April 2022 - at last the 2020 programme of events has got up to date with no less than eight guided tours of the Broderers' Guild workshop at Norwich Cathedral. Manager Helen Jenkins and her team of dedicated volunteers opened up the Broderers' Studio, a vital part of Church life in East Anglia and beyond. C&TA Members gained a privileged insight into the depth of skill and knowledge required to produce, maintain and restore a range of sumptuous ecclesiastical garments and altar fronts from humble rural churches to magnificent cathedrals.
Each is painstakingly hand stitched on natural fabrics in expensive mixtures of silk, linen and wool. Designed to last for decades, they are invariably visually dazzling in rich colours, and big, bold patterns to make an impact even from the back of a church. It was a delight to witness the Guild's work maintaining a rich textile heritage dating back centuries.
Fine needlework was a theme of other events this month with Joy Evitt's fascinating glimpse into the classic haute couture world of Coco Chanel, complete with sample garments.
And The Costume Detectives' latest 'undercover' investigation brought along a whole range of gorgeous satin and lace in their investigation of ladies 'unmentionables'. From lovely lace knickers and bras to slips and silk stockings, it was a tactile delight as Investigative Team Leaders Isobel Auker and Jenny Daniels introduced our 'detectives' to the intimate and fascinating world of undergarments throughout history - including mid-15th century Lengberg Drawers, discovered as remnants in an Austrian castle; beautifully constructed boned corsets, delicate lace bodices, flannel nightshirts and woollen combinations. It was a joyful day full of laughter and surprises. We look forward to the next Costume Detectives, which will be a very special one … watch this space.
Meanwhile on Zoom, Author Victoria Finlay's exuberant examination of 'Fabric, the Hidden History of the Material World' took us round the world from Alabama to Papua New Guinea, and across time, in a fascinating examination of our relationship with cloth, and the gift of turning scraps of fabric into an art form.
Speaking of which, our monthly online Afternoon Chat not only let us into the secret of which nail varnish HM Queen Elizabeth II has been wearing throughout her reign (and yes I am wearing it now as I type!) and we took a look at yarn bombing. Has your post box been coddled lately? Send us your pics!
So here it is… the inaugural C&TA Blog Post!
To all Costume and Textile Association Members, hello, and to anyone else with an interest in fabric, textiles and the history of costume we hope you will enjoy joining in with our Blog.
If you don’t know the C&TA, we are a lively organisation bringing together people who are keen to support and learn more about the history and development of costume and textiles. We are an independent charity based in the historic city of Norwich in the East of England.
This ‘Fine City’ has a rich heritage which owes much to the textile industry on which it was built. For at least 900 years textile workers have brought wealth and innovation to the city. The Normans raised their castle and great cathedral here in the eleventh century as the wool trade made Norwich a thrive. During the medieval period Norfolk worsted, linen, dyeing and weaving helped to make Norwich England’s second city. And in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries intricately woven Norwich Shawls gained international acclaim and were the ultimate fashion accessory to wear over a crinoline. We seek to promote knowledge of this proud history and conserve and expand the unique costume and textile collection of the Norfolk Museums Service, housed in that Norman Castle.
The initial idea of this Blog is to report back on the many and varied talks, visits, meetings and events for those who were not able to attend them, and a chance for those who did to share thoughts and continue the conversation.
Makers and Menders
This month has been a busy one for the C&TA, with two inspiring zoom presentations on Mending from Joy Evitt and Kate Sekules. These were run in conjunction with the popular Norfolk Makers Festival held at the Forum in Norwich. Our members also put on three days of workshops where anyone could come and learn to make patches, visibly mend and embellish old garments to give them a new lease of life - reducing waste and benefitting the environment.
And we mounted an impressive display of work from Norwich University of the Arts fashion and design students - all winners of C&TA sponsored design awards inspired by Norwich's proud past.
The makers of the present inspired by the past... and there is so much to learn!
Keeping us in stitches
This month we also enjoyed a memorable presentation from Lucy Adlington and Meredith Towne of the History Wardrobe. The event had been postponed for 2 years due to Covid, but it was more than worth the wait! Lucy and Meredith excelled themselves with their discourse on The Secret Life of Knitting – a richly varied jaunt from vegetable-dyed socks discovered in an Egyptian pyramid, to the most poignant life-saving knitting from Auschwitz, to pink pussy hats, a global symbol of female solidarity in 2017. All this was sandwiched between much laughter at their quick-fire costume changes and their wonderful collection of both original and authentic-reproduction garments. They introduced us to extraordinary accessories, hilarious knitting pattern poses and the role of K1, P1 in wartime espionage! From intricately cabled fishermen's ganseys designed to be water and weather proof to less practical woollen swimming costumes and even a knitted mermaid's tail! this fun show highlighted the skill of knitters and the infinite diversity of designs and uses knitting needles and yarn can be put to.
Lucy and Meredith modelling original 1960’s bridesmaid dresses, knitted by the bride herself, who wore a matching hooded outfit in white.
Pink pussyhats showing knitting is still very much alive and kicking!
We are looking forward to the The History Wardrobe team returning with 'Divine Deco - The Art of the Dressmaker' in July.
A window on the Aztecs
Our regular monthly zoom talk this month came from Dr Frances Durocher, whose Introduction to the Ancient Textiles of the Andes took us back over 6000 years with a fascinating guide to the colourful, intricate textiles created by spinners, dyers, weavers and embroiderers of Peru, dating back millennia. Decorated with lively human and animal motifs, we got to see a varied collection of rare treasures now housed in museums around the world. Snakes, cats and humming birds danced across many incredible pieces which have been preserved at ritual burial sites giving us an extraordinary window into how ancient cultures, made, decorated and used textiles and clothes. There is evidence of large workshops of highly-skilled workers using cotton or vibrantly dyed alpaca, vicuna and llama wool, embellished with feathers. We can also see how these pieces were mended and repaired by less skilled hands - but they were certainly made to last - testament to the use of natural fibres and dyes, preserving a rich cultural history.
During April, if you love a good podcast, don't miss this new audio series!
Norfolk Museums are releasing a series of six audio episodes highlighting some of the objects that were on display as part of the Textile Treasures Exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum.
It’s all free to listen to. They will be releasing one episode a week for six weeks.
Click on this link to listen now to Episode 1 - Fashion and Sustainability:
Stream Norfolk Museums Service | Listen to Unstitched playlist online for free on SoundCloud
Do let us know what you thought of these presentations - we love feedback! And catch up with us again in our next Blog at the end of April.