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Queen Victoria's petticoat: underwear 'patched'

Date: 21 November 2017

Author: Viola Nicastro

In the last post we saw how Queen Victoria's petticoat was wet cleaned. Now the cream lawn cotton looks a lot brighter and the creasing has visibly reduced. There is still a bit of treatment left to do, as there are splits in the skirt, bodice and lace, and some of the buttonholes at the back fastening have frayed.

Deciding how to proceed at this stage is crucial, as the damaged areas need to be supported to withstand display on a mannequin, but any new material added needs to be compatible with the original and as invisible as possible.

In this particular case, the cotton is in good condition overall and the damage is localised. Therefore, I decided that a patched support was the best way to prevent further splitting. This means providing the damaged area with a new backing and securing it with a few lines of stitching evenly spaced, called laid couching.

Hunting for materials

Finding the right material to use is not that straightforward. For the petticoat, I needed to find a backing that would move in the same way as the original with temperature and humidity fluctuations, but lightweight enough not to be seen through the very fine cotton! After much hunting, I found this selection of fabrics, which includes a cotton voile for the backing, stitched with a silk monofilament thread for the bodice and the lace; and a cotton organdie stitched with a fine Egyptian cotton thread on the skirt.

All of the materials were dyed to match the original using colourfast synthetic dyes. If you want to find out more about how we prepare materials for conservation you can see my colleague Eveliina in the video in one of our previous posts.

Creative or not?

I am often asked if I enjoy stitching and whether I think my job is creative. I will leave this for you to judge, but I think of stitching as the way to stabilise the textile (and I do enjoy being very precise in doing that). Sometimes I think of myself as a doctor that has just carried out an operation on a very old patient!

The conservation team conserves the fragile lace of Queen Victoria's Petticoat using fine cotton thread dyed in house by the conservation technician to colour match the original. Queen Victoria's Petticoat is a cream lawn petticoat made of fine cotton and worn by young Queen Victoria (creation date 1830-1845). This footage is included in the Queen Victoria's Petticoat Blog.

Image: Fine stitching on the lace to stabilise it © Historic Royal Palaces

In our next blog post: the petticoat is ready to go to the store until it is needed for display.  Find out more about how we pack and store the objects in our Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection.

By Viola Nicastro
Textile Conservator

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