Saturday 25 May 2019

The Textile Stories Study Day 2019: From the Cradle to the Grave - A report by Matilda Walker, aged 15

On 11th May 2019, around fifty people gathered at the University Centre Shrewsbury to hear a variety of interesting talks based upon textiles in relation to various key ceremonies in life. The topics discussed ranged from a medieval trousseau to contemporary film, and spanned many art forms. This was the seventh of such days organised by Professor Deborah Wynne.

            The day commenced with a talk by Sarah Thursfield, a professional pattern-cutter and amateur textile historian, titled ‘The Trousseau of Isabella of France, 1307’, which discussed the various items of clothing that it was made up of and the role of the different textiles available at the time. The audience were also interested by how the clothes were constructed and worn, and Sarah’s amazing display of reconstructed examples helped her to demonstrate this. We were also able to view images from this period in order to understand the role that clothing and textiles played in society.
Isabella of France

Afterwards, Holly Kirby, a National Trust curator, gave a talk about ‘The Costume Collection at Attingham Park: Phases of the 8th Lady Berwick’s Life as Seen Through her Clothing’. The eighth Lady Berwick lived from 1890 to 1972, however this talk mainly focused on her early life as she only left the National Trust with clothes from this time. Teresa Berwick was born in Venice and spent her childhood there with her sister. Attingham’s collection also contains clothes belonging to her sister and mother.

Holly Kirby delivering her talk while wearing an authentic dress from the 1890s.

Holly explained that when the First World War broke out, Teresa moved to London for a year and helped in translation due to her language skills. Afterwards, she returned to Italy to work as a war nurse and Holly was able to show us photographs of her from the time, and some of her remaining uniform, which is in the Attingham collection. After the war, she married Lord Berwick in Venice and moved to Attingham Park. We learned of her love of fancy dress and viewed some of her fabulous costumes from this period, which were often inspired by other cultures or time in history. As well as focusing on her clothes, Holly also showed us various portraits of her, painted by her artist friends, and some fabulous photographs which even appeared in Vogue! Following this enthralling talk, the audience were delighted to hear that we could see these outfits in person through a special tour of Attingham Park run by Holly Kirby.

            Following an exciting morning of talks, we all enjoyed a delicious vegan and vegetarian buffet lunch provided by Stop cafĂ©. This allowed us to discuss the morning with each other and the speakers themselves, before the afternoon’s sessions.

            First in the afternoon was a short story by Dr Lisa Blower, an award-winning novelist and short story writer, written especially for this event. We were very privileged to hear how the theme for our day had inspired the story ‘Tink’, which is a knitting term referring to a way of undoing stitches. She cleverly interweaved the theme of celebratory outfits by recalling how her mother’s woollen wedding dress was then “tinked” to become her and her sister’s Christening gowns.
Lisa Blower reading her story ‘Tink’, about unravelling and reknitting lives and wool.


To continue with the theme of celebratory wear in fiction, Amanda Ford discussed funeral wear in Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels, in particular in Mary Barton. We learnt about the life of Elizabeth Gaskell and industrialism in Manchester to provide a background to the book extracts and information about mourning customs at the time. Everyone was shocked by just how long women had to mourn for (13 months) and the etiquette surrounding mourning fabrics. Amanda introduced us to new fabrics, such as aerophane, and the concept of and meaning behind having somebody’s hair in a locket.


Victorian mourning jewellery

The final talk of the day was ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral: Costume and Ceremony in Contemporary Film’ by Dr Guilia Miller, who has published books and articles on film and adaptations. She discussed the role of costume in film and whether it should be designed for the character or actor, before moving on to look at examples. She discussed the role that costume plays in the plot of Gone with the Wind by Victor Flemming (1939), looking in particular at the wedding dress of Scarlett O’Hara (played by Vivien Leigh). For The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940), Giulia talked about how the famous costume designer, Adrian, used costume to convey character, whilst also designing it with Katherine Hepburn in mind. For this film, we were also able to see the role that costume played in black and white films. 
  Giulia Miller discussing costume design in film


Giulia went on to discuss how costume portrays character in the 1989 film Steel Magnolias directed by Herbert Ross, looking in particular at occasion wear in the wedding and funeral scenes. This film was interesting as the designer, Julie Weiss, chose to ignore the fact that she was dressing stars such as Julia Roberts and Dolly Parton. We then looked at the pastel colour scheme of Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2006), which won three awards, including an Oscar, for its costume design by Milena Canonero. Giulia discussed how costume portrayed the character of Marie Antoinette (for example, in the ball scene), whilst also maintaining the film’s aesthetic and themes. We then looked at an example of how costume is used in fantasy films, using The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (Bill Condon, 2011), where it is used to distinguish between the wolves and vampires and suggest character differences between the two. To continue with the theme of celebration wear, Guilia discussed Bella’s wedding dress. To finish, Giulia chose to look at costume in Ken Loach’s 2016 film I, Daniel Blake, which is something that many of the audience had not thought about, as it is intended to reflect the characters and seem as if it is something that they would buy themselves, rather than be chosen by a costume designer. We looked at how each of their individual styles are continued throughout the film and can be seen in their funeral wear.

All in all, it was a very interesting and informative day which was enjoyed by all. We can’t wait until the next Textile Stories Day! The theme for that event will be 'Textiles in Action'.

We would like to thank Matilda for writing this detailed account of the day and also Naomi Walker for taking the photographs reprinted here.



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