Paisley Museum weaves new chapter in textile history

Paisley’s rich textile history is being brought back to life, as part of a pioneering partnership which is helping the next generation of conservators to make their mark on Scotland’s biggest cultural heritage project. As part of the £45 million refurbishment of Paisley Museum, textile conservation students at the University of Glasgow, have conserved items of clothing dating from the 1830s through to the early 20th century. They include a children’s dress and bonnet, as well as a crinoline ‘cage’ skirt and even a knitted woollen water polo uniform.

UK’s only textile conservation programme

The University is home to the UK’s only textile conservation programme and, as a global leader, attracts students from across the world. The partnership with OneRen, the charity which is leading the refurbishment of Paisley Museum, provided a unique opportunity for students to work on objects which will go on display, rather than back into museum stores. The textiles, in many cases, were dirty, laden with decades of industrial dirt and soot and required delicate, painstaking work to transform them. The results have been phenomenal, with marked differences in before and after photos. However, the work of a textile conservator is not about making objects look as good as new.

The team helped conserve 13 objects in total, with more being worked on this academic year. One of the more unusual pieces conserved is a knitted swimsuit from the early 20th century that belonged to a member of the Irish International water polo team. It was exchanged with William G Peacock, an Olympic water polo player who trained at Paisley’s Corporations Baths in Storie Street.

Scotland’s largest cultural heritage project

Sean Kelly, Collections and Conservation Manager at OneRen, said: “The work done by the students and the team at the University of Glasgow has been exceptional, helping to bring these incredible objects back to life. This has been a fantastic partnership, bringing benefits for both the conservation and care of these textiles and for the next generation of conservators. Of course, what’s even more exciting is that these items will soon be on public display at the refurbished Paisley Museum, where everyone can see for themselves the students’ outstanding work. The refurbishment of Paisley Museum is Scotland’s largest cultural heritage project, creating a world-class attraction with community and partnership at its core. I want to extend my thanks to the team at the University of Glasgow for their continued support and their part in making the new museum a reality.”

Paisley Museum & Art Gallery in Scotland is set to reopen in 2025 with a new public courtyard, a 26% increase in gallery space, hundreds more objects on display and new learning, community-making and social spaces.

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