Queen Victoria’s Petticoat takes a bath

In our previous post we learned about the condition of Queen Victoria’s petticoat. Today I want to focus on the yellow look of the cotton and the staining.

Dilemma: to clean or not to clean?

Dirt and stains are one of the conservator’s worst enemies. They are challenging to get rid of and there is often an ethical dilemma to consider.

Dirt aesthetically disfigures an object and also contributes to the deterioration of the fibres over time. Wet cleaning is often a good solution to solubilise and remove the dirt. However the textile needs to be strong enough to undertake this process and sometimes an object consists of several different materials, with each part reacting in a different way when immersed.

You might remember from the first post that the petticoat had a lovely hand written label attached to the back of the bodice. Our curator Claudia and I discussed what to do with this and we came to the conclusion that as the petticoat was in physically sound condition, we needed to wet-clean it for the long-term chemical stability and removal of dirt. Consequently, we had to remove the label as we didn’t want to damage it whilst in contact with water. This procedure has been documented and the label is now carefully packed and preserved as part of the history of the object.

How did we go about doing this?

Queen Victoria’s petticoat is 180 years old and we have to be really careful as it can’t be put in a washing machine!

Choosing the right detergent and procedure involves a lot of preliminary research and testing, as every object is different. After initial assessment, I decided to work on the staining before immersion as I wanted to reduce the amount of time the petticoat was in the water.  Testing demonstrated that the chelating agent triammonium citrate combined with anionic detergent Orvus WA paste was the most effective, so here you can see a picture of me applying the mixture with a cotton swab, rolling it gently on the surface and rinsing it.

After the staining was reduced, my colleagues Beatrice, Eveliina and I were finally ready to wet clean the petticoat in the custom-made bath we have in our studio at Hampton Court Palace.  Watch the video below to see how we did it and don’t miss out the end, where you can really see what a difference this makes!

By Viola Nicastro, Textile Conservator

All images are ©Historic Royal Palaces

In our next blog post: holes and tears gets conserved. Find out how to choose the best materials and techniques to use.

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