Katrina O’Brien, Report from Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service

Katrina O’Brien, 29 September 2010, Report from Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service



I am a Fashion and Textile Design student in Colchester Institute, when I initially entered the course I wanted to do Fashion design, but as the years progressed I wanted to do Costume design. However this was not possible on the course, I have now decided to specialize in Bridal Wear. My main inspiration is still historically based, I have always been fascinated with the past and it has always been a strong influence. Books could not teach me all I wanted to know about historical garments so I decided I needed to get hands on experience and do work experience in a garment collection in a museum. By receiving the Costume Society Museum Placement Award I was able to develop skills and my knowledge.  I worked part time on the costume collection at Colchester and Ipswich between July and September 2010. I also assisted with the preparation and installation of a small exhibition of hats in Hollytrees Museum.

The collection of hats used to be stored in an 18th century building attic and had been moved in 2008 to a new location. The 120 women’s hats and bonnets in the collection were not boxed properly and the documentation for each item was incomplete. 

With help from other volunteers, the curatorial assistant and curator, I organised the hats into chronological order, photographed and repacked them, while I did this either the curatorial assistant or the curator, typed up the missing information on the computer for each item. Then on the Thursday I processed each image I took on Monday using Photoshop. Using the documentation images of hats and other items of costume, I then added them to the museum catalogue using Modes. This was done so that each photo accurately and clearly represented the object.

When repacking the hats I quickly learnt that there was a way of handling them. I had to be very careful as some of them were damaged due to improper storage, pest damage or age. Each item had to be individually assessed when they were being repacked, not all hats could be repacked in the same way. 

At the end of project I had the opportunity to help with the exhibition Straw: Bonnets to Boaters. I took photos of the objects going into the exhibition, and processed them on Photoshop. I also painted panels and installed the objects. The exhibition opened in Hollytrees Museum on the 25 September.

I have learnt a tremendous amount from this experience, I have been inspired for my final year collection for my degree show, and I can now fully appreciate all of the work that goes into preserving the past. I enjoyed this placement so much; I have asked if I can continue my volunteering. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity.

Katrina O’Brien

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