Textile Ornamentation and Dress Adornment in Museums and Historic Houses | Workshop

9109/06/2016

University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton (UK)

Frills and Furbelows? Textile Ornamentation and Dress Adornment in Museums and Historic Houses

AbstractNaomi Bailey-Cooper, London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London, ‘How can embellishment deliver an alternative to the decorative and seductive notion of exotic animal materials?’

Animal materials such as fur, feathers and exotic skins are (ethically, socially and environmentally) problematic yet remain popular as decorative products in contemporary fashion. Industry has provided a range of engineered imitations of animal fur and exotic skins using other resources. However, few studies explore the seductive and inimitable associations of high-end animal materials, and apply these qualities to form alternative embellishments.

The historical context of this research is rooted in the transition of fur, feathers and exotic skins as functional to decorative. With a focus on the 19thand early 20th century archives at the Victoria and Albert Museum, this research analyses – through case studies – the boom in extravagant quantities of animal materials and the Romance of Furriery. Examples of such ornamentation are contained in the Clothworkers Centre at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in paintings and textural descriptions, along with animal fur imitation of the time.

This research aims to advance practice within textile design by using a historic archive to identify key motivators for the application of exotic animal materials as decoration. In addition, applying that knowledge to the design of embellishments that use alternative more ethically and socially responsible materials and methods. Potentially, inspiring other practitioners to use museum archives not only as a source of visual inspiration but for knowledge transfer about the motivations and effects of material consumption.

Jenni Dixon, Birmingham City University, ‘Beautiful Ingenuity: Luckcock’s Buttons and Male Display in the Eighteenth-Century’

Birmingham Museum houses James Luckcock’s collection of over 500 different buttons which were amassed between about 1780 and 1820, and are considered to represent mainly Birmingham based manufacture. Although buttons were essentially utilitarian, they became highly fashionable accessories for male dress in the eighteenth-century, and the Luckcock Collection depicts the wide variety of designs, materials and processes utilised to produce more decorative examples. The collection is also unusual as it was amassed at the time of production, or shortly afterwards, which adds another dimension, and reveals that these objects had desirable qualities outside contemporaneous retail and use.

To examine this, I propose to follow buttons from use, through retail, and their manufacture in Birmingham (of which Luckcock, as a jeweller, was part), in order to understand their place as a collectable article, and to explore ways in which to identify with museum objects as they were in the past.

Buttons could be social and cultural markers; sources comment on inappropriate button choice, as well as their role in male display and eighteenth-century masculinity. Although this display was aesthetic, these items also represented the ingenious skills, processes and technologies that produced them, which were part of a culture of enlightened manufacture. Birmingham’s Soho Manufactory, for example, produced a vast output of buttons, with more than half its site dedicated to button manufacture in the 1780s. Matthew Boulton developed the Soho site as a Birmingham in miniature, bringing a variety of trades together; from jewellers making individual ‘spangles’ and ‘cut stars’, to painting, gilding and edging shops utilising a variety of machinery. Soho’s archive depicts how a number of the Luckcock buttons would have been produced within this division of labour, which was a novelty to consumers, and attracted large numbers of tourists to both Soho and the wider town. In collecting individual buttons Luckcock assembled a cross section of this production, not just as beautiful objects, but as examples of Birmingham’s manufactured art and the processes entailed within. These aspects are hidden within the museum display, but wider research aids in understanding their appeal to eighteenth-century consumers, within and beyond the aesthetic.

Anthea Harris, University of Birmingham, ‘ “Coptic” Ornamental Textiles in the Care of the Ure Museum, Reading’

This paper reports on the results of a project to critically examine a small collection of so-called ‘Coptic’ textiles which were acquired in the 1930s by the founder of what is now the Ure Museum at the University of Reading (Annie Ure) as they were being disposed of by the British Museum. Described as ‘unconsidered trifles’ in the papers of Annie Ure, they were put in storage in an unconserved state and have only been catalogued and examined in the last decade. The collection comprises c.20 objects from a cemetery at Ahkmin in the Egyptian desert, most of which are ornamental tapestry roundels or border bands detached from linen garments. In some cases the ornamentation was integral to the garment; in other cases it was a separately executed piece, stitched onto the finished garment. Almost all the objects in the collection have been crudely cut away from a larger textile (which was then presumably discarded).

