Thursday, 30 June 2016

Historic Clothing at Westminster Abbey

Costume historians now have a unique opportunity to study the treasury of historic clothing adorning the funeral effigies in Westminster Abbey, London. The figures are currently being completely undressed and taken apart for conservation work before they are moved from the old crypt museum to the new museum being built.

The oldest effergies were made to be displayed at the funerals of monarchs, when elaborate ceremonies weeks or even months after the death made the old custom of displaying the real body on a bier in the funeral procession impossible.

The custom was copied by aristocrats, some commissioning their own flattering and very expensive effigies in life, to be displayed dressed in their own most sumptuous clothes.

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Near King Charles II stands “la Belle Stuart”; Frances, Duchess of Richmond, who ordered that her wax effigy, dressed in her coronation robes, be set up in Henry VII's chapel near the grave of Ludovic Stuart, cousin of James I, and his wife Frances. She died on 15 October 1702 and was buried in the Duke of Richmond's vault in Henry VII's chapel. Her husband (d.1672) had been buried there but neither have monuments or gravestones. Frances had intended the wax figure, modelled by Mrs Goldsmith, to be her memorial.

Beside her wax effigy stood her pet African grey parrot on a stand. It is said to have lived with her for 40 years and died soon after her. Very few mounted bird specimens survive from this period but x-rays show that the entire skeleton of the bird is intact including its skull. This was a very primitive technique but the parrot probably survived because it was kept in a showcase

Most of the effigies have crudely modelled wooden or straw stuffed cloth legs, since they would never be seen under the layers of clothing, but La Belle Stuart's slender ankles and calves, dressed in two layers of silk stockings, were modelled in wax.

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The costume collection is of international importance, and includes exceptionally rare surviving underwear including the chamois leather trimmed corset of Elizabeth I, a tiny corset made for a four-year-old boy, and the five layers of petticoats and sky blue gold embroidered corset that Frances proved to be wearing.

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Charles' effergy was dressed in a flowing crimson and blue velvet garter robe, and a blue silk doublet and breeches interwoven with real gold thread, heavily embroidered in silver and trimmed with flounces of silver lace. Even the fringe of silk ribbons is regarded as being of importance by the costume historians, and only one other comparable suit is known, in Scotland.
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The effigies dating back to the 14th century have carved wooden heads, but the later figures were startlingly realistic, modelled in wax with glass eyes and real eyelashes and eyebrows.


The figures include Henry VII, Elizabeth I, Charles II, William and Mary, and William Pitt. The last installed was Admiral Lord Nelson, an audacious attempt by the abbey to claw back some of the tourist trade lost to St Paul’s, where he was actually buried.

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The most poignant is the little Marquess of Normanby, who died aged three in 1715, and whose effigy was dressed in sumptuous clothes including a Spitalfields silk gown and a peach velvet coat – both tailored with slits in the back to take the leading reins he was still wearing. His tiny clothes were the height of fashion for his day.

The effigies became a major tourist attraction for visitors who paid pennies to see them, but as they became dustier and shabbier they were moved into more obscure corners of the abbey, until by the 19th century they were known as “the Ragged Regiment”. There was some restoration work in the 1930s. During the war they were moved for safekeeping to the incongruous surroundings of Piccadilly tube station.

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Frances Teresa (Stuart), Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, known as 'La Belle Stuart' was born in 1647, the daughter of Walter Stuart (a distant relative of the royal house of Stuart) and his wife Sophia. She was brought up in France and after the Restoration came to England with her mother and was appointed maid of honour to Catherine of Braganza, queen of Charles II.

Samuel Pepys, the diarist, recorded that she was the greatest beauty he had ever seen. The King was so besotted with her that he considered divorcing Catherine to marry her but Frances had already accepted the proposal of Charles Stuart, Duke of Richmond and Lennox (as his third wife). She eloped with him, much to the fury of the King, and they were married privately in March 1667.

cast of a medal by John Roettier, silver medal, 19th century (circa 1667)
cast of a medal by John Roettier, silver medal, 19th century (circa 1667)

Following the war with the Dutch, Charles had a commemorative medal cast, in which her face was used as a model for Britannia; this subsequently became customary for medals, coins and statues. Thus, a Scottish woman graced not only medals commemorating a naval victory, but also the coinage of the Realm.

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She continued to appear on some of the copper coinage of the United Kingdom until the decimalization of the currency in 1971. She also appeared on the fifty pence piece in 2006.

