Tuesday 5 February 2013

New Procedures For V&A Sampler & Textile Viewing

I have had many emails wanting to know how to see the samplers in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Once you could go straight to the gallery and pull out display frames any time you visited with no formalities at all. Now that is no longer possible. For the present you are not able to see them at all. The best estimate for when you will be able to see them again is October 2013 when they will have been relocated together with 100,000 other textile pieces thanks to a generous grant from the Clothworkers' Foundation to their new home with the Clothworkers' Centre for Textiles and Fashion Study and Conservation at Blythe House at Kensington Olympia - about 4 miles west of the museum itself. When that has taken place then you will have to make an appointment at least 6 weeks in advance and request the items you wish to study. You will be able to make your appointment via the V&A website. Grace Palmer attended a meeting recently and says that access to the Collection and the study rooms (the size of 2 tennis courts!) will be dependent on security and staffing levels. Whilst the new centre will have excellent study facilities, part of the joy of the old gallery was being able to walk into the Gallery and pull out one of the glass boards to examine whichever sampler or piece of needlework happened to be in that frame. You now have to know what you want to look at when you make your appointment! A beneficial side effect of the move has been that the curators have had the opportunity to photograph each item and these are now on the website and can be found by entering details into the Search the Collection box. The downside, as before, is you have to know what you are looking for! So, 100,000 textile pieces are being moved, wrapped in acid free tissue, or in the case of costume, in tyvek bags. 20th C womens' costume is stored by Designer, 20th C mens clothing is stored by date. All other items will be stored by technique, geographic location of manufacture and date. As you would expect, each item is examined, cleaned where appropriate and logged, then moved and unpacked and stored. The preparation team at the V&A consists of 3 people (yes, really - only 3 people) along with assistance from Technical Services, who are the only people allowed to climb big ladders and who undertook the vacuuming of more than 200 carpets, some of which have not been moved since the 1950's!! Time allowed to move 5000 pieces of needlework? - just 23 working days (multiplied by the 3 team members) - the pieces were audited and checked - the samplers were removed from the glass frames, oftentimes these had been nailed onto the backing boards, they are now layered in acid free tissue in conservation boxes. It is truly an ambitious project.
There is actually a lot of information on the V&A website, the most relevant articles are:,-95-100-and-the-clothworkers-centre/ To see the samplers on line for accession numbers which you will need when requesting items to view click here. Thank you very much Grace for sharing that information with us.

Here you can see some last images taken in the mythical room 110 of the V&A where most of the textiles were kept. The images are from an article in the March 2013 edition of Harper's Bazaar and the series of fashion shoots also includes some background on the textile move.


  1. Beautiful antique samplers. I am particularly taken with the two on the right of the grouping, I wish they were patterns to be stitched!

  2. Well, poo! It's been 11 years since I was there and I didn't realize how fortunate I was to be able to see whatever I wanted to.

    I'm glad that things are being preserved much more carefully though.

    I agree with Krista, it would be wonderful to have patterns for some of those samplers! :)

  3. Thank you for the information in this post, even if it does make me unhappy.

    Some years ago...maybe 20 plus, I had the great joy on several visits to London in chilly weather, to spend many hours in the very chilly Textile Study Rooms, pulling out whichever glass trays of gorgeous textiles interested me, and drawing them as long as my fingers could hold pens and pencils.

    I guess I always thought that these visits were truly rare opportunities, but somehow thought that this tradition would continue on and on.

    Foolish me!

  4. Ah yes, progress! It is, of course, wonderful that these pieces are being cared for and maintained, and I love the fact that they are online so I can look at them from anywhere. One of the nice things about the V & A (and certainly unusual for museums in general) is that you can download the photos in hi-def for your personal study - that is wonderful!


  5. I loved looking around and enjoy all the old samplers. Wondered who the makers are...

    Thanx for sharing...

    Hartelijke groet,

  6. thank you for the update i also had hoped to view them one more time in 2014. oh well i will keep that memory close to my heart, it was such a pleasure.