Sunday, 29 January 2012

Museum of London Revisited

Another fabulous day spent at the Museum of London.  Day Two of examining my gorgeous pink brocade dress but more is to be revealed.........

Also visiting was my old college mate, Alice Gordon.  Her passion is 16th century linen so the day was passed not only having the benefit of Hilary Davidson's knowledge but Alice's as well.  Very pleasurable indeed.

On arrival, Hilary told me she had been digging around and that in another box she had found not only the 18th bodice but the 1840s bodice as well, all the off cuts (which included a pocket) and a stack of letters detailing the history of the dress.  How very exciting.  In my last entry, we concluded that the rouching around the sleeves of the 1880s dress was the 18th century bodice re-worked as there was evidence of 18th century seams and stitching.  The 18th century bodice has now been found but the rouching may still be bits of the old bodice as the brocade was literately cut away from the linen lining.

See the above photo.

The linen in the bodice is beautiful with the linen on the sleeves being much thicker than that on the back and front.   That is, I imagine for additional strength.  All that hand woven linen is extraordinarily beautiful.  The weave is exquisite.  When I get my hands on a macro lens I will put some photos in this journal.  A very interesting observation from my lovely friend, Alice, the linen on the sleeves was cut on the horizontal.  Note the selvage on the back of the right hand sleeve of the photo.  A beautiful selvage it is too.  Furthermore, Alice told me she always counts the stitches per inch on the garments she's analysing (per inch as that is measurement the garments were constructed in).   In her experience, she can tell generally tell whether a tailor has constructed the garment.  This isn't so relevant to me as I am working from the 18th century onwards where many women were working as seamstresses however, it interesting to possibly be able to ascertain the the sex of the maker.  In this bodice there were 7 stitches to an inch on average and they weren't that neat.  Maybe a tailor originally sewed it?

This bodice had also been altered.  The stack of letters proved fascinating reading.

The letters were correspondence from a Mrs Guiney to the Assistant Keeper at the Museum of London.  They were dated June 11, 1954.  The Museum of London bought the dress for £5.  Mrs Guiney wrote the history of dress in an attachment letter.   Anne (Nancy) Wilton married  Joseph Pawsey in 1776.  She was a very skilled embroider and taught Queen Charlotte and her court ladies embroidery.  The story says the dress originally belonged to Queen Charlotte.  Which means that Nancy was given it by QC most probably as a gift.

The dress was then altered again in 1840 by  Mrs Pawsey's son's wife and then again by her grandson's wife in 1880.  The wonderful thing is all these women kept the bits they had cut away.  The dress must have been very important to them all to not throw the various bodices away. Or maybe people just didn't throw so much away in those centuries.  Well, we know they didn't but I like the fact the discarded pieces all remained together and that the garment was passed down from generation to generation.

More info, Nathalie Rothstein analysed the silk and has identified that it originated from the Spitalfield silk weavers, Batchelor, Ham and Perigal.  I am afraid my reading of Ms Rothstein work has not progressed since last week.  Not through lack of interest but lack of time.  I really could do with one extra day in the week.  I plan to go back one more time and take more photos this time with a macro lens and a tripod.  Oh, how I wish I owned both of those camera accessories.  Mind you it would help if I could use the fancy camera that I have!

What is a Beautiful Garment?
So what else?  If I am to design and I am designing clothes like their historical sisters that can be re-fashioned to another garment, I want them to be beautiful.  I want them to sell.  I want them to sell to many women.  But how can one define beautiful?  I want the garments to be first beautiful but designed with durability, longevity in mind.  Not to fall into the  classification as some beardy weardy eco clothing.  How does the designer working in this field get away from that classification and label?  We live in such a representative world.  Clothes, I really believe are such signifiers.   It really is worth thinking about.

I have started reading 'Understanding Material Culture' by Ian Woodward.  It one of the those great book that summarises information so you can then take the overviews further.  Anyway, I am rather interested in chapter 6 'Objects and Distinction.  The Aesthetic Field and Expressive Materiality'.  Urgh,  sounds complicated but isn't.  The chapter looks at how objects acquire and represent status, aesthetic value etc.   

The reason I feel I need to explore these theories is that a) I am doing a PhD and b) I want my designs to be seen as beautiful in their own right not because they have a label attached.  I really admire Margiela for his work.   (I know he did have a label, in a sense, but his sympathy is my admiration).   I don't want my designs to be branded as 'eco' or 'durable'.  I want them to beautiful with added extras.  I want them to be like Mrs Pawsey dress.  Endless, adaptable, beautiful........   Ha ha - big task.  

