It all started way back in May 2012…
When cleaning out the costume store in the spring, my colleague and I couldn’t resist being nosy and peeking inside the boxes to see the gorgeous costumes. Being new to the job, we hadn’t had many chances to see the costumes up close, so we gorged ourselves, looking in nearly every box we could lay our hands on.
It was then that we noticed something small and round wandering around quite merrily on one of the costumes. Realising something was wrong we reported it and kept an eye on the store. One of our lovely researchers confirmed that we had carpet beetle and we started getting to work planning the eradication of the little critters.
After lots of phone calls, emails, reading of books, manuals and files, we worked out what we needed to do, and with the help of our regional conservator and textile consultant we have put together a plan of action.
Carpet beetles are small insects that look a bit like small brown ladybirds, with zigzags on their backs. It’s not the actual beetles that do the damage, it’s their larva and pupae, affectionately known as ‘Woolly Bears’. The eggs are too small to be seen by the naked eye and lie dormant all winter. But come the spring, the woolly bears eat their way through any Keratin-based material and hatch into adults.
Silks, wool, fur, leather and some other materials mean lunch to these little critters, and they leave nasty holes in whatever they can get their teeth into. Normally things with this problem are sent off to a special chamber, where the item is frozen and treated to get rid of any insect intruders. However, because we have over 200 pieces, we would not be able to afford this option.
So, we have come up with our own solution! We have ordered a freezer and other materials, and we are doing the project on our own, doing the best to combine all of our conservation skills and knowledge to save these wonderful costumes. With the help of our staff, volunteers and consultants, we WILL get these bugs gone!