Dressmaker and Costume Historian
March Issue of Best Job Ever!
March 30, 2016
Well, another fun packed month finished! It still surprises me when I look back over each month and realise how much I have packed in.
So, to start off I joined History Wardrobe at South Shields Library to present Fairy Tale Fashion. The audience were fantastic as usual, I got mobbed with questions at the end and a great night was had by all.
One day in the month I was whisked to London by train, hustled into a private car and taken to a secret filming location to do an interview for the new series of a popular tv show……..more news in May!
The first Sunday of March each year is religiously kept free so I can attend the Costume Society’s annual Textile Fair in Manchester. Over the years the gang embarking on the road trip has grown to include Lucy from History Wardrobe, her head fan Elsie, my mum and since last year my cousin and aunt as well. The main aim – get their early, leave there poor but happy clutching bags bursting with fabulous things! This year I bagged a pair of WWI ‘Cromwellian’ style shoes which I will be using in my Nell Gwyn talk later this year plus a fantastic 1960s dressmaking mannequin which will take a starring role in my new Sixties dressmaking talk for later this year. A cheeky 1930s French shop catalogue with original fabric samples also ended up in my bag. Best bargain of the day? A Victorian black satin quilted petticoat in lovely condition for £5! Six tired but happy ladies retired to Sainsbury’s cafe for restorative tea and cake before heading home.
With barely a moment to glory in our shopping goodies we were back on the road to celebrate International Women’s Day in the North East. First stop, Sunderland City Arts Centre and Library with ‘Glitz and Glamour: getting ready for the party!’. A great event, with a marvellous audience who all cooed appreciatively at my display. Later that day, I headed across the country to see Rowlands Gill WI to present the same talk to a sell out audience. What a fabulous evening. It is always a pleasure to visit the north east and this was no exception.
That same week I drove to “sunny” (it rained constantly) Skegness to visit the Lincolnshire North Federation WI meeting. Even though we didn’t get the chance to eat candy floss and go on the fun fair we still had a fantastic day. We presented ‘100 Years of Hats’ to a great and inspiring group of women. What the WI achieve each year is staggering and I am constantly astounded by their collective experience and energy. The talk went brilliantly and the ladies loved the try-on hats at the end. Upon my return home I found a number of kind comments on social media and a wonderful email from a lady I had met whose great aunt had actually worked in the hat industry from her farm, plaiting straw and flattening it. Great day!
Another trip to the Royal Armouries in Leeds was full of sewing on buttons, mending tears and mending the unmendable! Getting the team spic and span ready for the Easter joust is no mean feat.
Rounding off the talks this month was Fairy Tale Fashion with History Wardrobe at Yarm Ladies Luncheon Club. We have visited this group on a number of occasions and always receive a warm welcome from the ladies. The Cinderella dress certainly went down well!
As a change, rather than presenting a talk I attended one. This time on Women Writers in the Civil War by Maureen Bell at the National Civil War Centre. A really fascinating talk and Maureen was extremely helpful in providing a reading list to help me take my interest further. It was nice to just sit back and enjoy a talk!
Between beetling up and down the country doing events and buying beautiful antique clothes we completed a project of eight costumes for the English Heritage property Kenwood House. They were all based on paintings found in the house. This was a fantastic project to be involved in but I have been never been more conscious of people holding bowls of fruit in paintings!
The other project I worked on this month was a replica knitted swimsuit for the Marks and Spencer Archive. With ‘swimsuit’ wool no longer produced and no patterns available for machine knitted costumes, it caused quite the conundrum! I got in touch with the Guild of Machine Knitters who directed me to a very talented lady who was able to produce the knitted section which I could then finish off with the fastening and edging. It certainly through us both some curve balls. One isse we came across was that modern wool doesn’t shrink in the same way and many of the costumes we have seen have been used in seawater and then stored for many years so the elasticity has been lost. I think the archive was a little surprised when it was so stretchy, though I have heard many stories of knitted swimsuits becoming backless and frontless when used in water!
Next month is looking like another packed month with more try-on costumes, a 1930s project and the launch of a new and improved portfolio page on my website. Tune in next month!