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Conserving a Cree Shirt

Although our new gallery displaying our anthropology collections is still some years away, we have already started work preparing and conserving objects to be shown in the gallery, as Charlotte from our Conservation Department explains.

One of the objects which we hope to display in the new gallery is this shirt, from the Cree people of North America. The shirt is more than 200 years old. However, it needs significant conservation before it can go on display.

  • Cree Shirt Conservation, Cree shirt which is currently being conserved
    Cree shirt which is currently being conserved

The shirt is possibly made of brain tanned deer hide.

The intricate rosettes and bands are made of dyed porcupine quills. The lack of bead work and the naturally-dyed quillwork indicates that it’s possibly from the late 1700s / early 1800s and quite an old example of a shirt.

  • Cree Shirt Conservation, We think these quills were added at a later date.
    We think these quills were added at a later date.

The quillwork on the shoulders was probably dyed with "modern dyes" which suggest these bands were added at a later date.

Quite a lot of quillwork is lifting off the hide, so we need to secure that. Also, the hide is really stiff and crunchy!

  • Cree Shirt Conservation, Close-up of shirt showing the quillwork lifting which needs to be repaired.
    Close-up of shirt showing the quillwork lifting which needs to be repaired.

We're going to try and introduce some flexibility by carefully applying moisture to the hide, which we'll then manipulate until it's dry.

Hopefully this technique should help the hide regain some suppleness!

There are also tears that need structural repairs so it can go on display in our new Anthropology gallery.

It's quite a complex project and we'll keep you all up to date as we treat it.