A Thousand Fancies….

The power of objects to inspire a thousand fancies
Charles Paget Wade

Charles Paget Wade, a poet, architect, artist-craftsman and not forgetting keen collector of eclectic objects, to inspire.

This collection can be seen at Snowshill Manor, which Wade gave to the National Trust in 1951. The collection of course would not be complete without costume (2,200 items of 18th to 20th century to be precise) which is stored at Berrington Hall. The collection is cared for by Althea Mackenzie, Costume Curator.

This year Berrington Hall is bringing to life the Georgian interiors of the Hall by displaying costume, from The Charles Paget Wade Collection, Hereford Museum Resource and Learning Centre and COSPROP (costume from The Duchess and 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice).

The displays shall enchant visitors by taking them on a journey, peeping into the lives and fashion of Georgian society.

Over the course of the year there will be an array of costume from The Charles Paget Wade Collection and costumes worn in Pride and Prejudice (1995) British television period drama and the film The Duchess (2008).

Pride and Prejudice was filmed at various locations including Lyme Park (exterior of Pemberley, Darcy’s estate in Derbyshire) and Sudbury Hall (interiors) both owned by the National Trust.

The Duchess was filmed at locations such as Chastworth House, Bath (including the Assembly Rooms and Royal Crescent) and Clandon Park.

The Duchess, a selected display of costumes from The Duchess (2008), includes the wedding dress worn by Keria Knightly on until 30th June 2014, costumes from COSPROP, Holloway Road.

‘Wearing The Garden’ looks at Georgian men’s fashion. The influence of gardens on fashion reveals an extravagant display of stunning waistcoats with embellished woven silk brocades. This exhibition will feature costumes from The Charles Paget Wade Collection and Hereford Museum Resources and Learning Centre on until 30th June 2014.

‘Big Bottoms and Small Waist’ reveals a display of undergarments through the centuries. This exhibition will feature undergarments from The Charles Paget Wade Collection and Hereford Museum Resources and Learning Centre on display from 1st July until 31st August 2014.

‘Pride and Prejudice’ a selection of costumes and accessories worn during filming of Pride and Prejudice in 1995. On display from 1st August until 31st October 2014, costumes from COSPROP, Holloway Road.

If you want to see if costume can inspire a thousand fancies, why not make a visit to Berrington Hall or see the blog featuring The Charles Paget Wade Collection written by Ellie Jones, Conservation and Engagement Manager.

I certainly felt inspired by my visit! What will inspire you today?

This post was written in collaboration with Ellie Jones, Conservation and Engagement Manager at Berrington Hall.  If you are interested in writing a post in collaboration with the author of Textile and Dress Historian please email textileanddresshistorian@gmail.com.

Be My Valentine

It is said that St. Valentine’s Day probably originates from a pagan fertility festival in pre-Roman times or it could be a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus? Where ever its origins may rest, the day appears to be associated with romance and love.

During the 15th century the occasion evolves by lovers expressing their affection for one another in the form of sending flowers, greeting cards “Valentines” and even confectionary – chocolate or sweets. Yet, it is interesting to see that since the 19th century the notion of a handwritten valentine’s card is sadly superseded by mass-production.

Valentine’s Day has become a commercial opportunity with the use of hearts, doves and the figure of the winged cupid to symbolise love.

We even see a tradition of chivalrous gentlemen sending a pair of gloves to their loved one as a proposal. He waits hopelessly hoping that his loved one will wear then to church on a Sunday in acceptance of his proposal.

Might you receive a pair of gloves this Valentine’s Day?

Stitched Cloth or Exemplum

The word sampler is from the Latin ‘exemplum’ – an example

There was a time when needleworkers did not have the use of pre-printed patterns. This meant that when ever they noticed a design or motif that they liked it would need to be captured (stitched) as an example, for future reference.

