Sunday, 27 February 2011

A Day in Worthing

Last Friday, I spent a day in the archives of Worthing Museum.  It is a very small museum but houses the most interesting collections.  I spent the day in the dress archives.  I have been to the the museum so I knew what I was looking.  I specifically wanted to inspect an Edwardian dress that had been refashioned in the 1930s to evening dress.

I arrived at around 10.30 and didn't leave until the museum closed at 5pm.  I had the most wonderful day.  The dress collection curator, Kate Loubser is welcoming and very helpful.  I spent all day chatting to her and a volunteer, Ciara (one of Lou Taylor's ex students).  Not only did I get to examine my dress but I saw so much more.

Worthing Museum has the most extensive dress collection.  On display right now, in the 'Blooming Marvellous' exhibition is an incredibly rare 17th century black work embroidered bodice.  It is quite stunning.  None of the garments are behind glass (God knows, I hope the moths don't get in) so you can have a good look and get really close. up

Display mannequin from 'The Corset Station"

Girdle from "The Corset Station" 30cm in length
That day,  Kate showed me the most incredible collection of lingerie.  They had been donated by a shop that had recently closed down.  ' The Corset Station' had been located in the nearby town of Burgess Hill.  The lingerie was used for display purposes and was fitted to a small mannequin.  If you can imagine, the above girdle was no more than 30cm in length.  The detail was incredible.  The mere fact that they came from a shop called the 'Corset Station' is evocative of times past.  The two photos (above) are  from a collection of about ten pieces.  It is shame about the foxing stains and the rubber on the suspender straps are beginning go but thankfully they are now in acid free and being conserved for the likes of me to marvel at.  To think that this sort of attire was the every day underwear for the majority of women and not that long ago either.

Mary Quant

On the subject of lingerie, a pair of knickers from the early 60's had just been brought in. They also had suspender straps on.  The label was very faded but under magnification we were able to see that they were made by  'Mary Quant' for her 'youth range'.   What is really interesting is that the flower on the front is typical of her 'flower' signature yet it has an extra petal.  Maybe this was the beginning of the evolvment  of the symbolic Mary Quant 'flower'.  Worth thinking about.

Here's something else to think about and it has nothing to do with historic clothing but has a lot to do with waste which is really what this PhD is all about - preventing waste.   This information came via my sister who has a friend whose husband is serving out in Afghanistan.  He is working on an American and English base.  There is no water on this base so it is all brought in.  As there is no water to waste they can't wash up so all their plates and cutlery are disposable.  Apparently, it costs $30 a day to supply each person on the base with disposoble eating utensils.  There are 9000 people on that base.  All the disposable cutlery and plates then get burnt after use.  Think about it.  I want to cry.  The world has gone mad.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Smocking and the Exquisite English Agricultural Smock

Last night, I taught a workshop on smocking.  Clara, one of the members of Bricolage asked me to join them in their pop up to teach smocking.  Practically, I can't say that I am an expert but I can smock and it is a form of embroidery that sadly is now associated with more with twee children's wear than with English agricultural smock.

The English agriculture smock is possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of historic dress.  Traditionally worn by 19th century agricultural workers, one could almost say it is an expression of English folk art.  Unfortunately, historians until comparatively recently, haven't really been concerned with working class way of life so many of these exquisite garments have been lost.

The smock was worn for both labour and leisure and the design embroidered on the labour's smocks were and expression of a living art connected inextricably linked with a past tradition.  As well as being 'smocked' they are embroidered with decorative patterns, including circles, triangles, ovals and lozenge shapes.  Amazing that these highly functional garments were ornamented with such care, dexterity and one hopes enjoyment.

Since, I was in my teens I have been fascinated by these garments and smocking is a beautiful way of gathering cloth together.  Yes, it is time consuming and does use a lot of fabric but done well the result is gorgeous.  Reclaim smocking - bring it back and make it modern.

These two photos are from an old book entitled 'English Folk Embroidery' (1963) written by Oenone Cave and published by non other than Mills & Boon.  Obviously, at that point there was another string to their bow other than romance.  Great book and with really excellent photos (black and white).

This photo is entitled 'Eventide of Life' by W H. Cox and is to be found in Luton Museum

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Beautiful Clothing, Beautiful Historic Clothing.......

Finally, I have got down to it and figured out how to use/write my blog.  First time user, that's me.  This space is all about my adventures on researching for my PhD and all that that entails.  Busy, busy, busy.  The RF3, for all who know about the trials of the dreaded RF3,  has been approved, with a few minor changes (they don't seem that minor to me but I am assured that they are) so hallelujah!  More will be revealed it is just too long to start now.  

So what has happened since October?  Lots and lots of inspiration.  I visited the 'The Threads of Feeling' exhibition at the Foundling Museum and having read the curator, John Styles work, was very excited.  The exhibition, for which I wrote a review, (will post) was both haunting and delightful at the same time.  The one single baby sleeve created from hand blocked linen set the sparks of my creative chain of thought and has well and truly launched me into my first project.

Additionally, I taught a workshop on smocking for the BA and MA students at Chelsea.  Terrifying and fabulous.  Me and a group of brilliant  women sat around a table talking and sewing at the same time.    I learnt so much myself.  Smocking, a wonderful and beautiful way to embellish fabric.  The agricultural smocks of the 19th century are truly exquisite and a far cry from the twee image we have of smocking today.  So skilled.

In fact, I am teaching my workshop two more times.  Viva La Smocking!  My next project, (other than learning French) is to be able be able to monogram.  I just love those tiny little initials that have been so delicately embroidered on the linen and cotton under garments of the 18th and 19th centuries.  They were put there so that people could identify them when they were being laundered.  I know of some out workers (via my Savile Row connection) who still do it, maybe I'll see if I can get a lesson.  Being my first post I could go on and on........ 

Before I go, will tell you what I have been reading this week.  'Foucault For Beginners' (embarrassing, I know that I have to go for the graphic, beginners version) however, now I've got the basics, I am ready for the real thing.  I also did Baudrillard (for beginners) equally brilliant.  'Emotionally Durable Design' by Jonathan Chapman - very, very interesting.  Fits in with Baudrillard.   Also, if you are interested in 18th century clothing read 'Pamela' by Samuel Richardson. It's very witty and gives very detailed accounts of her wardrobe and the cloth she hand stitched to make it.  Good stuff.

Will update soon.