With preparations for our summer fashion exhibition well underway, we spent a morning last week preparing a beautiful 1920s wedding dress back to its former glory. The dress had been recently donated to the museum but unfortunately it had been packed away for years with other costumes, left in an attic. When the dress arrived at the museum it was extremely creased and crumpled, having been untouched for so long.
We aired it out and let it hang for a week, in the hope that gravity would take its toll and some of the creases would just fall out naturally. However this didn’t have the desired effect and so we decided to try steam cleaning it, using a hand held clothes steamer. As we are a small organisation we don’t have any external funding to employ professional costume conservators; in this instance we relied on the much appreciated help of volunteers.
We tested a small area of the dress first and, satisfied that steaming wasn’t going to damage the material, we went ahead with the rest of the garment. Soon, to our excitement, the creases began to disappear and the true beauty of the dress was revealed. The wedding dress has lots of different layers to it, in a variety of materials, so we found that starting from the underskirt and working our way outwards was the best technique.
The delicate velvet flowers on the front of the dress got a steam too and turned out beautifully. The dress will be on display this summer in our exhibition “Furs, feathers, frills & florals: four decades of fashion 1919-1959” alongside many other beautiful pieces.