Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Study Day at The Fashion Museum, Bath

For those of you who have been following this blog for the past year, I am sure that you will recall that I had organized a Costume and Textile Study tour to the United Kingdom.  For my next few postings, I will be sharing our travel experiences with you.  We were a small group, 12 in number, which as you can imagine had its' benefits.  Our backgrounds varied, but we were all united by our love of fabric, design, the needle arts and costume.  We shared our knowledge with each other and the result was sheer magic.  I am sure that many new friendships were made that week.  Half of the group came from a costuming background as seamstresses and a tailor from our local heritage village.  They spend their days recreating a wardrobe for 300 volunteers who must be dressed and accessorized for a time span of about 150 years!  So when I had the opportunity to request the types of pieces that would be pulled for our study day at The Fashion Museum in Bath, it was with their background in mind that I requested examples of dress from 1810 to 1915.

Upon arrival our group was divided in half with some heading directly to the two hour scheduled study session and the remainder visiting the exhibits downstairs.  If you have not been to this museum, it is a must on your next visit to Britain.  It is an easy train ride from Paddington station.  The ride takes about 2 hours.  The holdings are vast and the rotating exhibits are always interesting, informative and placed in a context that is entertaining to both the novice and expert costume historian.  If you wish to organize a study session you must be prepared to plan several months in advance.

For me, this type of experience is exactly what a study tour is all about.  Access, access, access.  We were lucky enough to have similar experiences at the Royal School of Needlework and the Globe Theatre.  Walking into the study center, with it's walls lined with reference material to make any librarian jealous, we were greeted with the rack pictured above.  Dresses, representing every decade of the 19th and early 20th century were available for our perusal.  It was like being a kid in a candy shop!

White glove treatment, pencils only for taking notes, sketching details, a magnifying glass and tape measure were well within our reach and best of all, photography was allowed.  Our hostess, brought the garments from the rack as we requested them.  One for each table and when we were finished she quickly replaced them with the next.  As a collector and re-creator who prides himself on the authenticity of his cut and choice of fabrics and trims, I reflected on what an invaluable resource Janet Arnold's books are to the study of fashion history.

We each took a turn at choosing a dress and the first was this one from about 1816.  A wonderful brocaded silk with a pattern of scrolling foliage over vertical stripes of green.  Padded rolls stiffened the hem and their colour was repeated in the neckline and very interesting sleeve treatment. 

A double row of tiny piping trimmed the upper sleeve cap and lower body of the sleeve.  Tiny rosettes pinned the two halves together creating a peek-a-boo effect.  For all my friends out there who like to create gowns from the Regency period, this would surely get you noticed at the upcoming 1812 balls that I am sure are on your calendar for this 200th anniversary.

One of things I like most about studying these garments in this type of setting, is to develop my eye for the colour combinations and unique placements of trims.  I can't stress enough how important this type of detail is for a successful recreation garment.  I always try to source vintage trims for this purpose including buttons and it is amazing how many people I can fool when they take a quick passing glance at my work.  Striped garments are particularly helpful, for they show quite clearly how they have been cut along the grain or bias to achieve various effects.  This was a lovely example of the princess line dress of the late 1870's.  Upon careful examination, it was apparent that some of the fabric had been remade from an earlier garment.  As you know, a very common practice.

I loved the striped bows that decorated the front and the grey and navy combination of the two silk taffetas.  The trim was an embroidered ribbon.  Machine made, with very definite Aesthetic movement motifs.

The image below, taken from Janet Arnold's "Patterns of Fashion 2" shows a similar dress in cut and construction to the example at our disposal.  

My absolute favorite dress was the example below from about 1855-60.  It reminded me very much of a dress that I saw once on ebay but was unsuccessful in winning.  It was the text book example of dresses from this period.  Flounces woven with a pattern "en disposition" very similar to examples in my earlier posting on "Paris, 1855."  Each flounce was lined with a stiffly, coarsely woven linen and possibly horsehair fabric.  We debated the mixture for some time and never did come to a consensus on the composition of the material, but that was the joy of traveling with like minded individuals.  Often the debates were both informative and lively.  The bodice was trimmed with the tiniest of brown and cream chenille balls.  Each ball being one half of each colour.

With the addition of black silk tassels at the front closure of the bodice, it reminded me very much of the example below.

I'm always anxious to share my knowledge

Our charming and very obliging hostess

I have been working on the recreation of an Edwardian tea gown and so the piece below was of particular interest to me. With its inserts of lace and the particular cutting of the muslin to high light inset floral medallions, I was taken by the similarity of treatment to my own work which was still sitting on my work table at home.  I have cut the chiffon to take advantage of windows in the Battenburg lace.  And yes, I made the lace too! I must be mad.
Edwardian printed cotton dress with lace inserts and black ribbon trim

The skirt I am working on currently.
The Museum:  
While one half of the group was enjoying their two hour period of independent study, the other half had the opportunity to view the exhibits in the galleries.  I was particularly taken with the theme of the one below.  The display cases had been turned into storage containers, piled high with boxes and appearing like an area being readied for an exhibit.  Dresses were displayed in groupings of approximately ten year intervals.

Another exhibit concentrated on evening dresses of the 20th century that were arranged in colour families, creating a striking visual display. Candy bright and visually sumptuous, they made your mouth water.  What I remember most about the colours chosen was how they captured a particular moment in time and yet, how timeless these colours seemed from my perspective today.  Several ladies in the group reminisced about similar dresses they had once owned and the occasions when they had worn them.  Such is the power of fashion and memory.

Shoes were also colour blocked, regardless of period. The shoe of the 1920's seemed as appropriate with a dress from the 1950's as did the historically appropriate one.

The Dress of the Year:
Every year this museum has the foresight to add to its collection, one contemporary piece from one contemporary designer.  A fashion editor is honoured or perhaps plagued, with the decision to choose one look that they feel has captured the most memorable moment in the year.  The designer that was chosen to represent 2011 was Sarah Burton.  Her background with Alexander McQueen and her work on Kate Middleton's wedding gown seemed to make her a strong contender.  It was absolutely gorgeous and the picture below does not do it justice.

Our short week was one of those great moments in life when you had the opportunity to truly indulge in the things that you love the most.  I am already planning another tour next year, so mark your calendars.  It really is the trip of a lifetime.