Books I am Reading
Still am desperate to get my teeth stuck into Natalie Rothstein.
Understanding Material Culture by Ian Woodward (2007) Sage
and just because I want to, 'Heart of Darkness' by Joseph Conrad.  Actually, I am not reading it.  I am listening to it unabridged on my iphone.  I download books and then listen to them when I am walking to work.  Great way to catch up on novel.  I listened to 'The Great Gatsby' the other week.  Fantastic book. I don't do this very often but I listened to over again, straight away just appreciate the skill of F Scott Fitzgerald.   

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Pink Brocade Dress

After two days in the studio looking at flags from the Peninsula Wars (quite beautiful but in the most terrible state), I headed off for the first of my three study days at the Museum of London.  I am looking at a rather interesting dress that was originally the property of Queen Charlotte.  In writing this, I have just noticed the uncanny connection that I was, for two days looking seven silk guidons that are shot to pieces and literately disintegrating in the acid free that they are housed in, switching to Queen Charlotte's cast off silk dresses.  The Hanoverian connection is spooky - I live for the 18th Century!

Hilary Davidson,  the assistant curator at the MofL is wonderfully helpful, informative and approachable.  I had seen this dress previously in another visit and it had caught my eye as the dress was immaculate in its transformation from a mid 18th century gown to its  late 19th century incarnation.  The work began with a thorough look see of the garment, taking measurements and really casting my over the dress.  It is a combination of 18th century silk brocade and 19th century silk (satin weave in cream).  Its current style is an 1880s dress with a centre front fastening.  I will be taking some more photos of the garment on a mannequin hopefully on my next visit.  The dress is both hand and machine sewn with extreme skill.  There was certainly  not much evidence to show that it had been re-fashioned.  The only evidence I could see was that on the underside of the arms, two triangular inserts both of different sizes had been sewn,  other than that it looked immaculate.

1750-1770 Silk Brocade from a gown originally belonging to Queen Charlotte
However,  here's where Hilary came in.  Above both cuffs is about 20cm of rouching.  The brocade has been rouched and used as a form of embellishment.  Hilary showed me that if I looked for seam lines within the rouching and followed them I could probably find more evidence of the original 18th century dress.  She was right.  There they all were.  I couldn't believe it - beautiful 18th century stitching.  I was told this was probably the bodice of the original dress re-used as decoration!  How amazing is that.  Hilary also showed me some 18th century folds and seams which I had completely missed.   The stitching was much closer to the selvage.  Our 18th century seamstresses generally stitched closer to the selvage.  Of course they did why waste the fabric?   I just didn't see them.   The wrong side of the silk looked very different from any other 18th century silk that I have seen.  More like a silk woven on a Jacquard loom.  Interesting.   I picked up Natalie Rothstein's book and am going to have a good old read about the silk industry in 18th Century Britain and France so I can get a clear under standing of how the silk was manufactured.   A very informative day.  Back next week.
Wrong side of the silk brocade.

1973 Dress
It's been made and and sits beautifully on Hilda but no photo as yet because I need to adjust the hem and sew the buttons on the cuffs.    Went to D & M Buttons to get my little buttons covered.  My boyfriend in there has offered to take me to Barcelona as he said I looked tired.  I might take him up on it.  I am  pleased with the outcome as I feel that I have taken this project to it's natural conculsion.  I did unpick the sleeves.   The nice fine cotton was easy to unpick and the stitch marks barely visible.  I will be interested to see what Becky, Kay and Linda have to say.

1940s Shirt.
The 1/2 size pattern has been made and I am working on the sleeves which will be cut from the skirt.  I am inspired by the Biba sleeves in the 'Black in Fashion' V & A book.  Unfortunately, there is not enough fabric to create full length sleeves.  I keep working.  I really want to get this finished before my tutorial on 8th February.

Fashion Illustration For Absolute Beginners
Celia, our teacher is lovely.  I'm getting better.  I really am.  I enjoyed myself this week and think that I am beginning to really understand about weight distribution.  Finally, I have understood that holding the pencil up thing.  When I was at Goldsmiths, that teacher Peter Cresswell explained it to me so many times but I never got it.  Well, I got it yesterday.  The class is fun.

Books I am Reading This Week
Silk Designs of the Eighteenth Century by Natalie Rothstein.  It's fabulous but everybody know that.
Still on Visualizing Research.  This is a very good book and has really cleared up in my mind the objective of the 'Literature Review'.  In the book it's called a 'contextual review' which I like.  It clarifies it more in my mind.
Additionally, just because I love it 'Couture or Trade:  An early pictorial record of the London College of Fashion.'

