Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Welcome to the Blog!

Hello all, and welcome to my new blog! I’m glad you are here. As of now, I expect this blog to be mostly about my job and my work as a professional fashion history nerd, but it won’t be exclusively about that. If I do something of note outside of work or want to comment on Miss Universe national costumes, I will feel free to do so. Hopefully that is ok with you.

So, you might be thinking- what is the deal with vacuuming? Why does Clara do so much of it?

Well, basically museum artifacts periodically need to be cleaned. In the real world clothing gets thrown in the washer or sent to the dry cleaner, but both of those processes could cause serious harm to a historical object. When working with museum artifacts, you try not to do anything that can’t be reversed. Well, cleaning is not reversible. The benefits of a good cleaning can outweigh the drawbacks, but before you clean something you have to be really, really, sure that you are doing the right thing. So since full immersion in water could be risky, the safest and least-invasive cleaning technique is vacuuming.

The problem with vacuuming is that you have to do it with a special artifact-only vacuum, use a tiny attachment, and are supposed to pick up and put down the nozzle spot by spot (no dragging!). So vacuuming a T-shirt could easily take 1-2 hours. When I was in grad school, it was the tedium of a small vacuuming project that made me decide I could never be a conservator (I took the curatorial track in my program instead). But lo, here I am at my dream job in Seattle, vacuuming everything.

At first, I really hated it, and at one point nearly went insane while vacuuming a gigantic kimono. But now I find it sort of relaxing and meditative. I bring my iPod and all is good.

I also get a huge kick out of the things I vacuum. In school we studied 18th century silks and meticulously crafted Chanel suits. It makes sense that you would handle those things with white cotton gloves and clean with only the gentlest amount of suction. But now I work at a regional history museum with a quirky collection. I clean weird stuff.

This is my story.

No comments:

Post a Comment