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Fabulous Fibres Exhibition

Mark Nesbitt
27 November 2009
Blog team: 
Read what happened when the Economic Botany Collection joined forces with Haslemere Museum

Kew's Economic Botany Collection (EBC) contains 85,000 examples of plant use around the world, from ancient Egyptian wreaths to Traditional Chinese Medicines gathered last year. It's the successor to the Kew Museum, set up by Sir William Hooker in 1847, and covers just about every possible use of plants, in most parts of the world.

To reach a wider audience, we regularly lend to exhibitions, at big museums - the Science Museum and the Musee de Quai Branly - and small, such as Orleans House nearby in Twickenham. Since the summer, we've been talking to another small museum about a different and rather larger kind of loan.

The Haslemere Educational Museum has been running a year of activities based on the International Year of Natural Fibres, a major initiative sponsored by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation. In fact, I met Jane Downham from the Museum at our ethnobotany day at Kew in March, which also celebrated natural fibres.

We've agreed to a joint exhibition called Fabulous Fibres with Haslemere Museum, featuring about 40 historic objects from the EBC - textiles, baskets, cordage, netting and more, together with modern sustainable fibres such as nettle and hemp, sourced by Haslemere. It was difficult to narrow down the choice of objects from Kew's collection, but we decided to go for small ones, so as to fit as much diversity as possible into Haslemere's display cases. We've managed to get 25 plant species represented and the objects, though small, repay close attention.

The exhibition is free and the details of opening times are listed at the bottom of this blog. You can also view the catalogue and interpretation panels online here as PDFs.

The exhibition aims both to be fun - there are beautiful objects, and two handling tables of natural fibres - and educational, assisted by ten panels of information on plant fibres and labels colour-coded by plant part (bark, leaf, stem, seed & fruit). Another major theme is the role of textile conservation, drawing on our many years work with students from the much-missed Textile Conservation Centre, and a new relationship with the University of the Arts at Camberwell.

Have we got it right? Come and see for yourself! We think there is enough in the exhibition to justify a trip from London or elsewhere in the southeast, and Haslemere Museum itself is an unusually rich museum for a small town, complete with a mummy, stuffed bear, dinosaur lair etc.


  • Admission: Free
  • Museum opening times: Tuesday-Friday 10am-5pm (please check for holiday closures/openings)
  • Exhibition talk: On Saturday 5 December I'm giving a gallery talk at 2.30pm, with Jane Downham (Haslemere Museum) and Emily Brennan, who conserved the fabulous lacebark bonnet that's on display.


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