A cloth would be stitched to form a small example. Soon the cloth was referred to as a ‘sampler’, as it would have randomly placed designs or patterns. Perhaps one day the design or pattern would be embroidered onto a pocket, cuff or hem line. You could almost say that the cloth was a working diary of a needleworker, collected over their lifetime.

Peruvian Nazca Sampler 2nd Century BC
Peruvian Nazca Sampler 2nd Century BC

The earliest examples of cloth used to record stitched patterns or a design is thought to have been worked by the ancient Peruvian Nazca culture.

A sampler developed into a embroidery produced, by young females, displaying a demonstration or test of their skills in needlework. It would often show some form of figures, motifs or have decorative borders. On occasions the needleworker would embroider their name and the date.

Jane Bostocke 1598
Jane Bostocke 1598

The history of this type of sampler dates back to the 16th century. The earliest dated example, at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London was made by Jane Bostocke in 1598.

Borders were introduced in the 17th century and by the mid-1600s alphabets came into common use. We also see religious or moral quotations, suggesting that the finished sampler was methodically organised.

By the 18th century samplers seemed a complete contrast to their predecessors. These samplers were stitched to demonstrate knowledge than to preserve skills.

Samplers are scattered all around the world and can be seen in various locations or settings. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York has a sampler made by the Peruvian Nazca culture from cotton and camelid hair. Records suggest the sampler was produced in the 2nd century BC.

The Victorian & Albert Museum, London has samplers by Elizabeth Parker and Jane Bostocke. The earliest dated sampler in Hull Museums Collection was produced by Elizabeth Clark in 1742, with an alphabet and flower motifs. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge has samplers dating from the late 16th century to 20th century. There is a stunning piece worked by Mary Derow in 1723.

I am even surprised to find ‘The Sampler Tea Room & Museum’ in Pembrokeshire. Samplers can be seen at a variety of National Trust properties in historic setting such as Tintinhull House, Somerset; Berrington Hall, Herefordshire; Hill Top, Cumbria and Montacute House, Somerset.

Please contact each individual museum or National Trust property before making a visit to check if the samplers are on public display or if you are required to make an appointment in advance with a curator.

Jacobean Sampler
Jacobean Sampler

Today, samplers are widely used but for a leisurely activity. You can purchase a kit with the pattern, cloth and threads required to produce your own work of embroidered art.

Without the care and expertise of museums and national trust properties these fragile pieces of embroidered cloth would be lost forever and the makers forgotten.

Woven Words

Felt Corset, Sitting 2005
Felt Corset, Sitting 2005

By studying ‘Textiles’ at Goldsmiths College, University of London I walked the corridors that were once filled by the presence of Mary Quant, Bridget Riley and Antony Gormley. I feel humble that I can say I have studied where some of the greatest designers and artists first found their inspiration.

So here is a question for you, what does textiles mean?

During my time at Goldsmiths we were often critiqued about our practice and encouraged to explore the meanings and use of textiles. Studying textiles at Goldsmiths meant pushing the boundaries of what textiles was. Could textiles be the process to explore or rationalise an idea? Would the final outcome present a body of work far removed from textiles – an installation of thoughts presented in film or photography.

I often remember a particular tutor, pushing the boundaries of the word ‘textiles’ and breaking it down into ‘text’ and ‘iles’. Text – meaning the obvious a ‘word’ or group of words that might be printed or interpreted in a form that is read in order to explain something. Leaving ‘iles’ 4 letters floating alone, what do they mean? Mr Google tells me it could be a surname or acronym. So perhaps the conclusion my tutor was trying to get across was that textiles were a way of weaving ideas, to tell a story, to be read.

Away from the conceptual world,  ‘textiles’ in the simplest form are fabric or cloth, perhaps woven? The Latin word for ‘textiles’ is Textilis – a woven fabric, piece of cloth.