Ironically, the criteria by which previous generations of archaeologists, art historians and museum professionals disposed of these textiles might now form their main point of interest. The textiles had had a hard life before their excavation: most were damaged by acidic body fluids, causing shrinkage or dissolving of fibres (especially wool). Early 20th century collectors and professionals with an abundance of higher quality and more intact Coptic textiles available to them, and mainly interested in art historical research questions, selected against such ‘inferior’ examples and discarded them, not realising that some of them had the potential to yield more information about the ‘life’ of the textile (and thus the people who interacted with it) than their more ‘perfect’ counterparts.

The objects in the collection I shall report on here illustrate, for example, patterns of textile use, repair and re-use, as well as the processes of production themselves. There is evidence of darning, of ornamentation being recycled from garment to garment and of ‘rags’ being used as packing material in graves. Most museum collections of Late Roman and Byzantine Egyptian textiles do not normally permit such commentary, although the implications of examining their ‘social life’ in this way might be revealing, not least in challenging historiographies which describe burial ritual as privileging ‘new’ or ‘best’ clothes.

Kate Strasdin, Falmouth University, ‘Forgotten Ephemera: the Hidden Histories of Late 19th Century Embellishment’

Scholars of late 19th century female dress are familiar with the frills and the furbelows, the tassels, trappings and trimmings of garments that are integral to the aesthetics of the period. Yet this paper would argue that it is precisely the adornment that is so distinctive that is also somehow invisible – it is forgotten ephemera. In this paper I will consider how to reposition and reinterpret late 19th century dress embellishment from two perspectives: the embodied embellishment that already forms part of the decoration of a garment and the disembodied embellishment – those surviving pieces that never became part of a garment and so arguably retain a different identity, one that is perhaps more visible.

A collection of Edwardian haberdashery acquired recently, attached to their original gauze backings and cards offer a different approach for scholars who might then interrogate the nature of the embellishment when divorced from association with a garment. Such objects become commodified in such a context with their price per yard pencilled into the corner of the card and thus such trimmings, I would argue, attain greater visibility. The makers and retailers of these materials have become lost in time, part of many of the hidden histories of dress and textile production.

The trimmings of late 19th century female dress are often bound up with object biographies and the paper would examine case studies of the garments of Queen Alexandra, the subject of my PhD thesis, to analyse how the addition and removal of embellishment changes over time and in different contexts – one surviving garment in a museum setting had a beaded fringe added to the garment by volunteers in the 1960s to create a more ‘Queenly’ ensemble.

Interpreting this forgotten ephemera and shining a light onto these areas of dress and textile collections that have often been sidelined for more ‘complete’ garments can be seen as part of a growing interest in the many subsidiary trades that underpinned the fashion industry but which to date have been often neglected.

Anna Sznajder, ‘Linking communities through travelling textile craft collections – Bobbin lacemakers from Central and Eastern Europe’

The aim of this paper is to present the idea of travelling textile craft collections on the example of communities and individuals preserving the traditional bobbin lacemaking skills in contemporary Central and Eastern Europe. Studying the examples of craft displays known as regional galleries, ethnographic rooms in schools and cultural centers, or private collections the paper aims to indicate the role of bobbin lace exhibitions as historical representation of collective craft identity of the particular place.

Some of these collections are movable and participate in the projects based on cultural exchange with other countries. Current exhibitions of the laces during fairs across the Europe provide a context for interpretation of the meaning of historic and contemporary craft in a form of mobile collections. In particular International Bobbin Lace Festival in Bobowa (Southern Poland) provides an insight into the variety of connections between craft displays and lacemaking communities of local, national and international level.

Physical and symbolic space of the exhibition interweaves with local ethnographies and strengthens local identities through interaction with others as well as past and present craft items. It also gives insights into a sense of belonging to broader context made by European craftsmakers. What makes such collections innovative? What meanings collections of laces receives in the international event’s space? How displays are constructing the historic meanings for contemporary craft communities, hobby groups, individuals? The paper addresses these questions about travelling textile craft collections presenting the unique environment of bobbin lacemakers.

Alison Toplis, University of Wolverhampton, ‘Rural Embellishment: Smock Frock Case Histories’

By examining in detail a selection of smock frocks held in local museum collections, this paper will investigate the embellishment and ornamentation of these garments. The garments will be placed within their local context to explain both why they were manufactured in this way and if this effected why they became part of museum collections.

