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 Andes
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.
Caroline Whiting is a trustee of C&TA, an art historian and guide at Norwich's Norman Cathedral who is passionate about textiles as an art form, from medieval to modern.