In  1669 the King's infatuation with Frances was again demonstrated when she became seriously ill with smallpox. Charles rushed to her bedside and forgave her for marrying without his consent. She recovered, and the King allowed the Queen to appoint her a Lady of the Bedchamber. At this point the relationship between Frances and the King changed to one of friendship. Charles had fallen for the charms of Nell Gwynne.

The duchess was present at the birth of James Francis Edward Stuart, son of James II, in 1688, being one of those who signed the certificate before the council. James’s enemies later developed an elaborate theory that a live newborn from another mother had been slipped into Mary of Modena’s bed in a warming pan to replace her own stillborn child and to be presented as the male heir to the throne.

After the death of her husband in the 1670's, and without children or a male heir, Frances' husband's estates reverted back to the King. He continued to be her good friend and granted her a 1000-pound pension per year for life. Before she died in 1702 Frances arranged to purchase the estate of Lethington, south of Haddington in the Lammermuir Hills of East Lothian, Scotland.

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In memory of her title as Duchess of Lennox she requested the estate's name to be changed to Lennoxlove. Today it continues as a memorial to her. Her portrait by W. Wissing and J.Van der Vaart hangs in a place of honour in the manor house. The blue eyes still flash in her beautiful face, capturing the hearts of all who pass by.

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While the King surrounded himself with a bevy of mistresses throughout his life, most historians see Frances, the “one who got away”, as the one love interest who truly broke his heart. During his pursuit of her, Charles wrote her the love poem:

“The Pleasures of Love”:

I pass all my hours in a shady old grove,
But I live not the day when I see not my love;
I survey every walk now my Phyllis is gone,
And sigh when I think we were there all alone,
Oh, then ‘tis I think there’s no Hell
Like loving too well.

But each shade and each conscious bower when I find
Where I once have been happy and she has been kind;
When I see the print left of her shape on the green,
And imagine the pleasure may yet come again;
Oh, then ‘tis I think that no joys are above
The pleasures of love.

While alone to myself I repeat all her charms,
She I love may be locked in another man’s arms,
She may laugh at my cares, and so false she may be,
To say all the kind things she before said to me!
Oh then ‘tis, oh then, that I think there’s no Hell
Like loving too well.

But when I consider the truth of her heart,
Such an innocent passion, so kind without art,
I fear I have wronged her, and hope she may be
So full of true love to be jealous of me.
Oh then ‘tis I think that no joys are above
The pleasures of love.

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Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Wordless Wednesday


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Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Embroidery from around the world

Today's post is about a fair trade artisan group in India. St Mary's is a mix of Christian, Hindu and Muslim women working together using traditional skills to create Gujarti embroidery which features mirror work.

The clips are just over 13 and 14 minutes respectively.  They provide us with a thought provoking look at embroidery in another culture and how through women coming together they have access to medical help, saving schemes, education and scholarships for their children.







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Gujarat  is a state in Western India, sometimes referred to as the "Jewel of Western India". Gujarat was known to the Ancient Greeks, and was familiar in other Western centers of civilization through the end of the European Middle Ages.

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Kutch Embroidery is a handicraft and textile signature art tradition of the tribal community of Kutch District in Gujarat This embroidery with its rich designs has made a notable contribution to the Indian embroidery traditions. The embroidery, practiced normally by women is generally done on fabrics of cotton, in the form of a net using cotton or silk threads. In certain patterns, it is also crafted over silk and satin.

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The types of stitches adopted are “square chain, double buttonhole, pattern darning, running stitch, satin and straight stitches”. The signature effect of the colorful embroidery sparkles when small mirrors called abhla are sewn over the geometrically shaped designs. There are 16 different types of embroideries known in Gujarat, each belonging to a different community. All of these communities have their own, unique style of embroidery, different motifs, patterns that give them a visual identity. Even a person’s social status can be identified through the embroidery he or she wears.

From the geometric Kharek to the intricate Suf and to the thorn bush inspired Rabari, the identity of every Kutchhi person is woven in the stitches of these embroideries. Things seen in daily lives; flowers and bushes, peacocks and camels, women doing household chores and men tending to cattle, all these are inspirations for these beautiful designs.

ANTIQUE DOWRY BAG WITH EMBROIDERY & MIRRORWORK, KUTCH GYPSY TRIBE, INDIA

The history of the Kutch Embroidery can be traced to the 16th and 17th centuries when people migrated from  countries such as Afghanistan, Greece, Germany, Iran and Iraq to Gujarat.

