Sunday, 19 May 2013

Crime fighting laundry marks

A rather different detective story connected to laundry marks, I found this fascinating reading:

'In many instances clothing worn is still identifiable after the body has gone with the elements. In any event the body may outlast the clothing or the clothing may outlast the body and any police department equipped to extract the last shred of evidence or clue from either has a definite ace in the sleeve.'
'... it is my experience that nearly everyone, knowingly or not, has traceable clues in his or her clothing.' Adam Yulch, 1946
Thank goodness!

Friday, 10 May 2013

Pride and Prejudice - Having a Ball

A fascinating programme, Pride and Prejudice - Having a Ball was shown this evening on BBC 2. This is a documentary 'celebrating the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, revealing the hidden world behind one of the greatest love stories of all time by restaging a regency ball at Chawton House, the grand estate of Jane Austen's brother. Amanda Vickery and Alastair Sooke lead a team of world class experts as they reconstruct the ball in loving detail, from music and dancing, to food and fashion.'

You can also see a catwalk show of some of the costumes, which is interesting because it shows the variety of fashionable and provincial styles. I also found it interesting to see how the dancers responded to the costumes, how it changed posture and movement. There is also a little film about how to dance the regency waltz, should you desire to don your dance pumps.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


Over the past few months I have read an enormous amount about costume related subjects. From fashion research theories, costume histories and pattern cutting to social history and consumer culture, the project has taken me through a diverse range of topics. In fact that has been one of the really interesting things for me; that one object can be read from so many different angles and can open out so many subjects. This is a way of working that really appeals to me as a researcher, starting with something very specific and by 'unpicking' it understanding all the different ways of 'reading' it.

I have been writing up a bibliography on the side bar if you are interested to see the range of texts I have been using. I have also been accessing some interesting libraries, including the National Art Library at the V&A, Manchester Metropolitan University and of course our wonderful library at Bradford College. I have also tracked down a couple of items through inter-library loans from the British Library and bought a couple of back issues of journals from Abe Books. I love the process of tracking things down, and have been grateful for the time I spent working as a librarian gaining the necessary skills.

You can find my ever growing bibliography on the right bar of this blog.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

How to dress like a dandy

From BBC 4's series Elegance & Decadence presented by Lucy Worsley, here is a little clip about the  fashionable men's costume of the regency period.

How to dress like a dandy

Friday, 29 March 2013

Riffling the Queen's knicker drawer

... well not our current monarch, but yesterday I did get to look at Queen Victoria's underwear during a special research visit. The lovely curators of the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection at Historic Royal Palaces kindly agreed to let me look at some items in their collections, picking out some pieces with monograms and laundry marks.

Hampton Court Palace
Queen Victoria's split drawers, dated circa 1900, were made of fine linen and marked on the waistband with an exquisite, self-coloured, embroidered monogram and crown. The style of embroidery was much more elaborate than the marking on the Prince's Shirt and was also slightly larger. In short a completely different style of marking although it would have served the same purpose because it also had an number for laundry. You can see images here.

Queen Alexandra's nightdress had an almost identical style of monogram to Victoria's, this time below the front opening. Being from a similar date, it would seem this was a universal style for marking items in the royal household of this period.

Going back to 1810 (around the period of the Prince's Shirt) George III's white linen shirt was fascinating to see. The shirt was of a similar style to the Prince's Shirt, with a high standing collar and ruffled front opening, however it was less exuberant; the collar was shorter, the ruffle narrower, containing less fabric and the cuffs very short. The fabric of George's shirt was a fine linen but certainly nowhere near as fine as the Prince's Shirt, and there was no decorative embroidery around buttonholes. This completely took me by surprise as I had expected it would be comparable in quality. It would seem our Prince 'AF' had exceptionally fine taste indeed!

What was really wonderful to see was that the style of laundry marking was rather like to ours. On the right above the side vent was a tiny red cross stitch crown, the initials GR and the date 1810. The George IV shirt exhibited at Dress for Excess at Brighton Pavilion had a similar laundry mark.

Although there is no, one individual proof everything seems to point to The Prince's Shirt being exactly what it looks like. Fantastic news!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Mr Darcy's shirt

Something for comparison; a clip from the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth (in the shirt!).

Although this might not be useful in terms of historical research, it is interesting in bringing to life period style garments; understanding how they might look in real life, how they might move, etc.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Gallery of Costume at Platt Hall

This morning I had the opportunity to visit The Gallery of Costume at Platt Hall, Manchester. I arranged to look at their collection of shirts dating from 1800 to 1850. It was interesting to make comparison with the Prince's Shirt in terms of garment cut, style and weight of the cloth.

The box that was brought out to me was crammed with 13 linen shirts, folded between layers of tissue paper. Each was different. None of them quite matching the style of the Prince's Shirt, but finding familiar features amongst them.

Most of the shirts were quite yellow and stained. Marks from water, wear, staining, fold marks, etc. Some also showed signs of mending; darns, patches alterations and replacement sections. It made me aware what a wonderful condition the Prince's Shirt is in and how white it is. Has it been washed with modern detergents or just very well cared for?

