Textile Touring in England & Scotland

Being a lover of historic costuming and textiles, I was eager to see some of England's treasures while we were there!

We visited the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, primarily to see its textile exhibit. It is arranged chronologically and spans from the 18th century to the present. Photography is allowed (no flash) and the low-light conditions are required for the safety of the textiles, so no really great photographs here, but I thought you'd like to see the ones that caught my eye.

The oldest piece on display is this mantua from the mid-1700's. This grand gown would've been worn for court occasions. It would require side hoops, and yes, navigating doorways would be tricky as you slip through sideways. Later, I found a gallery with a pair of side hoops you could actually try on, which I did. They're fun! I thought the pattern of the print, with its copper and gold threads, was such a modern style for the 1700's. Imagine how beautifully it would've sparkled when candlelight danced off those threads!



Moving forward in time to about the 1770's, this polonaise. The polonaise is my favorite style from this time period, and it really always looks best (in my opinion) when it's done in a striped print, like this one.


This gown, from the early 1800's was my favorite of the day. Not that I liked its style more than others, but because the fabric was so beautiful! The sheen of it just seemed completely unspoiled despite its age. And the intricacy of the tiny diamond pattern mixed with the floral medallions was just lovely.



Early 1800's riding habits! The women's was Colette's favorite of the day.


Some truly beautiful examples from the 1830-1840's. 


In the 1860's category, there was this beautiful green bodice and a piece of the yardage used to make it, which strikes me as very unusual to find both pieces.


While I was studying this stunning 1860's fuschia, hoop skirted ensemble, a small girl nearby was exclaiming to her mother, "You could fit a whole family under that!"



From the 1920's, we loved this orange velvet gown.


I was always curious why, when you watch British WWII movies, you see everyone carrying one of these little purse sort of things. My suspicions were confirmed. They are gas mask cases.


About two weeks later, we found ourselves at the Fashion Museum of Bath, in Bath, England. It is housed below the Assembly Rooms, where the people of Bath in Georgian times, including Jane Austen herself, would've come to dance. (More on that in a later posting.) As this museum's collection is lesser known than the Victoria & Albert's, I wasn't really sure what to expect. And even looking at the map of the building given to me when I paid our admission fee, I was dubious about it, as it appeared to be a very small, single room in the basement of the building. Well, I was pleasantly surprised! It was room after room after room...many more items that the Victoria & Albert currently had on display, and some truly breathtaking examples! It's collection spans from the 1600's to the present. My favorite fashion timeline spans from 1770's through the 1880's, so that's primarily what I have to share with you from this museum.

The placard next to this 1770's example said that it was a reminder that the past was not sepia, but vibrant and alive like today. I LOVED that! So true!



So many beautiful 18th century details!



Early 1800's gowns, just like one would've seen in the Assembly Rooms just in the floors above so many years ago.


A rare example of a white wedding gown. Prior to Queen Victoria wearing white for her wedding, and hence starting the trend for the rest of the world from that point to the present, women simply wore their best dress, or another special dress, for their wedding.


A bit of historical fashion truth was posted on the wall.


Not only did I do textile admiring while in England, but I did textile shopping too! At the beginning of the trip, Colette and I visited Liberty of London, renowned for its dainty floral prints.


Most of one floor is devoted to yardage! I surprised Colette here by asking her to pick out a favorite print, which someday, when she's married and (hopefully) has a daughter, I will make into a dress, Lord willing, for her. It would be a sweet memory of when we got to visit London together! She chose a dainty, multi-colored floral print which she thinks will pair well with a sweater. 


In the shopping category, Edinburgh tops my list for tartan and tweed and all things wool. The Royal Mile is lined with shops selling: cashmere and wool scarves, fisherman knit scarves, throws, wraps, beautiful woven wool blankets, etc. I left with several scarves and a fine pair of Harris tweed gloves (tweed on one side, leather on the palms). Just off the Royal Mile, the Walker Slater store won our hearts with its beautiful designs, innovative take on historical fashion, and high quality merchandise (scarf in the bag!). 


A peek inside at their beautiful array of tweed offerings. This is their ladies' shop. The menswear store is just up the street.