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Kutchhi women embroider everything from garments to wall hangings, toran, bed covers, bags and even camel decorations. Mirror-work, which is a characteristic identity of Gujarat, is thought to be originated with the use of naturally occurring mica found in the deserts. It is used so much now that mirror glass is specially manufactured for this purpose.

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Traditionally, embroideries were largely meant for personal use, dowry or gifts and are a generational art with the skills taught from mother to daughter. For the woman of the Gujart embroidery is just another part of their daily chores but one from which they are able to create a source of income.

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Monday, 27 June 2016

Monday morning musings

Stitchery is not a word that is in common use in my part of England today or at least in my vocabulary, and on reading the word I stopped and looked it up. The dictionary definition of the noun is "needlework, sewing, especially modern embroidery". It is good to learn something new everyday even a small word.

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Besides embroidery, stitchery can be used to refer to plain sewing,  dressmaking and mending. How many of us make our own clothes and darn socks?

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There was a time when it was taken for granted that all women could plain sew. I remember being taught in school how to hem, seam and gather whilst making an apron. It is very different learning a stitch at school and using the skill in adulthood. Poor teaching can make a school lesson dull but a good teacher can open up a fascinating world and start you on a life long journey that can take you to many different places.

If you think back to your school days and remember "domestic science" as boring, think again. In researching different forms of needlework I am learning about their historical, geographical and economic backgrounds. Take the simple Dorset button for example.

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Photo Rachel Reynolds
A Dorset button is a style of craft-made button originating in the English county of Dorset. Their manufacture was at a peak between 1622 and 1850, after which they were overtaken by machine-made buttons from factories in the developing industries of Birmingham and other growing cities.

'Wheels' are the most characteristic form of Dorset button. They are also known as Blandford Cartwheel, Crosswheels, Basket weave, Birds eye, Yarrell and Mites.

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Image copyright Potter Wright and Webb

Toggles and simple buttons had been made throughout England since time immemorial to meet local needs. Buttons were traded between towns by itinerant peddlers. but there was no organised trade or centres of production beyond this. Around 1600, men's upper-body clothing was beginning its transition from the doublet to the coat.  Buttons became larger, more prominent and became a specialist item made by button-makers, rather than tailors.

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The first Dorset buttons used products of the local sheep farms: ram's horn as a base and locally produced cloth over this.

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Image copyright Potter Wright and Webb

These were the High Top buttons. The doublet or peascod was fastened by a single central row of small, closely spaced buttons. These were made tall, to avoid the small buttons slipping out of the stiff fabric. As the button line of fashion moved outwards and the garment became more flexible, a wider and lower button was needed, the Dorset Knob.

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Image copyright Potter Wright and Webb

In 1622 Abraham Case moved to Shaftesbury and set up the first commercial button making enterprise.His first buttons were made in a small workshop. Later buttons for the growing trade were made by outworkers working from their homes as piece work. Some farm workers worked farmland during daylight hours, button making in the evenings or in Winter. Most though were full-time button makers. This outwork became the norm and became an important source of income for many families, and for those too old to work in the fields.

A good buttoner could make around six dozen (72) buttons a day and could earn up to 3 shillings.[11] Buttons sold at retail for between eight pence and three shillings a dozen. This compared to wages of perhaps 9d a day as a farm worker.

By the end of the 17th century, Buttony had grown to become an important industry, controlled within the Case family. In the early 1800's new forms of button were developed. Wire was imported by wagon from the Midlands, then twisted into rings and soldered. These ring formers replaced the previous horn discs and began the characteristic Dorset styles of the wheel buttons. Ring making was carried out by children working as 'Twisters' who formed the rings, 'Dippers' who soldered them shut and 'Stringers' who tied them into strings for distribution to the button makers.

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The hand made Dorset Button was slowly replaced by machine made buttons. The first cloth and thread button machine was invented by Benjamin Saunders 1825. The Saunders machine was closely followed by others including one by John Aston in the early 1840s.

Amongst the many industrial machines on display at the Great Exhibition was Mr John Ashton's button-making press, first patented in 1841.This could manufacture buttons from thin metal sheet far more quickly and cheaply than hand work. These new buttons had the advantage of smart modernity. Birmingham would soon become a major centre for this type of costume jewellery and small presswork. The centralised factories, steam power and access to venture capital could not be competed with by the small-scale enterprises of rural Dorset.

Although the agrarian economy of Dorset remained profitable, the collapse of button-making led to much personal hardship. Many joined the mass emigrations to Australia, Canada or the USA. Some became destitute and entered the workhouse.

Information taken from Wikipedia

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