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.