Interactive Costumes for The National Civil War Centre

The National Civil War Centre in Newark commissioned a set of 10 visitor try-on costumes to be used by the general public within the gallery space of the museum. The brief was clear but gave great scope for creativity as well. The costumes had to demonstrate the range of different social, religious and economic influences there were on people during the 17th century whilst also covering a large age group and both genders. A great challenge.

I planned the costumes carefully and after discussing all the options with the client it was decided that the range would be as follows: a rich adult male Cavalier, a rich adult female Puritan, a rich teen girl Cavalier, a teen girl Puritan, a rich boy Cavalier (copying a portrait of Lord Belasyse hung in the gallery), a rich girl Cavalier, a girl Puritan, a boy Puritan and a Casque (cloak/coat). In addition 8 hats were also designed and decorated for use in the galleries and for education.

The next challenge was settling on the final designs and choosing suitable materials. As the costumes were going to be in the galleries they needed to be robust, suitable for dry-cleaning and easy to get on and off without sacrificing too much by way of authenticity so the visitors got the best experience of 17th century costume as possible.

I chose to make all the costumes but the casque back fastening to enhance the overall impression of the costumes for photos (a key requirement for the public). Sets of strong ties were placed down the back to secure the costume on the wearer. Velcro was immediately dismissed as an option as not only does it damage the fabric but also means the costumes would not be adjustable, and therefore able to accommodate a range of people.

The fabrics and trimmings were all chosen to mimic those seen in the 17th century. The Puritan and adult female Cavalier costumes were all made of pure wools, to give a level of authenticity. The rich Cavaliers and Puritan costumes were made using duchess satins or upholstery fabrics with patterns suitable for the era. These types of fabrics are much more robust than the silks  such costumes would originally be made of. All the costumes were lined with black cotton drill to make them as sturdy as possible and wadding, canvas and boning was used were suitable to enhance the overall appearance of the costumes, giving them an authentic weight, feel and silhouette on the wearer.

The costumes were in place for the opening of the new museum on May Bank Holiday Weekend 2015. The response was fantastic and a massive thank you to all the visitors who where happy to have their photos taken.

*Costume construction assisted by Ruth Watkin and Allana Marsh