Curtain Storage: Phase 2

Phase 2 involved actually clearing out Curtain Storage II. The days that I worked on this part of the project, I joined a team composed of interns and staff members from registration and textile conservation. We needed as many hands as possible to fold up the curtains, because they were so large (and some were quite delicate).

First, textile conservation took down a tester curtain and took it back to their lab to figure out the best kinds of supports to make for the rest of the curtains, and approximate how many boxes we would need to make (and order) for the rest of the room. Before the folding could start, I helped make countless “snakes” from batting and stockinette, which we then inserted every time the fabric folded or pleated so that sharp creases would not form and lead to rips.

Curtain storage emptying out- you can see the copper frames here that used to hold curtains.
Curtain storage emptying out- you can see the copper frames here that used to hold curtains.

With multiple teams folding, making boxes, and stuffing snakes, the storage rooms were a whirlwind of paper and fabric. One of the most fun and challenging hangings that I helped pack had a curved arch of fabric with curtains hanging from each side, like a very fancy children’s puppet theater. Ultimately the hanging required 8 fabric snakes, one supporting each gather in the fabric!

The bed hanging in question: It looked like a puppet theater hanging up, and a little bit like a Disney prince's cloak folded up in the box! You can see all 8 snakes poking out from the folds at the edge of the fabric.
The bed hanging in question: It looked like a puppet theater hanging up, and a little bit like a Disney prince’s cloak folded up in the box! You can see all 8 snakes poking out from the folds at the edge of the fabric.

Curtain valences also lined the walls of Curtain Storage II, and needed removal. Almost all of them went into Curtain Storage I, where the walls now bristle with every style of curtain valence imaginable. Helping remove them from the walls and re-install them next door was slightly difficult, however, because Winterthur uses a lot of what seem to be old DIY snap tape. A piece of ribbon with snaps sewn into it at slightly irregular intervals kept many of the valences attached to the walls, and metal snaps had been sewn into many of the valences as well (this was many decades ago, and not very good for the fabric!). Unfortunately, this meant that when we tried to match up the snaps on the wall and the snaps on the valences, they didn’t always line up. Attempting to find an arrangement that put minimal stress on the valence while also keeping it on the wall was sometimes quite a challenge.

Finally, though, it was “curtains for curtains,” as one of the textile interns joked. It turns out that you start coming up with lots of bad curtain-related puns when that is all you have been thinking about for 8 hours. In all seriousness, though, it was a huge undertaking to empty Curtain Storage II, and I really enjoyed getting the chance to work with and learn from the textile conservators. While the curtain storage project continued after “phase 2,” the next part of the project involved contractors who came in to prepare the room for shelving and to actually install the shelving. I was not involved with either of these stages.