The main thing I was able to observe was the difference in quality and weight of the fabric. From the collection at Platt Hall I found nothing even close in quality to the Prince's Shirt. The Prince's Shirt is a floating, transparent lawn, by comparison the other shirts seemed heavy. Dr Miles Lambert confirmed my thoughts about this and agreed that the shirt was of extremely high quality and something of very high status.

It made such a difference to see 'the real' thing rather than looking at images online. Handling the shirts and looking at their construction allowed me to see the similarities and understand how styles gradually evolved. I also found it fascinating to see the mended shirts, to realise how clothing and textile was valued and preserved.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Cut My Cote

This is an excellent reference and has helped me enormously in understanding the evolution of the shirt form. I also found it helpful to see how the different pieces could be cut from the width of cloth and hope to make some comparisons from my own research.

The more you look, the more you see.

One of the many things I have found fascinating so far about this research process is that by having the luxury of time to look at and study something in great depth, the more you look the more you see. Things that I barely noticed initially become fascinating elements requiring thorough visual study to understand construction.

I have also found that by starting to read about costume history alongside this it has made me interrogate the garment differently. A good example of this is that I read about a shirt in a museum collection being made from one piece of cloth for the body, folded at the shoulders. Now I had assumed (crucial error!) that the shirt was made from a front and back piece joined at the shoulder because I had seen a line of stitching there. On closer inspection after reading this I have ascertained that sure enough the main shirt body is one piece of fabric. The stitching across the shoulders is the addition of a narrow strip of fabric, stitched to the inside of the shirt, possibly this would have strengthened the garment.

So I feel more than ever that although it is good to look, study and record without bias, we already have bias and assumption. What is needed sometimes is further information to help us frame relevant questions.

Below are some more details that help to unpick the form and function of the shirt.

Button and buttonhole at cuff
Side vent/gusset
Triangular neck gusset
There is a very good reference to this neck gusset and other elements of the shirt in 'Cut My Cote' by Dorothy K. Burnham.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Research is... not tidy

It has occurred to me recently that while trying to tackle the Princes Shirt as a 'proper' academic project I may loose something of my personal angle. In discussion with a colleague yesterday it seems that many people feel that Prown's methodology for material culture analysis has it's downfall in this area. There is a danger of loosing huge amounts of contextual information by being blinkered to the surrounding story of an object.

I also feel that things are not neat and often cannot be compartmentalised, research cannot always be arranged to happen in the 'correct' order and it is not possible to remove emotion from the process. That said I do appreciate the importance of having a methodology, of avoiding bias as much as possible and of keeping an open mind.

So I have made the decision to look at things in a more holistic manner. Why not make measurements of the shirt and compare them with other examples? Why not look at the garment shape while reading about the evolution of the shirt? I think from now on I will try to use Prown as a framework or a check list for my project, rather than a rule book. I do not think it holds all the answers. I want to look wider, I want to ask experts and get advice. I also want to track my journey in a more honest way; the twists and turns, the dead ends and the don't knows.

Now that sounds like a plan!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Laundry mark

From this tiny embroidered laundry mark I decided to chart the individual stitches for means of documentation and comparison. It was easier said than done because the entire group of motifs measures just 14mm in height and the tiny cross stitches are the smallest I have ever seen. It was difficult in some cases to see if it was one stitch or two, even when magnifying. Below is my best effort, which is as close as I think humanly possible.

The laundry mark is on the right-hand side of the shirt front, next to the side gusset. It comprises: at the top, a crown shaped motif, in the centre the letters A.F and at the bottom the numerals 36.

The embroidery is stitched with very fine thread and the back looks neat, although there are some trailing threads between motifs and areas of the design.

Later I will be comparing this laundry mark with other examples and I hope this will prove a very useful vein of research.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Frustrating News

Today I encountered some frustrating news. Having contacted the V&A about visiting to view items from the reserve collection I received an automated reply in which I was informed that:

'We are unable to offer any appointments to view objects in our stores until autumn 2013 because we are building a new visitor centre at our Blythe Road branch in Kensington Olympia. This major development involves moving more than 80,000 items of textiles and dress and will take over two years. The Clothworkers' Study Centre for Textiles and Fashion Study and Conservation will be a dedicated facility to study, conserve and store the Museum's collection of textiles and fashion.'

In addition the textile galleries are also closed '(Rooms 98-100) have closed as part of the Museum's extensive FuturePlan programme of refurbishment.'

I suppose work of this kind is necessary in order to improve access to collections but it is very frustrating when working on a project with a limited time frame.  I do wish they would put something on the website to make it clear. Unfortunately this means I will have to look elsewhere for my research.

I will look forward to seeing the new visitor centre when it is finished!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Measuring up

This first stage of the Prince's Shirt research project is all about documenting and recording. While it might seem overly fussy to measure and photograph every detail, it may prove very useful in making comparisons with other period garments in order to date it.

At the moment my research is all about recording while I (try to) suspend judgement and avoid coming to conclusions prematurely.

