Article featured in Period Ideas Magazine, September 2014.
Berrington Hall, Dresses

A Symphony In White

Look where Berrington’s latest costume display has ended up…featured on the pages of the glossy and stylish September edition of Period Ideas Magazine! The article, features the exhibition ‘Symphony In White’ created by Professor Nancy Hills and currently on display at Berrington Hall.

‘Symphony In White’ is an exhibition of reproduction costume charting the chronology of fashionable silhouettes from the 1780’s until the 1940’s. All the costumes are based on original designs from the Snowshill Costume Collection and the Hereford Museum and Learning Resource Centre.  The exhibition is the result of the brilliant Professor Nancy Hills, Utah State University, who has been studying the construction of the original garments for several years.

Professor Nancy Hills and her creations for Berrington Hall's 'Symphony In White' exhibition running until December 23rd 2014.

Professor Nancy Hills and her dresses on models at Utah State University. ‘Symphony In White’ exhibition at Berrington Hall until December 23rd 2014.

The following is Professor Hills in her own words taking us through the process of creating a few of the dresses featured in ‘Symphony In White.’

Professor Nancy Hills on the dresses featured in ‘Symphony In White’ at Berrington Hall:



Hereford Museum

This Caraco worn is gathered at the waist, under the bust and at the center front neck. The sleeves are simple, slightly curved and end just above the wrist.  The skirt length of the Caraco sits over a simple petticoat.   The drawstrings that hold it closed could easily be adjusted to accommodate a growing abdomen during pregnancy. Down the front edges and around the skirt is a 3 ½ and a half inch two to one ruffle. The neck is finished in a large collar that is reminiscent of a fichu style scarf

1865, Military Inspired Suit,


Each skirt panel is flanked on one side with the selvage of the fabric and cut on the other side angled along the bias.  When a cut is sewed selvage to bias, the skirt is pulled to the back.   Also note the small delicate pattern reminiscent of the William Morris Tiles.  Uniforms from the Crimea War influenced the braided trim on this gown. The Peplum of the bodice is edged with fringe and two rows of velvet ribbon. Similar trim is along the cuff of the sleeves. Note the center front skirt and center back pieces are rectangles with the 10 wedges pulling the skirt to the back. Suit built by Michelle Bradford


1910, Cotton and Lace Day Dress,

Hereford Museum


This gown shows the softer lines of the influence of the far and near east on Western dress. This garment is softer and simpler than the gowns of 15 year earlier.  It has a combination of complicated lace details that seems to give a nod to the complexities of the past with a style relaxation of the modern era. This gown was by far the most complicated to pattern and construct. It was difficult to sort out how big the bodice piece was without the 18 tiny pin tucks or the lace triangles and ribboning. I need to sit down and figure out a way to translate it into modern thinking and sewing order. This is just a working pattern; I anticipate the final pattern will be deconstructed into much smaller bits. Gown built by Michelle Bradford.


1945, CC41 Crepe Rayon Day Dress

Hereford Museum

In the UK all Utility items were marked with a CC41 label which stood for “Controlled Commodity 1941”.   In the United Stated a similar law  was Limited Order L85.

The UK Government gave out pamphlets that encouraged women to recycle and mend everything they owned.  They even gave instruction on how to take apart a man’s suit (abandoned by many Military personal) and make into a woman’s suit or clothes for children.  Rationing, Utility, Austerity is epitomized in this CC41 rayon frock.

The original dress is a lovely rose color. The dress is made from Rayon Crepe. Almost all fabric was replaced with rayon, which imitated wool, silk, linen or cotton.  Dresses were restricted to two yards of fabric, 6 seams, two box pleats and 3 buttons and style lines were only in the front of the garment.  Toward the end of the war as the tide began to turn for the allies some clothing restrictions began to relax a bit.  This dress has 5 buttons and no more 6 than seams. One of the things I noticed was there was no interfacing in this dress.  This was completely in keeping with the austerity of the time.  By the end of the war only the style lines had become less restrictive not the inner structure.  This dress was built by Michelle Bradford.


Want to see it for youself? Visit A Thousand Fancies at Berrington Hall for more information.

