Some of you know that I had managed to get an appointment at the Clothworker's Centre at Blythe House in Kensington, London. Blythe house is the location where the Victoria and Albert Museum keeps its over 100,000 pieces of textiles, and garments, currently in their collection, when items are not on display, or on loan to other facilities. Its also where new items get taken through the conservation process, cataloged, photographed, and stored.
Located in a quiet section of Kensington, Blythe house itself is a vast Victorian building, initially built to house a Postal facility. Now its home not only to the textile collection but also to the V&A's collection of furniture.
Shortly, a young woman came to me, and introduced herself as Sarah. She would be working with me during my appointment time. She took me to a lift, and up we went to the 3rd floor; where the bulk of the collection is kept. She guided me to a large room, about 20 by 40 feet in size, with a number of long tables, each covered in white tyvek. And on each one of these tables, laying before me like treasures, were the objects (as they are referred to in museum parlance) I had requested to see.
Sarah and I had already struck up conversation, and when she found out that I had been at this study for as long as I had, she brightened, since she has a museum background, but not a clothing and textile one, so she hoped to learn from me, as much as I hoped to learn myself. That was an unexpected, and marvelous addition to the whole experience.
The first object was a mantua dated from 174-45. This astonishing piece had clearly been kept away from light over its long 275 year life. The silk material was still quite sturdy, according to Sarah, and the extensive silk embroideries were as brilliant as the day they had been sewn. Sarah gave me a large square piece of perspex, and a jeweler's loupe, so that I could look closely at any part of the mantua without touching it.
Tomorrow, I will continue this story, moving on to other items I saw. But suffice it that I was already utterly gobsmacked by what I was experiencing, and now, nearly two weeks later, I'm still in awe.