Wistariahurst is a grand yet charming mansion of the prominent silk manufacturer, William Skinner and his family. The house was built in 1874 and owned continually by the Skinner family until in 1959, when the heirs donated Wistariahurst to the City of Holyoke for cultural and educational purposes. Now it is a beautifully maintained museum, dedicated to the preservation of the local history and it’s artifacts. It houses extensive collections of decorative arts; paintings and prints, textiles and manuscripts of family and local papers.
But what the public doesn’t normally see would be a real treat for the archival enthusiast’s eye. The back rooms are filled with neat rows of archivally safe boxes (for the most part – manufactured right here, next door, at the University Products plant in Holyoke, MA) in different sizes and configurations. From huge textile boxes to convenient document cases, all meticulously and creatively labeled. The large textile collection is carefully preserved with convenient and versatile coverings, designed and produced by devoted museum volunteer Gloria Carver. We are very grateful to her for the delightful story she wrote for us:
I had been a Wistariahurst volunteer for a number of years before Penni Martorell began working on housing the museum’s textile collection in the new Carriage House at Wistariahurst. Many of their costumes were stored in boxes, but quite a few were left on hangers and needed to have some sort of covering to keep away the inevitable layer of dust. Knowing my interest in textiles, Penni asked if I’d like to research the best method to cover this portion of the collection. It wasn’t long before I found a pattern for a garment cover on a government site of archival textile storage. I love to sew and I was ready to go to work!
What could be easier than to whip up a basic cover like a cleaner’s plastic bag only in cotton? Armed with the drawing of the pattern, I made a full-sized pattern and began waiting for sales of muslin at the local fabric store. For the first group of covers, the museum purchased two bolts of fabric and I began sewing my contribution to Wistariahurst. We realized that the covers would have to have easy access to the costume, which meant one side would be open and the other closed. This also meant that we needed to have some kind of inexpensive closure for this open side. Finally I would be able to put my horde of white bias tape to good use! The last piece of work was to adhere a plastic backed pocket/label on the left front and then sew this label on to ensure its staying power. Inside the clear pocket goes a photo of the costume inside the garment bag. Now all it takes is a quick look at the photo to find a desired costume, which is securely protected from dust and soil. I estimate that it takes about three hours to make one cover.
These first twenty or so came out so well that I volunteered to make another batch. The only difference was that I had run out of white bias tape for the ties and had to resort to using my collection of various colors! Now when you look at the row of formal looking white covered garments in the textile archives, you’ll see a bright assortment of pink, blue, yellow, green, etc. colored ties to spark up the the proper row of costumes waiting for another special exhibit.
Story by Gloria Carver, Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke, MA