If you Would like to see Nancy Hill’s TED presentation please click the link:  Nancy Hill TED talk Make Do and Mend.







1730-50s mustard yellow satin uppers and heel covers. Charles Paget Wade costume collection, stored at Berrington Hall
Shoes & Accessories

A Cinderella Moment…

I don’t subscribe to the female stereotype of adoring shoes but I challenge anyone not to be excited, or just a little bit intrigued, by the rows and row of boxes in the Costume Curator’s stores at Berrington Hall.

Women’s shoes in the 18th century were predominantly made of fabric. The material was often patterned dress silk although it was not usual to choose a gown and shoes in matching material. The fabric side straps (called latchets) would be pinned with a metal buckle (of which Charles Paget Wade collected many and I shall be blogging about shortly!).

It’s easy to see how the embellishment of a sparling buckle could enhance any shoe, take these mustard yellow satin shoes from the early 18th century (dated 1730s-50s). They are attention-catching regardless owing to the the popping acid colour that has not diminished in vibrancy over the centuries.

My favourite pair are these pink satin mules with silver metal embroidery. They are simply beautiful objects to behold…and not unfamiliar in shape to modern eyes. The best part of these shoes, and all costume in fact, is seeing the wear and tear that could only have been created by the shoe being worn and not, for once,  the usual agents of deterioration National Trust staff are used to.

On discovering a charming book (Selbie, Robert. The Anatomy of Costume, 1978) about costume the other day it amused me to discover the description of 18th century ladies approach to footwear;

‘Most fashionable women, who did not set foot out of doors unless they had to, had shoes of silk, velvet and satin…Madame du Barry…complained to her shoemaker that her shoes had worn out too quickly. He replied “But Madame, you must have walked on them!” ‘

I would take the anecdote and information with a pinch of salt as the Georgian’s had a clever solution to maintaining the delicate fabric of their footwear; leather clogs! A wonderful example exists in Killerton’s vast costume collection (see below).

A similar brocade shoe from roughly the same period (1730’s) exists in the Charles Paget Wade collection stored at Berrington Hall, sadly its matching clogs long gone.

Another interesting feature of Georgian footwear was the significance of the red leather heel. The red heel was indicative of aristocratic nobility in the French courts. The fashions were adopted in England during this period but Costume Curator Althea Mackenzie informs me it was much harder to police in Britain and eventually lost its kudos as a signifier of fashionable privilege…until Louboutin revived the tradition of course😉

These raspberry silk heels are dated around the 1740s.

In clashing contrast the conservation record states that the emerald green damask silk has been dated by Natalie Rothstein around 1742-44.

And finally the prettiest but slightly anachronistic sets of Georgian ballet pumps that have been adapted for fancy dress…by Charles Paget Wade and friends? Who knows! The flat shoe of the late Georgian period is indicative of the impact the French Revolution, and the institution of the Reign of Terror, had on fashion. Although the flats pictured are of a later date, the fashion for flat shoes were adopted in the last decade of the eighteenth owing to their working class affiliations; they infer the necessity of walking as opposed to footwear indicative of those who could afford travel by carriage.

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Berrington Hall

Women in 18th Century Politics – 1784 Election

All Things Georgian

Devonshire 1 Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

As we all know the ‘well to do’ women of the Georgian era were regarded as objects of beauty that simply swooned and fainted at the sight of a gallant gentleman. They wore stunningly beautiful clothes and shoes and spent hours on their hair and beauty regime. They paraded around Georgian London, Bath, Brighton etc. in their finery and partied into the early hours, but on the whole they were regarded as fairly vacuous creatures.


OK, so we’ve done the whole film thing, now let’s move on and dispense with that image. If we’re being totally honest that is, to a certain extent, the stereotypical image held of women from that period as, let’s face it, they had very few, if any ‘rights’ during that time. Only those in what was regarded as the lower class worked, the remainder were kept in comfort…

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Berrington Hall

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 61,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Berrington Hall

Wearing the garden

The amazing NTtrasurehunt blog ( putting the spotlight on some of Snowshill’s treasures stored/exhibited at Berrington Hall. Please check out Emile’s blog; it showcases the National Trusts incredible and varied collections across the country.

