A miniature Gatling gun? A sophisticated instrument for printing?
Actually this week’s exhibit from Scarborough Museums Trust has a more peaceful, domestic purpose.
It’s a crimping machine for collars and cuffs.
Made of brass and polished wood, this beautiful, Heath Robinson-esque, piece of equipment worked like a small mangle – except that instead of flattening starched fabric fed through it, it gave it a pleated appearance.
This Victorian example has two bores at the back, which contribute to its weapon-like appearance. They were actually where the housemaid would insert a couple of hot pokers to heat the brass rollers, enhancing its performance. In operation, it’s not dissimilar to modern crimping irons for hair.
Collars and cuffs were, of course, detachable from the rest of the garment, making it easier to feed them through machines like this one.
Pleats have an enduring appeal for clothes designers, and have been used to decorate clothing for centuries.
Examples can be seen in ancient Egyptian and Greek wall paintings and statues, in medieval portraiture, and they were recently one of the ‘top 20 trends’ for spring 2012 at New York fashion week.
The crimping machine is in the Scarborough Collections, and is one of the objects that will be shown by Head of Collections Karen Snowden as part of her Take a Peek tour on Tuesday 29 May. Entitled A Woman’s Work, it will focus on domestic drudgery, and inventions that were supposed to improve life ‘below stairs’.
The tours start at Scarborough Art Gallery at 2pm – to book a place, please call 01723 374753/353665