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Bringing our uniform collection back to life

23 May 2022

In February, we posted a blog on our large ongoing project about caring for historical naval uniforms. Since then, a lot has been happening to the project. For Volunteers’ Week 2022 (1-7th of June), we are taking the opportunity to pay homage to the incredible volunteers who have taken on the project under supervision from the Collections Team.

The aim of the project is to give new life to our uniform collection and to finally make it available for the public to see on our website.

Conserving the uniforms

The first step towards digitising our uniform collection is to clean and stabilise all uniforms before cataloguing and packing them for rehousing. Our Conservation Volunteer, university student Dystance, works in our conservation laboratory alongside our Conservator to conserve all uniforms between their old storage locations to our temporary textile storage location. Dystance uses scientific methods to understand and decide on appropriate methods to clean a range of uniform objects, such as jackets, trousers, shoes, and hats.

I am a Conservation Volunteer at The Historic Dockyard Chatham, and I have learnt so much from everyone that I have talked with. I chose to volunteer in this department because I enjoy learning the history of old/antique objects, and it was also important for me to have Laboratory experience; especially because of the degree that I am studying.

At the moment, I am helping to preserve Uniforms from a plethora of different time periods. Being mindful of what methods I use for different items, to prevent causing serious and permanent damage, as well as cataloguing each piece and inputting them into the database.

Having this opportunity has introduced me to a wide range of new things that I wouldn’t know from a degree. Everything and everyone here has a story to tell and I am enjoying learning about it all, from the Collections Team, other Volunteers, and also the Dockyard itself!”

In addition to carrying out conservation treatments, Dystance fills out conservation reports to ensure we will always keep records of the treatment history for the uniforms. After Dystance completes cleaning and stabilising the uniforms in the conservation laboratory, she brings them up to the temporary textile store for the next set of volunteers to continue the work.

Cataloguing and Collections Care

Chatham Dockyard Historical Society volunteers Jackie and Brenda are working on listing and packing all of the uniforms for storage. This step is particularly important as it is essential that we conduct a regular inventory of each collection held in the museum so we know what we own so we can use the objects in future exhibitions.

The museum number of each object is noted down along with any noticeable damage – such as historic staining or frayed stitching- which is photographed and recorded in a condition report. The uniforms are quite robust compared to the rest of the collection, but the volunteers always take care to handle them gently and with appropriate PPE.

Once this is completed, Brenda and Jackie prepare the uniforms for storage. Jackets are hung on a plastic hanger wrapped with acid-free tissue and a Tyvek cover to support their padded shoulders, before they are zipped in a Tyvek uniform protective cover. These covers prevent pests, such as moths, from nibbling on the jackets and stop light and dust damage. Trousers, shoes, and hats are packed snugly in acid-free tissue in boxes.

Research

Bernard and George, two of our researcher volunteers, investigate the provenance of the uniforms. Most of them are 20th Century and were in use during the First and Second World War. George and Bernard’s work is aimed at improving the interpretation of the collection and deepening our understanding of their historical significance. The results of their research will be added to the collections database ready for the uniform collection’s online debut.

Documentation

The next step of this project is to start digitising the collection. The digitised collection will be made available for the public on our website. Our photography and documentation volunteer Ian has been appointed to photograph the collection with help from the other volunteers.

 

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