To preserve the embroidery — what Ms. Chae called “the most important element in terms of the design” — the robe must be dry cleaned, which includes removing the dirt between the threads, one thread at a time. The process requires “a soft block of rubber that you can knead with your hand and you can pick up the dirt,” she said, or the careful use of a hand-held vacuum. Given the garment’s size (it measures a little less than 126 centimeters, or a little more than four feet, in length, from the collar to the hem, and a little over 172 centimeters, or a little more than five and a half feet, in width, from cuff to cuff), Ms. Chae estimated that the task alone would take five weeks to complete.
Some of the work will be easy, like removing the spots of red paint from the white protective covers on the cuffs. They will be dabbed “with very mild bleach,” she said, because “the cuffs bit need cleaning anyway.” The protective covers were fashioned from hanji paper, made by hand from the bark of mulberry trees and added so the robe’s cuffs and collar would not be stained by makeup, or by the heavy oils traditionally applied to the bride’s hair.
Other processes will be more intricate. For example, the fabric’s interior will be examined with infrared imaging to determine whether any extra layers of fabric or paper were inserted into the garment to “make it more stable and retain the shape,” Ms. Chae said. If there were, “we would like to know what type of paper was used and what kind of information is left on these papers,” to understand the original techniques and materials used in the garment’s construction — and perhaps gain some knowledge of the sociocultural context of the robe at the time that it was made, she said, as writing has been found on papers inside other hwarot.
Also, some later alterations to the robe, including the patch across the shoulders, will be examined to discover what may be beneath, Ms. Chae said. By taking “pictures of all the stitches first, then we will undo just one part” of the patch, she explained. Then, “we may be able to flip it over to see the inside,” before stitching it back in “exactly the same way it was done, based on the photographs.”