Photographing Calke's textile collection

Textile conservation at National Trust Calke Abbey in Derbyshire

Behind closed doors at Calke Abbey, there are many store rooms crammed with collection items. One such room is the Textile Store, which is piled high with boxes containing various costume garments and soft furnishings, from girl’s sailor dresses and kimonos, to needlework samplers and even a velvet stuffed dog. This year, the textiles collection is getting some special attention from the conservation team. 

Taking stock of what we’ve got

You might be familiar with parts of Calke’s collection – the natural history collection is one of the largest and most visible collections in the house – but there’s much more to look after at Calke, including a large amount of textiles kept in the Textile Store.

This year, the conservation team are embarking on a project to photograph every item in the textile collection. These photos will be added to our cataloguing records, which will help us to identify objects more easily for future inventory checks, and also allows us to accurately record the condition of items. 

As part of the cataloguing process, all of the items in the house are assigned their own unique inventory number – for textiles, this is a tab of material with the number on, which is stitched or tied into place. Every year the team check each room on the visitor route to ensure that the collection matches the catalogue. In store rooms like the Textile Store, this task is completed every five years.

This 18th century coat once belonged to Sir Henry
Textile collection at National Trust Calke Abbey in Derbyshire
This 18th century coat once belonged to Sir Henry

Conserving the textile collection

Photographing the collection gives us a great opportunity to do some other important housekeeping tasks, like checking the condition of the textiles, some of which might not have been seen for many years!

We’ll be on the lookout for pests such as carpet beetle, their larvae (woolly bears) and moths, which can cause untold damage to textile collections. We’ll also be keeping an eye out for mould and dust, which can solidify into a cement-like substance if left long enough. Fortunately, the conservation team can treat these in-house, and refer any potential bigger issues to specialist conservators.

Once these items have been opened, checked, cleaned, marked for inventory and photographed, we will repackage them and return to the store room. We’ll do this avoiding making any sharp folds, and pad everything out with acid-free tissue. 

Come back to this page to find out how we’re getting on – we’ll be sharing updates on our project timeline as we progress with the work.