And look at this beautiful ensemble! This is a modern day spencer! A spencer was a short coat popular for ladies' wear in the late 1700's- to early 1800's. The collar, front to back, is one gracefully swooping piece. And the jacket can be buttoned three ways...as you see it here, or double-breasted, or with the highest buttonholes moved up one notch on each side and the overlap then folding back and buttoning down. Masterful engineering!


And on the very last day of our trip, Colette and I zipped across town via taxi to visit 
V.V. Rouleaux (and my apologies to them for accidentally cropping off the last letter in their name).


Amazing fascinators displayed in their window (above). If you need one, they'll sell you everything you need to make it yourself, or you can custom design one and they'll do it for you! They are the ultimate ribbon shop! But let them describe themselves to you, as they do it so well on the wall inside:


My passion for velvet ribbon could certainly run riot here! Be still my heart! There is an equal amount of velvet ribbon on the reverse side of this rack.


Never in my life, have I seen pleated ribbon like this!

I loved how the sign reminded you of the dates of Ascot...just in case you need a fascinator or need to have a hat trimmed. And the languages spoken! That last one being a universal language, of course!


Here I am, outside of their violet-colored shop, just tickled as can be with my little bag of trimmings! And I love it how they pack them into a clear bag, so you can continue admiring them after you leave the shop...like so much textile eye candy! I purchased some wide tartan ribbon and some royal blue velvet piping to trim Christmas dresses for my granddaughters, AND some double-faced velvet ribbon in a rich blue. I have no idea what I'm doing with the latter, but I never even knew double-faced velvet ribbon existed until I came here! I'm still fingering it with wonder!


Then it was one last stop for tea and scones before we flew home. But really, it was hard to concentrate on tea because the ribbons were sitting on the table! So distracting...in a wonderful way!

Next up: Iconic London Sights.

London Museums

The first three days of our trip were spent in London, and we toured one museum each day.

We began with the British Museum, which houses the treasures Britain has accumulated from around the globe.



The building itself is the largest glass-ceilinged building in the world, and the fascinating architecture continually draws your eye upward.




One of the greatest treasures of the British Museum, and definitely a highlight for me, is the Rosetta Stone. It is the stone that enabled mankind to crack the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics.


Rameses II.


This is one of the earliest known libraries. It belonged to King Ashurbanipal of Assyria. The placard next to this library said, "Ashurbanipal was always proud of being literate and boasted of his learnedness. Some of these texts were written in his own hand. His sister and his wife also learned to write." Amazing!



There is one large room devoted to the Parthenon frieze and sculptures. While the Parthenon still stands in Greece, these pieces once adorned its sides and crowned its top.



The Greek emphasis on their flowing textiles really caught my eye at this museum. Such beautiful work. You can almost feel the folds and drapes in the fabric.


In the galleries not devoted to ancient art, these two items caught my eye. The first is an early, Celtic shield.


And this is an early automaton (c. 1585). The placard read, "This spectacular machine, in the form of a medieval galleon, was intended to announce banquets at court. The entertainment began with music from a miniature organ inside the hull, drumming and a procession. Afterwards, the ship would travel across the table. When it stopped, as a grand finale, the front cannon would automatically fire, lighting a fuse that would fire the other guns."


The next day, we explored the many rooms of the National Portrait Gallery. 



Among my favorites of the day were these well-known portraits of: Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare, and John Bunyan.




And this painting, which spanned nearly the width of a large room, just made me gasp. So beautifully captured! The artist may surprise you. It did me! It was painted by John Singer Sargent, probably better known for painting elegantly attired, late-Victorian women than military leaders.


Another of my favorites was this life-size sculpture of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Such devotion captured in stone!


And on our third day, we visited the Victoria & Albert Museum. It is a museum to the decorative arts, or, as I've heard it described...one Martha Stewart-types will enjoy. Oh yes. I'll take that! It's mostly known for its extensive textile collection. However, I will be sharing the textile pictures in another posting.




A Raphael.


A fascinating small item that piqued my interest.


And lastly, this parade shield from Florence, Italy struck me as so beautiful. What workmanship!


Next posting: Textile Touring.
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