Reflecting on Highland Threads

Catriona Davidson, curator at Glencoe Folk Museum, writes about being part of the Museums and Heritage Highland Network and getting involved in the Highland Threads Exhibition.

Being part of Museums and Heritage Highland has been fantastic for Glencoe Folk Museum. As a small museum with only one full-time member of staff (myself, though the past couple of years we have employed a Redevelopment Manager), having access to the resources, expertise and advise of staff across a range of Highland museums has been invaluable. 

Highland Threads is a great example of how MHH has helped smaller museums. We chose to put forward our 18th Century Spitalfields Silks dress for the exhibition, partly because it is the most beautiful item of costume in our collection and partly because it required more work than can be done with just one member of staff. The dress has been on an inappropriate and unsuitable mannequin for years: it was the wrong shape for the style and was putting strain on the already damaged silk. Previous attempts to remove or improve the dress led us to the conclusion that once it was removed from its current mannequin it would not be going back on, and we didn’t want to handle the fragile material more than once. That meant that before we did anything we needed a suitable replacement mannequin, the assistance of a conservator to direct us in how to handle the dress and to make a condition assessment while it was loose, the input of someone who could tell us how the dress would have been worn so that we could fashion the mannequin appropriately, plus funding for all of the above! So, when Highland Threads came along, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to achieve something that we had been working towards for years, while also getting to contribute to a fantastic collaborative project. 

Another unexpected bonus for us was that we discovered more about the history of our dress. This dress has very little provenance other than that the silk was woven probably in Spitalfields in 1740, and it was being used as a dressing up costume (and was put in the washing machine!) before being donated to the museum in the 1970s. However when MHH took on the services of Rebecca Olds, a Dress Historian with particular expertise in 18th Century costume, she was able to read the history of the dress in its stitches, tucks and threads, painting a detailed picture of a well-loved gown that was passed down through different generations and fashions. It is so much more than we ever expected when we joined this project, and certainly much more than we would have likely achieved by ourselves.   

Seeing our dress up on the website alongside beautiful, intricate and fascinating items from other museums makes us really feel like part of a Highland museum community, and we’re so grateful to MHH for creating opportunities like this for small museums. 

You can visit www.highlandthreads.co.uk to see the full exhibition and support Highland Museums.

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