Quirky Photo
On my way to the tube station yesterday.  I saw this shoe sitting on a bin.  I knew it was fairly old or 'vintage' at a glance.  I looked around for its partner but she wasn't there.  The shoe was 'Made in England' and I didn't recognise the brand.  Made in Northampton?  In its day it was a cheap shoe but as a vintage item it had a certain touch of charm about it.

Lone Shoe in Wilesden

Sunday, 15 January 2012

A Day of Fashion Illustration at Central St Martins

I spent all day yesterday on the first of a 4 day course at Central St Martins.  With much gratitude to the powers that allow us research students free places on short courses, I am honing my skills in fashion illustration.  I have never been impressed with my inability to express my designs on paper and often have just held the vision of my design in my head with just rough scribbles to show whoever may have been interested.  So given this opportunity I went for it.

Well, the new CSM building is an inspiration in itself.  Behind Kings Cross in the old disused goods yards that remained empty for years, is a whole new world in itself emerging.  Gone are the 'under the arches' workshops and builders cafes.  The prostitutes, kerb crawlers and drug dealers must have moved on and in their place is an new area of retail spaces, clean streets and the CSM building in what probably was an old goods warehouse.

The day began of course with the tutor being late.  However, that wasn't an indication of what was to follow as our tutor, Celia was a fabulous teacher.  It's strange but when I was at Goldsmiths, although we did two whole terms of life drawing, we didn't do the exercises that Celia showed us which was basically drawing 10 second stick  poses, to get not only proportion of the body correct but weight distribution right too.   Blimey, I was out of my comfort zone!  It was hard, especially in a room with people you've never met and a new teacher.  The  day was spent doing basic drawing with a life model.  It was great and I found that I was concentrating in a whole different way.  Today I ached though from standing at the easel for so long.  I think I was a bit tense too.  The secret, as with anything is to relax.  More will be revealed as the weeks go by.

Design and Construction

I am working like mad to produce two 1/2 size garments for my next tutorial.  I've made the pattern for one and it is in the process of construction.  It is a cotton version of the silk dress that I seem to have been working on for months and months.  I want to take the dress to its natural conclusion and I think I am almost there.
Nancy in Style 1973

The dress was an adaption of the 1973 Style pattern.  I lined it the  most
gorgeous cream silk too (added warmth for me should I choose to wear it which I most definitely will).  It was a good exercise in working with certain silks.  This Liberty print silk frays like you wouldn't believe.  There is no over locking in the dress and all seams are 'French' seams.  I think the ultimate finish would have been better if I had sewn it on an industrial machine rather than a domestic machine.  Buttons were covered at D & M (don't forget that they close at 3pm).  Furthermore, foolishly I pressed down the hem hence the fact that you can see it quite clearly.  My model has slightly hunched shoulders which doesn't quite portray the gorgeousness of the dress but that is because she's my daughter who although beautiful rather reluctant to pose.

My second project which I am madly adapting, has been inspired by a shirt that my mother wore.  It was vintage when she bought it.  I date it somewhere in the 1940s.  This garment was home made and when I got it was really hanging in rags but interesting and I like it.  I decided to unpick it for research purposes and make a pattern and work on a design from there.  I forgot unpicking takes ages and what was really nice was that in the process I found, sewn in a bright pink cotton all the marker stitches from the original maker. We connected - me and that maker.  The cotton used (domestic sewing machine) was thick with a gorgeous twist.  So different to the cotton of today.  I am intrigued by this piece as I wonder if the shirt was originally a dress.  Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't but I am going to turn it into a dress.

Not so long ago, I came across a dress.  It was worn by Ginger Rogers in the film called 'Lady in the Dark' (1944).  This dress is quite amazing.  However, what to me was  interesting is the similarity in the collar and front of my shirt and  Ginger's dress so with this in mind I have dated my shirt around 1945.

Ginger Roger's Dress from the 1944 film Lady in the Dark
The skirt of the dress is mink fur and is lined with sequins the same as the bodice.  There is a little mink cape to go with it.  The point is the neck band is the same style as my shirt.  So could it be the that this style disseminated from Hollywood via the big screen all the way to my shirt maker somewhere in the UK.  Incidentally, the buttons are a form of plastic and look a the hand sewn button holes.

1940s Shirt
 The shirt continues to evolve into a dress.