Textiles are made from fibres – natural or man-made. Natural fibres fall under 2 categories – animal and vegetable. Animal: silk or wool and vegetable: cotton, linen or jute. The methods of making a cloth or fabric have developed and evolved over time from hand weaving to industrialised looms. Man-made fibres such as nylon or polyester were produced commercially in the 20th century.

The world is made up of various forms of cloth or fabric which are then used to cover and drape. It may be woven, felted, knitted, printed, embroidered or embellished with beads or metal spangles. Perhaps a cloth or fabric reveal a woven or embellished history of its own heritage?

Textiles can be found in your home, museums or historic houses. Today, whether we see it or not textiles surround us in every possible way from our curtains, duvet, carpet, dressing gown, sofa, dress, tights, trousers, or shoes.

Textiles can vary in size and scale. They can be flat, 3-dimensinal or sculptural. Perhaps textiles are ubiquitous objects? Textiles may have a function or be a simple display of craftsmanship or aesthetics.

National Trust properties display thousands of examples of textiles from state beds, hangings, curtains, furnishings, samplers and are often eclectic or collected over several generations.

Waddesden Manor offers a stunning journey of embellished textiles, woven in every corner. The Rothschild family were keen collectors and when you see the house for yourself you will see why. The Manor is grand, yet for a moment you feel like you are peeping through the looking glass reflecting on the Rothschild’s family life. The objects appear in an aquatic half light, longing for daylight and to be used again.

Folded Beauty
Folded Beauty

Folded Beauty: Masterpieces In Linen by Joan Sallas on display at Waddesdon Manor until 27th October 2013, weaves the journey of textiles to the modern day.

This exhibition is a contemporary take on an old tradition of folding napkins, a tradition which originated in Europe 500 years ago. What we see on display is a work of art with the splendid backdrop provided by the Rothschild collection. Through out the Manor there are stunning objects made from linen napkins, sitting proudly out of place to make you stop and stare. At the end of your journey around the Manor you are even invited to make your own napkin.

If you hurry you have time to visit Waddesden Manor before the napkins are folded away!

The History of Afternoon Tea

There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.
Wrote Henry James in Portrait of a Lady

Kitchen Talks, Duchess of Bedford,
Kitchen Talks, Duchess of Bedford.

Drinking tea has a long history, with a huge impact on Britain.  First introduced to England from China during the mid-17th century. Hence, to buy tea in Britain was expensive, a luxury item imported from another country. It has been said that tea was believed to be therapeutic as well as delicious! Yet, the social history of tea reveals many things about Britain from fashion, the decorative arts and even the designs of gardens.

Anna, The Duchess Of Bedford (1783-1857)
Anna, The Duchess Of Bedford (1783-1857)

The tradition of afternoon tea is credited to Anna Maria Russell, 7th Duchess of Bedford, in the mid-1840s. Anna felt famished between lunch and dinner, which had advanced to 7.30pm or 8pm. Anna, along with other ladies began to take a meal of tea and cake in the afternoon, at first surreptitiously in their boudoirs or bedrooms. By 1850 tea had become customary in all fashionable houses. Hostesses tried to outdo each other with the most splendid display of fine bone china.

Teapot, Killerton House (NT)
Teapot, Killerton House (NT)

What better way to suggest friendliness – and to create it – than with a cup of tea? 
J. Grayson Luttrell, 1930

At first tea was served in the Drawing Room after dinner, as one of several beverages.  Then drinking tea soon became an afternoon event. Afternoon tea reached its peak during the early 1930s due to popularity of tea-dances.

Afternoon Tea 1930s
Afternoon Tea 1930s

Traditionally, the upper classes served a ‘low’ or ‘afternoon’ tea around 4pm, consisting of crust-less sandwiches, biscuits, cakes and, of course, tea. Low tea was served on ‘tea tables’ rather than dinner tables. Middle or lower classes had a ‘high’ tea later in the day at 5pm or 6pm. A typical ‘high’ tea would consist of ham, salmon and salad, trifle, jellies, sponge cake, white and brown bread, currant teacake, cheeses and tea.

