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Our Costume Volunteers are an amazing group of ladies, many of them members of NADFAS, bringing huge knowledge and expertise in  helping to identify, catalogue and look after the museum’s vast collection of costume.

Last week, over fifteen of them met for some training, given by one of their own number, Caroline Lanyon, who was, of course, able to make use of items from the collection to illustrate her points.



Caroline’s aim was to assist Volunteers in dating pieces of costume. She told her audience that eighteenth century clothes could be easy to identify as those that survive are made from woven silk brocades with distinct pattern designs. Printed cottons came later.

The early nineteenth century was characterised by the Classical Grecian look. As is often true of fashion, it helped to have a sylph-like figure! In the middle, and towards the end, of that century the styles epitomised, and of course, led, by Queen Victoria were all the rage, with bolder colours and tartans. Later, as the Queen herself went into mourning, more subtle colours became fashionable.

The Volunteers must, however, look for alterations to clothes, and for clues that the items are genuine and were not just produced for dressing up (which was not unusual), so  Caroline was able to talk about looking for the right kind of stitching – rough and ready in the eighteenth century (except embroidery, which was exquisite), finely had sewn in the nineteenth and, of course, machine stitched later.

Did you know that the definition of ‘couture’ is that the item has been tailor made without machine stitching, allowing the maker to craft the clothes more precisely, but at great cost of time and expertise?

Costume pic

It might have been training but it was a treat!