Each year the Powerhouse Museum’s Regional Services Program offers a Movable Heritage Fellowship to students residing in New South Wales enrolled at any University campus. Movable Heritage refers to any natural or manufactured object of heritage significance. The successful applicant undertakes a research project as part of the Fellowship on one or more objects in a community museum, historical society or other collecting institution. They are awarded $5,000 and also spend one week at the Powerhouse Museum receiving expert guidance by a supervising member of staff.
The winner of the 2012 Movable Heritage Fellowship was Rosie Strange. In this post, Rosie shares with us the nature of her costume research project and the experiences she has gained working with Lindie Ward, textile and lace curator at the Museum.
Rosie Strange carried out detailed documentation of a collection housed in Boorowa Museum, NSW. This has been invaluable for creating a broader community context for historic garments in small collections.
Rosie decsribes her experience:
Hamilton Hume, the explorer, lived in Cooma Cottage Yass but a few of his nephews and their descendants were graziers who owned properties in the Boorowa District.
The gowns used in my research are dated between 1903 and 1905 and originally came from the Frederick and Amelia Hume family line that lived at the nearby property named Tarengo.
The collection has been in the care of the Boorowa Museum since 1975 and the aims of my project included the following:
• to gain an insight into the components and construction techniques that encompassed gowns dating to the early Edwardian era
• to record the measurements of the clothing
• to record the trims and fasteners
• to note if there were any differences in garments for seasonal changes
• to identify if there were any consumer patterns and if there were any rural and urban differences.
• to fully document the garments and assess them for significance and for the long term care and conservation.
I had a fantastic opportunity to closely examine all of the components of the gowns and to document each aspect in great detail. It also gave me an understanding of the materials used and how clothing was constructed at the turn of the century. Furthermore, the very high quality in the skill and practical techniques employed by the seamstresses also became apparent. The analysis also identified modifications that were not original features as once thought.
By using the template provided online, each gown has been measured according to the standards set out in the Australian Dress Register (ADR) processes. As I am particularly interested in clothing construction and their fasteners, I sketched each garment noting where the trims and fasteners were located and any specific fashion or construction features. I have noted detailed measurements of the fasteners, these were primarily hooks and eyes, and noted the precise location of each of the fasteners on the garment.
The trims were also documented in detail, noting where they were placed, measured and the varieties used. Where possible each garment has been photographed on a mannequin, although a few of the garments are extremely fragile and could only be photographed flat on a table. To assist with being able to make valid comparisons between socio economic factors and regional differences, I examined photographs and fashion books to compare and contrast the fashion of the day from Australia, England and America.
As the 1970s object documentation on the collection was limited, the research also confirmed ownership with the Hume family and in three cases down to the individuals who wore/owned the garments. By assessing the garments, I had the evidence for assessing significance and the supporting documentation required to apply for a NSW Galleries VIM Small Grant to purchase a set of custom made costume drawers to house the wedding gown, going away gown and two bridesmaid’s gowns from this collection. The success of the grant application is invaluable for the museum as it will enable the gowns to be housed in a safe environment but still remain accessible for public viewing. In addition to the costume drawer, I can now develop more comprehensive labels for the gowns when on exhibition.
Apart from the benefits to the museum, the fellowship assisted me with my studies at university. The information I had recorded at the time became the basis for the exhibition proposal that I developed for the museum curating course I completed in Semester 1 of 2012. The opportunity to undertake research on a museum collection was not only pivotal to the development of my honours proposal but it will also assist me my honours research. On a final note, I have really enjoyed the opportunity to pursue my research on the clothing. The gowns are not only truly beautiful but I have gained a new admiration for the skill and technical ability of the seamstresses who constructed the gowns over a hundred years ago. ”
The documentation has been added to the Australian Dress Register which has as its aim to gather the whole spectrum of information about what people wore from close detail to broad community history. This information can lead to new insites on the history of a garment. In the Boorowa examples, inspection of style and construction reveals the same dressmaker made several of the garments. Even though these garments are extremely fragile, and could not be displayed other than horizontally, the information gleaned can be extremely valuable and lead to a broader understanding of the family’s financial status and role in the town of Boorowa.
Rosie Strange recently graduated with a Bachelor of Archaeological Practice at the Australian National University, Canberra.