October 2013 marks the opening of the V&A’s Clothworkers' Centre, a place in west London especially for those wishing to study the V&A’s textiles and clothing – a collection that spans 3,000 years, and ranges from fragments to very large examples. Here, those who have overseen the Clothworker’s Centre provide an insight into the collection and the recently renovated building.
Edwina Ehrman, Lead Curator, Clothworkers’ Centre
The Clothworkers’ Centre is for the enjoyment and the study and the care of the V&A’s wonderful textile and fashion collections – which are quite outstanding. The Centre is for everybody who is interested in studying and researching textiles and fashion. It is principally for people who want to study objects at first-hand.
We have around 104,000 objects, or parts of objects, and these range from tiny fragments of Egyptian textiles to very heavy and big tapestries and carpets. From accessories and underwear to fantastically beautiful embroidered 18th century court dresses and to some really, really remarkable and innovative contemporary work.
Susan North, Curator, 17th and 18th Century Textiles and Fashion
The idea of the V&A started after the Great Exhibition in 1851, which was to celebrate the contemporary manufacturers of England and all countries around the world. At that time, of course, the industries of textile production were very important and so a number of significant prize-winning contributions to the exhibition were textiles and these were acquired to be part of a collection.
They also started looking at the history of textile production and started acquiring examples from as early as they could. We’ve been acquiring textiles from the very early days.
Helen Persson, Curator, Asian Department
The Asian Department consists of three sections; the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia and East Asia. So, we cover a wide range - from Islamic Spain all the way to Japan. The earliest pieces we have in the Asian collection date from about 50 BCE and they come from Northwest China and the latest or the newest ones are contemporary textiles.
Oriole Cullen, Acting Senior Curator, Textiles and Fashion
The contemporary textile and fashion collection is comprised of items that really date from the past twenty years or so. Obviously we’ve been continuously collecting since the Museum opened in the 1850s, but this is looking at examples of design that have been made by living designers and designers who have worked in the last few decades.
The V&A is very fortunate that it is well known for its dress and textile collection, so often we get approached by collectors and people who have items and objects that they would like to donate to the Museum. We’re really indebted and very thankful that people donate to us.
The collection of dress and textiles prior to 1800 comprises about 17,000 objects and then the dress collection runs from about 1600 and carries through up to 1800.
The Clothworkers’ Centre is located at Blythe House, which is adjacent to the Olympia exhibition halls at West Kensington in London. Blythe House is an interesting building and to my mind it’s got a very interesting interior. The architect’s brief was to reflect the original architecture of the building but within it to create modern interventions. It has been designed by Howorth Tompkins, who are a London architectural practice.
The Clothworkers’ Centre development has been fantastic in allowing us to create the best possible environment that we can to study these particular objects. One of the points of the storage is not only to give our objects the best possible care so that we can preserve them for future generations, but to make them much easier to access (to find) – because a good, well run store should inspire its curators and the people who use it.