Watch a Team of Conservators Clean Queen Victoria's Ancient Petticoat 

In Depth

Do you struggle to get your whites to their original, pristine condition? Well, imagine trying to wash the ravages of time from a 180-year-old petticoat once worn by Queen Victoria. Can’t just spray it with OxyClean and toss it in the machine on hot!

Conservators at Kensington Palace have been blogging (h/t to the joint Twitter account of authors Loretta Chase and Susan Holloway Scott) about their efforts to preserve this recently acquired piece, newly added to the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection:

We acquired the petticoat at auction along with a number of other items of Queen Victoria’s dress. Over the course of Victoria’s 63-year reign, some lower value linens were accidentally left or perhaps deliberately discarded after the Queen’s visits to her various residences. Given the plentiful allocation of these often-identical garments, it is not surprising that some went astray. Occasionally, however, the Queen would give items that were more costly to friends, family and valued servants.
Sure enough, this petticoat was passed down the generations of the Bagster family who were close associates of Queen Victoria. Carefully attached was a label in a nineteenth-century hand, indicating that it had once belonged to the Queen and suggesting that rather than being reused it became a treasured gift.

It’s particularly valuable as items from early in Victoria’s reign are comparatively rare—they say the wide neck and waistline date the petticoat in the mid to late 1830s, adding that, “the measurements correspond almost exactly with those from Victoria’s wedding dress, worn for her marriage to Prince Albert in February 1840.” Naturally, then, it’s looking a little dingy.

Textiles are notoriously difficult to preserve, and a new blog post explains, “Dirt aesthetically disfigures an object and also contributes to the deterioration of the fibres over time.” Wet cleaning works well, but only if the piece can take the process and all the materials will hold up equally well. That’s the approach conservators opted for, but first they had to remove and preserve separately the label that had been attached since sometime in the 1800s.

Here is the final before-and-after. If they aren’t too busy, I’ve got a few items I’d love for them to take a crack at.

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