Royal Danish Collections
Working with costumes in museums means learning how to move them safely. Clothes in museums move a lot because they must be taken out of storage for photography, handled for conservation or exhibition, turned inside out for analyses or pattern-taking, or packed for out going loans. Luckily, they are not at great risk of breaking to pieces like a glass or cup, but tiny fibers always break when ageing fabrics are moved, jolted, abraded, bounced or compressed. There is always the risk of damage to the weakest fibers that, accumulated over time, will ruin the appearance, strength and useful life of the object.
Costume and accessories need to be packed for moving so they are protected from the elements and from soiling. They should be well supported and not risk damage by vibrations, crushing, or abrasion. Small objects can be packed together in the same boxes, if appropriately wrapped individually and separate from the others. Oddly-shaped objects can be supported by custom-made supports cut out of Ethafoam, which then is placed in a sturdy box. It is important to avoid contamination from surroundings and other objects when museum objects are being moved. Sometimes the mounting which objects have for storage are also appropriate for support during transportation and exhibition.
Factors to remember in moving costume:
- risks and dangers
- choice of safe packing materials
- moving packed pieces
- reminder about health and safety issues
- use of mechanical aids for moving and lifting
- how to move dressed mannequins
- links with useful information
Risks/dangers of transportation: museum objects need to be protected just as well during transportation as they are while in the museum. This requires careful planning and training in how best to pack costume for the journey involved. Textile conservators have a much better idea of the weaknesses of each costume than even the good staff of reputable art movers, who know most about packing and moving valuable paintings. Risk of damage to objects in transit should be included in the museum’s disaster preparedness plan.
Learn from colleagues, conservators and professional movers about suitable and safe packing materials, crates, how to pack various kinds of costume, how to control and document climate inside crates during transit. Useful materials include bubble wrap in various sizes (never wrap directly on costume), Tyvek, tissue paper in sheets and rolls, glassine paper for surface protection and interleafing, foam plastic sheets, Ethafoam planks, wood for crates and supports, and plenty of washed, undyed muslin for wrapping, dustcovers and to put on the floor to ensure a clean space for unpacking.
Remember to make condition reports before and after transportation, including photographs, although these can be intimidatingly complicated with such large and complex objects as costume. The best insurance for a costume in transit is to have an experienced curator or conservator who is familiar with the object as courier.
Moving packed pieces
When moving costume, pack it well even for short distances. Don't carry it in your arms or unprotected on a hanger. Use boxes, on a tray or trolley, if possible. Longer distances can be covered by car/truck. When flying, the costume should be packed in solid crates and with the assistance of reputable fine art movers. A crate, and its contents, should survive being dropped from 1 meter without damage. Professional art movers also arrange for screening, customs and cargo brokers; remember there are international conventions about protected species and materials, which means that some furs, ivory, tortoiseshell, snakeskin, feathers and other materials may require certificates. There may also be international trade embargoes forbidding the movements even of historical items if they are from countries which are on a political embargo list.
Insurance is necessary when objects are traveling on loan. "Nail to nail" is the usual description of this kind of insurance, which means the art work is covered from its being taken off the wall in one gallery to the time it's hung in the destination gallery. Example of loan conditions at the National Gallery of Denmark: loaning artworks: (loan documents: facility report, condition of loans, and transport requirements) at http://www.smk.dk/en/about-smk/loaning
Health/safety measures differ from country to country, but make sure you know what is current. They usually describe correct lifting techniques, mechanical aids, safety gear like work gloves, goggles and steel-toed shoes, using handles and straps to carry heavy or awkward objects, and of course, making sure there are enough hands to help.
Moving costume indoors means using trolleys, creepers, pallets and forklifts. Learn what kinds of mechanized aids you can use in your buildings. Acquire them and use them, for the safety of your collection and for your own health and safety.
Dressed mannequins require thoughtful lifting, carrying, and driving, as you must consider the safety of the museum object as well as the work that has gone into mounting it on a mannequin. Proper support is necessary - sometimes the garment can be supported from the underside as well as being covered with protective layers on the outside. Sometimes clamping the mannequin to a pallet or inside a purpose-built box open on one whole side can be the best solution.
Unpacking costume is as sensitive a task as packing. Ideally it should be the same person, but otherwise it is a good idea to photograph the object during the course of packing, so that the person who is unpacking knows what to expect, and in which order to unpack. It is also necessary in the case of outloans, to ensure that the costume is repacked in the same way, to fit back into the original packing cases without damage.
Couriers: training, responsibility, liability, contracts. Guidelines for museum couriers from International Exhibition Organizers, 2009
Emergencies: disaster planning and response. ICOM Guidelines from “Museum Security and Protection, ICMS and from Heritage Collections Council and Blue Shield in Australia: “Guidelines for small museums for writing a disaster preparedness plan”
Example of loan conditions at the National Gallery of Denmark: loaning artworks: (loan documents: facility report, condition of loans, and transport requirements) at http://www.smk.dk/en/about-smk/loaning
Six Steps to Safe Shipment, The Canadian Conservation Institute [http://www.cci-icc.gc.ca/caringfor-prendresoindes/articles/sixsteps-sixetapes/index-eng.aspx]