Museum Life: numbering objects

Physically numbering textiles and fashion is a big part of my job at the moment. I’ve been cataloguing and researching the historic lace collection and basic museum practices include making sure all collection objects have their correct accession or registration numbers attached to them in some way.

With the lace collection this includes sewing small labels with registration numbers onto centuries old lengths of lace. Although I’ve sewn countless labels onto textiles and fashion objects over the years, I still find it slightly daunting.  The first time I had to physically number an object I was very nervous and wondered why and how the Registration department had let me loose in the collection! Especially with such old, valuable and significant objects, it is scary to attach labels with a needle and thread to a fashion or textile object.

In this post I’d like to give you a quick run-down and some tips on how I’ve been taught to physically number fashion and textiles. I’d also like to hear from you with any tips and tricks you have used to number fashion and textile objects, or if you have a completely different method all together. My colleagues and I all have slightly different methods for numbering objects and its intriguing to hear of other techniques.

These are the instructions in my official numbering guide for fabric based objects:

  1. Write the registration or accession number onto the fabric label using a black pen (I use a base and top coat to prevent it marking the object).

    Object label for A1471 Cushion cover, 'daisy square' design, St Helena lace, bobbin lace and embroidery, cotton, place and date unknown Collection: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

  2. Turn in any raw edges, then sew label onto fabric using small running stitches on one short edge. Hold the needle at right angles to the object surface and pass needle back and forth through the spaces of the weave of the object to avoid breaking threads. When possible choose thread to match the background colour of the fabric and choose a soft cotton thread. It is also important to sew the label onto an area of the garment which is not visible on the outside.

    Detail of fabric label for 98/165/1-1 Coat, part of ensemble, womens, silk / metal, designed by Collette Dinnigan, Sydney, 1998. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Do you have any tricks or techniques that you use or have been taught to physically number fashion and textiles in a museum or gallery collection?




Related Articles


  • Sarah January 25, 2012 09.53 pm

    At my museum we actually use a really old embossing machine that embosses the number into a sheet of 100% pure alpha-cellulose paper (lignin- and acid-free, pH neutral) and then sew that onto objects. That way, there is no risk whatsoever of the ink transferring to the object.

  • Rebecca January 26, 2012 04.36 am

    Hi Sarah,

    Many thanks for your comment. Using an embossing machine is a great idea. It is always fascinating to know how other museums do things differently.



Leave a Comment

Monthly Archive


Available now: Punk Style by Worn Through founder, Monica Sklar, PhD. Find it at :, Powell's Books, or a bookseller near you.