Conserving History at the RISD Museum

See what tiny fixes are required before an exhibition.

For textile conservators, the shape of a needle can make all the difference. Eleven years ago, RISD curators found this reception dress from about 1874 in a trunk at Providence’s Goddard House. The family donated the silk skirt, day and evening bodices to the museum; they were designed by Charles Frederick Worth, who is considered the father of haute couture. Now featured in the ongoing exhibit “Swagged and Poufed: The Upholstered Body in the Late Nineteenth Century and Today,” the dress initially needed repair. Some netting was damaged, so textile conservator Jessica Urick “stabilized” it, using contemporary nylon netting that will endure, silk thread and a small needle like the ones used in veterinary and eye surgery:  “You want something with a little bit of a curve so you can go in and out without having to do much manhandling to get things in the right position,” Urick says.