Bridesmaid – Eileen Amy Brock

If you thought we were only preparing bridal gowns for the upcoming Wedding Dresses 1775- 2014 exhibition – think again! The exhibition also features several grooms’ outfits, and even a few outfits worn by bridesmaids and page boys.

The first of these to undergo treatment was a dress and hat ensemble worn by Eileen Amy Brock, aged 9, who was one of the bridesmaids at the marriage of her cousin Mabel Fraser-Spooner to Raymond Thackery, in 1924.

Eileen Amy Brock, pictured kneeling at the front, aged 9. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Both the dress and the hat are normally housed within the collection at the Museum of Childhood, but they have both been brought to main V&A site to undergo conservation. Frances Hartog, one of our Senior Conservators has just finished carrying out the treatment on the hat.

This little hat is made from narrow strips of rayon crin, short for crinoline, which have been stitched together in a spiral. To determine the material of the hat, Frances had a small sample analysed in our Science Conservation Studio. The reason for the testing was that in 1924, rayon, which is a semi-synthetic fibre, was still a relatively new material, and Frances was intrigued to find it used for a hat. Nowadays, crin in made from Nylon, which was not used commercially until the late 1930s. Had the hat been made from Nylon, its 1924 date would have been questionable.

Front view of the hat before conservation. Museum no. Misc. 144A-1986. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Side view of the hat before conservation. Museum no. Misc. 144A-1986. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The previous two images show the object before of conservation, and it is clear to see how the hat was looking rather crushed and floppy when we assessed it. It also had several visible holes with loose threads hanging down in a messy tangle.

Detail of the holes in the brim. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Taking a closer look at the brim, the holes are even more evident, as is the broken edging thread.

Detail of the holes after conservation. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

After conservation however; which involved supporting the holes with a black net and adding a new thread to define the rim, the holes are far less visible.

Front view of the hat after conservation. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Looking at the same views of the object after the conservation treatment, the hat is in much better shape. The holes have been supported and the stitching renewed where necessary, and there is also a fairly obvious addition to the hat in the shape of the flower!

Side view of the hat after conservation. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The flower however is not a part of the original object, as the flower was not accessioned with the ensemble. Having looked at the photograph of the bridal party, both the Conservator and the Curator felt that the hat didn’t resemble the image closely enough, and that for the sake of interpretation a replica could be added to ensure visitors could see the hat in the correct context and style. Luckily, a suitable replica was found among many silk flowers we have in our unregistered collection.

When it comes to using replicas in this manner, our aim is always to improve the understanding of the object and never to deceive the viewer. As such, all replicas are listed on the object labels throughout any exhibition.

I hope you’ll agree that although the flower is not original, it does vastly improve both the overall look and impact of the hat.