The focus will be on smock frocks from different regions of the country, including the south coast of England and Yorkshire, to investigate differences and similarities both in ornamentation and how the garment was used. In conclusion, the paper will question if the very act of collecting smock frocks in museums in the early twentieth century has led to an embellishment of the rural past and misrepresentations about the use of the smock frock.

Mark Wallis, ‘War & Peace’

Throughout the Early Modern Period one can trace elements of distinct national dress appearing in various European countries, except, curiously, in England. Our national dress – insofar as we can be said to have had one – is only recognisable as such by the late 18th century. Until that time a (wealthy) Englishman or woman borrowed freely from the clothing of other nations. The female courtiers flocking around Henry VIII wore French or Italian gowns, whereas their menfolk wore French or German modes – all instantly recognisable to contemporaries by differences in cut and decoration. Novelty in all things appealed to the king throughout his life and he owned several ‘Polish Gowns’ – one of which he is depicted wearing as an old man.

So-called Polish or Hungarian garments were recognisable by their strips of parallel braid decorating the chest and running from neck to waist; these gave the wearer an air of exoticism mingled with a whiff of gunpowder, especially as braided ‘dolmen’ jackets were worn by the famed Hungarian Hussars and Polish Lancers, some of the best light horseman in Europe in the period. This decorative style was actually adopted by Christians from the Turks, who conquered Hungary in 1526, although Ottoman turbans were replaced by furred, feathered caps – all very dashing!

Elizabeth the First was painted wearing a female version of the male doublet, decorated with strips of braid in the enduringly popular Polish/Hungarian style, whilst her subjects famously borrowed from other nations in their dress, mixing Italian breeches with Dutch cloaks, German doublets, Spanish shoes and French hats. Shakespeare makes fun of this mania for indiscriminate borrowing.

By the eighteenth century, the era in which these garments in my collection were made, the Polish/Hungarian style was in full swing and men anxious to give themselves a military or mysterious air wore braided coats on occasion. Their sons and grandsons in the nineteenth century did the same, whilst light cavalry regiments in all European armies were being dressed as Hussars, Lancers and Dragoons, the former still bearing the braided short jacket and fur cap of their sixteenth century antecedents. The Royal Horse Artillery in the modern British Army wear such braided jackets in their full dress today, so the style lives on and, I would argue, has lost none of its exoticism down the centuries.

Rosamund Weatherall, National Trust Textile Conservation Studio, ‘Investigation and revelation: The documentation and conservation of the hangings of the Spangled Bed from Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent’

The Spangled Bed from Knole House in Kent, home of the Sackville family, is currently undergoing conservation treatment at the National Trust Textile conservation studio in Norfolk. It is probably one of the most important state beds in the country, but it is also something of an enigma. The bed is known to have been in its current form from the early to mid 18th century, remaining in its current location from the point of installation. It has not been the focus of any major study until the Knole began a large and long-term HLF funded project for conservation of the house and collection when it was thought to be a Royal perquisite, as many other pieces in the collection. The work of Emma Slocombe, the Project Curator, has begun to reveal something of its true origin as a set of textiles thought to have been commissioned by Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex in the early 1620s. He was a mercer who rose to become Lord High Treasurer to James I in 1621 and whose daughter married into the Sackville family.

The textiles were made to fit a man of high status. Research on inventories for Chelsea House, his London home, show a fabulously decorated house and descriptions including a suite of state with a chair of state, a great chair and 2 canopies and sparviers with a suite of stools. Another document, a letter refers to the bed made for his wife who was reported to have lain in ‘very gorgeously’ in furnishing made by the King’s upholders.1

Each of these suites has something in common with the textiles found on the current bed: Embroidery, fringing and crimson damask. The extant hangings have applied embroidery of two separate types, but with common design motifs. The conservation work has also begun to reveal details hidden under a layer of dust and lost through wear and tear. Our current task on the bed hangings is to record what we find, and wet clean the curtains and stabilise the applique, originally of cloth of silver and cloth of gold, silver and silver gilt spangles, purl, silver and gold metal thread cords, silver and gold loop edge braids and narrow and deep fringes.

1. Chamberlain, II, Letter 394, 10 November 1621, p. 406; Letter 399, 22 December 1621, p. 417; Town and Fryman, “Lionel Cranfield and the Furnishing of Chelsea House 1620-1625,” p. 4.

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