I'm currently (on the recommendation of someone of the TFRC blog) suggested ready Visualizing Research - A guild to the research process in art and design by Carole Gray and Julian Malins.  I've only just started reading it but so far it is very informative.  Additionally,  I'm ploughing my way through Sustainable Textiles - Life Cycle and Environmental Impact edited by S Blackburn.  This is very informative if not slightly dry.  And for fun the V&A book Black in Fashion compiled by Valerie Mendes.  Gorgeous and there's a fantastic Biba dress on p.88 that I absolutely love.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A New Year - A New Beginning

It's 4th January 2012 and my blog is starting again.  A new beginning.  I have been so busy this past six months that this blog has been sadly neglected!  Poor blog, however, it has been with me in spirit.  Much has happened, many conferences have been attended but more will be revealed.  To start I will begin with a review of the fabulous conference I attended in cold, dark Denmark last November.

Sustainable Design Between Ethics and Aesthetics – Kolding Denmark

Me, Matty Aspinall standing on a bridge in Copenhagen!
Last week I flew to Denmark to attend a day long seminar oganised by the SEADS project.   The SEADS project is part of a new centre for Design, Culture and Management set up in collaboration between Kolding School of Design, University of Denmark and Aarhus School of Business. The aim of the SEADS project is to explore the interplay between ethical and aesthetic values in sustainable design with the view of promoting sustainable production and consumption.  It also seeks to strengthen and refine the public and professional debate on design and sustainability.

The seminar was held in Kolding within the design school.  The first keynote speaker was Dr Martina Kirtsch who began by raising the question, if aesthetic experiences contribute to sustainable development, how does this happen?  Her presentation was coherent and easy to follow especially as for over an hour; she spoke on the theories of both Martin Heidegger and Adorno.  She successfully dispelled my own myth that Heidegger would be too ‘difficult’ for me to understand!   She, also, discussed some of the core philosophical ideas in sustainable development such as anthropocentrism, utilitarianism and the ethics of responsibility.   What I took away from her talk was the importance and value of framing ones research methodology within a relevant philosophical structure.

The next speakers followed with the same intensity.  Professor Bente Halkier, sociologist and political scientist talked us through her latest research published recently in her book, ‘Consumption Challenged:  Food In medialised Everyday Lives’.  Using practice theory, the research has focused on food consumption.   She has examined the media campaigns surrounding food consumption and the contestation of food habits over the last 15 years.  Although, not about fashion or textiles I was fascinated to hear that some of her interviewees had incorporated sustainable attitudes in to their life styles almost as second nature.  However, for the majority, the study highlighted the complexities in the deciding factors made by consumers even if they did have the information on how and where the food was produced.  It lead me to think, if the consumer did have the knowledge of where a garment was produced and how much energy was used to get it to the point of purchase what choices would they make?   Like with food consumption, it would, no doubt is variable.  I had a flick through the book and would recommend it.  The methodology was a very interesting example of how to produce and evaluate quantitative and qualitative data.

After a lovely lunch, so different from those M & S sandwiches usually on supply at UAL, we were treated to another keynote speaker, Dr Ann Thorpe.  The clarity to which Anne defined current western economic thinking and the challenges of the thought behind GDP was brilliant. Her book, The Designer’s Atlas of Sustainability is equally comprehensive and a one that I must purchase.  However, the main strand of her talk was her latest research into ‘well being.’  The growth in our country’s wealth is based on increased consumption and profit however her research has proved that this form of wealth does not increase the individual consumer’s happiness.  The quick novelty and stimulation of buying is boring and short-lived.  What does bring about ‘well being’ is finding novelty and stimulation through long-term commitment strategies.  She exemplified this with the slow textile movement.  Although, I have believed this to be true, it was affirming to hear it being talked about by an academic who has done extensive research in to the matter.  Thought provoking and intelligent design is likely to bring you more happiness than buying that dress you saw in Top Shop!

Of course, there were other speakers.  However, those are the three that I will take with me on my research journey.  Before a quick dash to the station to catch the train to Copenhagen, I must mention the presentation by UAL’s own Emma Rigby.  Brilliant as per usual, she cohesively talked to us through her research on pro-environmental behavior change in garment maintenance.  All in all, a great trip!

One final word, Emma and I found the best vintage shop ever in Copenhagen.  We spent an hour and a half in there and could have spent about another 3 hours.  As a bit of a second hand connoisseur, I have to say that this was the best shop ever for vintage clothes and accessories.  The website is