Although I have measured just about every element of the shirt here are just the key sizes:

Shirt height (hemline to shoulder) - 990mm (39")

Shirt width (side seam to side seam) - 820mm (32")

Sleeve excluding cuff - 610mm (24")

Cuff depth - 85mm

Neckband depth at back - 95mm

Neckband depth at front - 135mm

Length of front opening - 460mm (18")

Width of each ruffle - 100mm

Length of fabric gathered into ruffle - approx. 650mm gathered into 250mm

Buttons - 10mm

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Getting Started

I had an unexpected opportunity to make a start on my research in earnest this afternoon. Being able to lay the garment out in a clean safe environment and having the time and space to study it in detail has been a real treat. We put out acid free tissue on the table and were able to spread the shirt out fully.

I have been resisting the temptation to peek at and handle the shirt before I was fully ready to begin the research. This being only the third time I had looked at shirt my memory of it was at odds with reality. I was surprised by just how fine and delicate the shirt is, especially the miniscule stitching. I felt a real sense of awe and wonder, both at the the shirt itself and also that I am lucky enough to be studying it.

Observing the fine quality of the fabric and construction I feel sure it must be a high status artefact, but that is getting ahead of myself and not consistent with my methodology. Still I felt it was important to make some notes about my responses while it is fresh in my mind.

Chiefly today was about starting the recording process; documenting the shirt with photography, taking measurements and making sketches. Here are a couple of my quick, working sketches, not in proportion but these should be useful for developing a better understanding of the garment.

Click on an image to enlarge.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Bradford Textile Archive

Yesterday I had a really interesting meeting with Helen Farrar, curator of Bradford Textile Archive. As the archive is situated within Bradford College this is a really handy resource, and one which I hope to use as a base for some of my research project.

Although the scope of the collection does not have many direct relationships with my project (being mainly later examples and fancy designs) Helen has kindly offered to allow me to use the archive space as a study space for analysing the shirt. Helen has also been able to recommend some further areas of research and identify books in the collection that may be helpful. I am also hoping that further down the line there may be opportunities to share my findings through the archive.

Although I have had a frustratingly slow start it seems as though some things are falling into place. I am so excited about really starting this project in earnest.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Elegance & Decadence: The Age of Regency

Although this goes completely against my methodology, and I have got ahead of myself in process, I have already come across possible ideas for the era of the 'Princes Shirt'. As a result my research antennae is tuned in to all things of the English regency period and thereabouts. This series called Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency is fantastic. The first episode was on BBC 4 yesterday with Dr Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces. You can watch the first episode on BBC iplayer here.

First Glimpses

Before my research project started I took a few photos, of which I share this one here to whet the appetite rather than to inform or analyse. I suppose these are sneaky snaps before I start the 'proper' work of research.

Research Proposal for 'the Prince's Shirt'

As I begin the process of formulating my research project and setting in motion the various elements of research it seems appropriate to set out my plans. Here I will share some of my research proposal which outlines my research questions, methodology and proposed outcomes.

This project aims to investigate the provenance of the 'Prince's Shirt', a historical garment in private ownership, which has a family story connecting it to royalty. The project will try to ascertain the likelihood of royal ownership and the wider historical and contextual reading of the garment through Object Analysis (see below). The project is an opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of Object Analysis in costume and textile research, and to present this case study to students and researchers in the field in order to further subject knowledge.

The garment is owned by my maternal Grandmother, and has been stored away in the family linen chest. It has never been researched and there is no known documentary evidence associated with it, only a vague, limited verbal account of it's supposed history.

Methodology & Research Questions
The methodology for this research project is also key to formulating the research questions. By using Prown's system of Object Analysis (1982), along with subsequent observations and suggestions from  Montgomery (1982) and Steele (1998), I can formulate questions based on the three stages of analysis:

Observing and recording the physical construction and appearance of the shirt by looking, studying, photographing, measuring and drawing; How big is it? What is it made of? How is it constructed? What is the visual appearance? Is there any decoration or ornament?
Sensory exploration of the garment by handling, recording responses and considering te garment as a whole: What does it feel like to wear? How might it be worn? How does it cover or fit the body? How does it function? What is the emotional response of the researcher to the shirt?
Formulate questions and/or hypothesis based on the first two stages, any previous subject knowledge of the researcher; What is the age and provenance of the Prince's Shirt; how old is it? Where was it made? What is the status of this object and the wearer? How does it compare to other similar garments and textiles? This will involve museum and archive research, Literature research and possibly input from experts in the field. Possible sources may include: Bradford Textile Archive, Bradford College; V&A museum, London; Whitworth Art Gallery and Platt Hall Costume Gallery, Manchester; Strangers Hall Museum, Norwich and the Royal Costume Collection at Kensington Palace.

Finally, and key to this research project, I want to explore how effective Prown's system of object analysis (1982) is in gaining a greater understanding of this historical garment? By documenting the research process throughout I aim to demonstrate this methodology  and how useful it is in understanding cultural artefacts.

Research Outcomes
An article appropriate for publishing in a specialist journal.

This blog is also an outcome of the research and aims to record the research process in an accessible format in order to reach a wider audience for textile and costume research.