
Curator Cheryl Crilly researches the lace on the sleeves and collar of the Springfield gown

Cheryl Crilly, Senior Curator:

My research will certainly continue. In some ways this extraordinary global challenge presents a rare window of opportunity to get on with some really interesting research. There are family descendants, enthusiastic genealogists and authors out there that I would love to video chat with!

While working from home, Michelle will write and file condition reports on new areas where the dress needs work, and in particular the areas she and Kerryn have uncovered over the past weeks.

Michelle has also created a small studio at home where she can work on fabricating the underpinnings needed to appropriately display the gown. She will photograph the process and we will be able to share this with you. Both she and Cheryl will also start research on the mannequin for the dress, sourcing material and supplies.

Cheryl has said the additional time also provides a wonderful opportunity to connect online with a range of people who can provide further insight into the dress, the family and what life would have been like for Mary as she lived at Springfield near Goulburn.

She is excited to speak online with family members, genealogists and historians — there are plenty more stories yet to uncover.

In their last post about the dress, Cheryl and Michelle talked about meeting with experts from the Lace Study Centre at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney. Following these meetings, research has begun into the lace on our dress’ neckline and sleeves. This work will continue over the coming weeks.

Slideshow

Lace details on the collar of the Museum’s Springfield gown

Lace details on the sleeve of the Museum’s Springfield gown

We are looking forward to our dress detectives returning to the conservation lab. When they do, they will be armed with a lot more information to assist with finishing the project. Michelle and Kerryn plan to start with stain reduction and stabilisation, especially where the dress has been altered over the centuries by generations of the Faithfull family.

This project has only been possible thanks to the incredible support of our donors.

We understand that in these uncertain times it is more important than ever to stay connected with community, to focus on the positive and surround ourselves with the creative. The story of this dress belongs to our donor community and we will continue to share our progress with you.

In the coming weeks we will also launch our 2020 fundraising campaign, focused on enriching and connecting communities. It will educate, entertain and take the Museum around the country. We hope you will join us on our next exciting fundraising program.

In our collection

Green and floral brocade open-front robe with "en fourreau" backIt is likely that this dress was made in the late 1730s, early 1740s. It appears to have been altered in the 1770s and again in the 1920s when it was worn to a fancy dress ball (2005.0005.1008). Made from green and floral silk brocade, the dress could be described as an open-front robe with an en fourreau style back. The open s...
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