I am a Museum and Gallery Studies student at the University of St Andrews, and I have been working at the McManus, Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum, cataloguing embroidery and quilting in its costume collection.
I had had a student placement at the museum as part of my course since October 2010, and had really enjoyed working there, so the Costume Society placement was a wonderful opportunity to continue my work.
This placement reinforced the skills which I had previously developed, and enabled me to develop new ones. I worked on the collection between June and August 2011, cataloguing and digitising 502 objects. I was tasked with compiling information on the objects, transferring information from catalogue cards and object history files, and transferring them to Adlib. I photographed every object, and carried out object condition reports. This information was then inputted as a Collections Online record, which will be uploaded on to the museum’s online database. From the information that I gained from the collection, I developed ideas to make it more accessible, such potential physical output, volunteer projects, and educational activities.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the project was the knowledge that such a wonderful collection would become better known. It covers an amazing variety of items, ranging from tiny lotus shoes, worn by Chinese women whose feet were bound, to full military regalia. It covers every type of clothing: children’s wear, dresses, coats, bags, scarves (including one worn by its owner at the coronation of Queen Victoria), fans, military uniform, underwear, nightwear, jackets and hats. It ranged from the decorative to the occupational and utilitarian.
It has a wide geographical spread too: including costume from China and Japan, featuring amazingly intricate embroidery, and wonderful use of silks. There is also a collection of clothing from the historic region of Bukovina, now divided between present day Romania and Ukraine. I had never heard of it before I came across it in the object record, and I think this collection must have amazing historic significance.
I really enjoyed the research aspect of the placement, and it was fascinating to gain an insight into the history and development of costume. I could apply my research to the items of costume that I was looking at, so I was able to see how fashions changed, particularly between the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
I definitely developed some favourite objects whilst documenting the collection. My background in eighteenth century history has probably influenced my favourite object in the collection so far: a polonaise-style dress from the 1780s.
Thank you for giving me such a wonderful experience working on an amazing collection, in an equally amazing museum. I have learned an incredible amount, and I am sure that it will be extremely valuable in my future career.
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