Tea Caddy, Silver C.1902-1906
Tea Caddy, Silver C.1902-1906

This Silver Chinese, Tea Caddy, is an accessory for the ritual of tea drinking.
On display at the American Museum In Britain, Bath.

Fashion For Tea

Over the years there seems to have been many quirks of etiquette whilst taking tea. Once sitting down in your seat your purse must be placed on your lap or behind you, against the back of the chair, out of view. Unfold your napkin and if you are leaving to ‘power your noise’ and returning, place your napkin on your chair. We see ladies wearing flamboyant hats and elegant gloves, of course! Dress worn for taking tea has been described as ‘Tea Gowns’ or ‘Tea Dresses’ considered to be your most elegant attire. Below is a selection of dress worn for taking tea.

Lastly, it is worth noting that Anne Maria Russell, 7th Duchess of Bedford was a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria from 1837-1841.  It has been know that Victoria sponge takes it name after Queen Victoria, who so did enjoy a slice of sponge with her afternoon tea!

 Tea, Britain’s favourite drink!

Beyond The Past Is Hidden

‘The past is not dead. It is not even past yet.’ William Faulkner.

Have you ever wondered what lies beneath the hidden seams of a dress, how fragile threads hold together, clasping and clinching in order to exist?

Think about the structure of a dress.  What is it made from? It is made from yarns which have been woven together. Is it worth considering the stories of a dress?

In order to investigate the notion of a dress containing a story or understanding of the past through generations of usage, it is necessary to study dresses that have been collected and preserved from years gone by.

Why do we collect objects and dresses? Could it be a desire to collect and hold onto something with no real value but sentimental value?

It is important to look at why we collect in order to understand what we hope to learn from these dresses or objects in the future.

A dress could remind us of something which took place previously, although our understanding of what is present could be limited.

Museums exhibiting dresses offer the opportunity ‘To take a peep at the private female life in years gone by… (and to) learn how women high born and lowly, spent or rather ennobled many a day of life in needlework, not merely gracefully but artistic.’[1]

The notion of taking a peep brings connotations to the surface about being forbidden to look at an object, person or dress.  Yet taking a peep invokes a reminder, revealing they are not to be possessed, but merely looked upon. Could this explain why they are always displayed in cases? Why is this so?   By displaying a dress it is a fixed moment in time when one (being the viewer) questions what is presented.  The fact they are displayed in cases leads to closure, something being encased in its resting place, before eventually disintegrating.

Jacques Lacan writes about display, infusing the notion of displaying an object in such a way that the object is transformed. Lacan uses ‘The Purloined Letter’ by Edgar Allan Poe [2] which has hidden meanings, to explain more about the notions of concealment. Poe’s ‘Letter’ comes from imaginative writing, the notion of writing about a mystery which is hidden underneath the surface of the text. ‘Poe’s ingenuity in unriddling a mystery was only ingenious in appearance, as he himself had woven the webs he so dexterously unweaves.’[3]  Here Poe plays with the reader, revealing that there is more to be learnt from the words on the page, indicating that we (the reader) should look to see what lies beneath.


[1] Ginsburg, M, Hart, A and Mendes, V.D with other members of the Department of Textiles and Dress referring to Rev. Daniel Rock’s Catalogue. (1870) Textile Fabrics in the South Kensington Museum in (1992). 400 Years of Fashion. London, Victoria and Albert Museum, p13.

[2] See ‘The purloined letter’ by Edgar Allan Poe in Ingram, J.H. (1874).The works of Edgar Allan Poe. Volume.1 Memoir- Tales. Edinburgh, R & R. Clark, p494- 513.

[3] Ingram, J.H. (1874).The works of Edgar Allan Poe. Volume.1 Memoir- Tales. Edinburgh, R.&R.Clark, pxlii.