The V&A’s Textile Conservation Department is one of the leaders in its field anywhere in the world and they now have suitably world-class facilities for the care, study and enjoyment of their outstanding collection. The new centre at Blythe House brings the V&A’s extensive textiles and fashion collection together under one roof for the first time, along with a spacious new public study room, seminar room, upgraded conservation studios and modern, custom-built storage offering visitors and researchers increased access and improved facilities to study and enjoy this important collection. Edwina Ehrman, lead curator for the Clothworkers’ Centre tells us more.
The V&A opened The Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion on 8 October in order to provide the best possible access to the Museum’s outstanding collection of textiles and fashion in a relaxed and peaceful environment. Its establishment reflects the Museum’s longstanding commitment to collecting, caring for and researching textiles and fashion, and to making the collection available physically to the widest possible audience.
Previously the collection was stored in seven different locations across three floors at the V&A in South Kensington and at Blythe House. It was possible to view objects by appointment but most of the available spaces were cramped, ill-lit and had inadequate table space. The new Clothworkers’ Centre forms part of the V&A’s ambitious FuturePlan and releases space previously used as storage at South Kensington for public galleries.
In 1979 Blythe House was acquired by the Government with the intention that it be used to store the reserve collections of the national museums and galleries. It is still used by the V&A, British Museum and Science Museum for this purpose. The building is arranged over four floors with the museums sharing the whole space and storage in the grounds of the building.
We moved the textiles and fashion collection to Blythe House as it offered the space we needed to create a study and seminar room and storage for the whole collection. The project also offered the museum an opportunity to upgrade the existing conservation studios at Blythe House and to rationalise textiles conservation, whose activities are now divided between Blythe House and South Kensington.
The original grand entrance of Blythe House has also been reopened to create a more welcoming street presence for all the V&A’s visitors studying the museum’s reference collections at Blythe House.
The Clothworkers’ Centre is designed for the many researchers, practitioners, designers, students and members of the public who need to study textiles and fashion at first hand. The study room is designed to accommodate individual visitors and small groups of up to three people, and there is an adjoining seminar room which can accommodate groups of up to 18 people. Both rooms are spacious, bright and well-equipped for study and research. Appointments must be booked in advance to ensure that we have the appropriate table space available.
The modular storage system was custom-built by Rackline Ltd. to ensure the long-term preservation of the collection. It includes storage on mobile bases for 1,280 large rolled textiles from 1.5 to 5 metres long, with a similar quantity of static storage for smaller rolled textiles and wall-mounted storage for 6m long rolled textiles; 500 linear metres of storage for hanging garments and approximately the same quantity of shelving; and about 7,000 drawers in six different sizes. The drawers are 95% retractable. Three dimensional objects which require static storage are housed in conventional cupboards.
The storage was designed in close collaboration with the V&A to ensure it met the complex needs of the museum’s wide-ranging collection and was easily accessible to staff. To ensure that the custom-built storage matched the needs of the collection I was tasked with co-ordinating an audit of over 104,000 objects to determine what type of storage they would require. This involved weighing as well as measuring samples of the collection to enable us to meet the loading constraints at Blythe House. It was also important to assess the likely areas of expansion and to include the appropriate volume and storage types in the final calculations.
In the first eight weeks 621 people visited the Centre. These include individuals and groups studying objects and people who joined a tour. Almost 1,000 objects have been shown to visitors in a close study setting.
Textiles and fashion continue to be displayed in temporary exhibitions and in permanent galleries at the V&A, but The Clothworkers’ Centre has been designed to create a relaxing and peaceful environment where textiles and fashion can be studied, researched and enjoyed at first hand. Visitors who are interested in the Centre but do not have a particular line of research can visit by booking onto a guided tour. The Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion has been made possible thanks to the generosity of The Clothworkers’ Foundation; the Pauline Johnstone Bequest; the Penelope Crutchfield Bequest; the Diana Jefferson Bequest; Mr Jorge Yarur Bascuñán; the Patricia Baines Trust; the American Friends of the V&A; Coats Plc; The Coats Foundation Trust; The Staples Trust; The Zochonis Charitable Trust; the Basil Samuel Charitable Trust; a gift in memory of Raymond M Burton CBE; the Coral Samuel Charitable Trust; the Ruth Covo Family Foundation; and many other donors.
Haworth Tompkins Architects – have designed the Centre within the Grade II listed Edwardian building, maintaining and enhancing the industrial feel of the internal architecture by reinstating original features, while inserting contemporary interventions to form new spaces.
Rackline Ltd (storage)
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