Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In the beginning....

Collections:  For my first foray into the material world, I thought that I would share with you how it all began.  My initial exposure to the textile arts, and in particular costume history, came in the early 1980's on my first trip to London, England.  Already interested in art & design, I naturally ventured into the Victoria and Albert museum.  With the furniture galleries my primary interest, I was taken aback and amazed at the depth and scope of the dress collection.  Here, before me, were examples dating back to the early 17th century!  The galleries at that time, and for well over a decade later, presented a chronological display of the evolution of men's and women's costume.  A fabulous resource, which I was able to draw upon many years later while escorting my own students through these very spaces.  In 1997, as program chair of the Costume Society of Ontario, I led 24 enthusiastic members on a 7 day journey into several collections in England.  At the V&A, we were taken behind the scenes into the storage areas where curator, Susan North, shared her access to many pieces too fragile to be put on display.  I particularly remember a woman's bodice of black work embroidery executed in strapwork patterns and insects.  It dated to the late 16th century and unfortunately, the silk thread was deteriorating, due to the mordant used in the black dye.  You can see the areas on the shoulders and upper bust where the silk thread has completely eroded.  What was fascinating is that the penciled pattern and needle holes were still quite apparent.  Susan showed us that this garment was made up first and then embroidered!  It must have been very awkward to decorate indeed.  She suggested that this bodice would probably not last another 100 years unless some new conservation method could be found to preserve it.  Such a shame.  Currently, these galleries are undergoing a refurbishment and won't be open until the spring of 2012.  I am planning to create another textile tour to Britain for that opening.  I'll keep you posted on how that develops.  All are welcome.
                                           16th black work embroidery.  Collection of V&A. CSO tour, 1997.
Recollections: Within a decade of seeing that exhibition I began to sew.  I had been quilting since the age of 17, but garment sewing and its nuisances now attracted my attention.  I began to develop my craft and within a few years, I was able to draft patterns and create my own designs.  In 1991, I joined the Costume Society of Ontario and soon began collecting vintage clothing.  The craftsmanship and textiles themselves had captured my interest.  I started recreating examples of historic dress around the same time.  I volunteered to create an Edwardian wedding gown for a high school production of "Our Town."  The budget was limited, but 13 yards of cotton and 50 yards of lingerie lace later, we had our dress for $80.00!  Two years later, the young lady who wore the gown in the production actually wore it on her own wedding day.  I have continued to sew, quilts and costumes, ever since.  The research and acquisition of just the right fabrics and trims gives me as much pleasure as the finished garment.  I have been fortunate enough to travel throughout Europe, leading groups interested in the arts and design.  Every where I go, I seek out textile and costume collections to view.  Over the life of this blog, I will continue to share and elaborate on experiences with you.  Perhaps you'll be planning a trip of your own and I can point you in the direction of a little known or obscure collection.
                                                      Detail.  Christian Dior day dress. 1949. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ambitions: Currently, I am creating a sample for a workshop on crazy quilting and embellishment techniques. Silks, antique laces, beading, applique and embroidery are all coming together to make this wall hanging.
                                           Detail:  My current project, 2011

And of course:  Compiling my wish list for a textile tour to the U.K. in 2012!  Any suggestions?  All would be welcome.


  1. Hi Joseph: I just wanted to wish you good luck on your foray into the blogging world. I have added your blog to my daily reading list, so I will be looking forward to many more interesting postings. Donna Debling

  2. I live in the center of London and I would be happy to host a Private View of my father's handmade glass buttons if your group was interested