Treasure Hunt

Damask waistcoat in 1770s style, using fabric from 1755. Wade collection, Berrington Hall, inv. no. 1349699. ©National Trust Damask waistcoat in 1770s style, using fabric from 1755. Wade collection, Berrington Hall, inv. no. 1349699. ©National Trust

I just spotted these images of yet more gorgeous waistcoats from the Wade collection at Berrington Hall, on the well-illustrated Hidden Wardrobe blog. I have previously showed some of these exuberantly ‘pre-Brummell’ waistcoats here.

Cream satin waistcoat with copper-plate printed decoration, 1810-20. Wade collection, Berrington Hall, inv. no. 1349304. ©National Trust Cream satin waistcoat with copper-plate printed decoration, 1810-20. Wade collection, Berrington Hall, inv. no. 1349304. ©National Trust

They are on show in an exhibition entitled ‘Wearing the Garden’, about the floral decoration on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century waistcoats. The exhibition is on view until 30 June – just an few days left.

1760s beryl blue satin waistcoat with snowdrops, daffodils and stylised leaves in silver gilt. Wade collection, Berrington Hall, inv. no. 1349008. ©National Trust 1760s beryl blue satin waistcoat with snowdrops, daffodils and stylised leaves in silver gilt. Wade collection, Berrington Hall, inv. no. 1349008. ©National Trust

I find it difficult to imagine how men could unselfconsiously wear such sumptuous and theatrical clothes – but they evidently did.

Early-nineteenth-century waistcoat decorated with embroidered flowers and spangles. Wade collections, Berrington Hall, inv. no. 1349300. ©National Trust Early-nineteenth-century…

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1750 - 60 Gold Silk Damask Waistcoat, 'Wearing the Garden' exhibition at Berrington Hall until June 30th. Snowshill Costume Collection.
18th Century Waistcoats

Wearing The Garden

Wearing the Garden; A post by Althea Mackenzie, Curator of Costume for the Charles Paget Wade Costume Collection

The history of the waistcoat goes back to the period of the Restoration when Charles II introduced it as part of ‘correct dress’. The style was derived from the Persian vests and in 1666 John Evelyn wrote: “To Court, it being the first time his Majesty put himself solemnly into the Eastern fashion of vest changing doublet, stiff collar, bands and cloak, into a comely dress after the Persian mode.” It is not known why the term ‘vest’ was replaced by the term ‘waistcoat’.  One idea was that the waistcoat was made from the remaining ‘waste’ pieces when tailoring a two piece suit! The waistcoats on display show how they changed in shape and style during the Georgian period (1692-1837), the period when the four Georges were on the throne.  In the early part of the century the waistcoat was long, with the emphasis on elaborate and striking decoration.  This was concentrated on the centre front and the pocket flaps.  It created a powerful sense of authority and status.  By the end of the 18th century the emphasis had changed and it was the waistcoat was very much a ‘uniform’.  The style was much shorter and the decoration lighter and delicate.

These changes in fashion reflected the social change that occurred during this period.  At the beginning of the century the aristocracy was still very much based on inherited position, they were confident and very much using their costume to represent their superior position within society.  As the century evolved the power of the aristocracy was increasingly challenged by a successful and aspiring middle class who made their money through trade and commerce.  This new ‘middle class’ wanted to emulate the fashion of the aristocracy and had the money to do so.  It became more and more difficult for the landed aristocracy to maintain their position and as more people became part of a wage based economy they had increasing opportunities to buy a wider range of fashionable goods.  One of the many laments of the period was that it was increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the master and the servant or mistress and maid.

The earliest waistcoats in the collection come from 1740-1750.  They are heavily embroidered with gilt lace and would have been highly expensive items.  They would have been made in a workshop.  The design would have been pricked and pounced onto fabric stretched on a frame.  This would then have been drawn out for the various young girls to embroider.  When finished the waistcoat would be made up to fit the client by the tailor. Later on in the period it became more possible to buy ready made items. Drizzling was the practice of pulling out gold and silver threads from brocades to sell back to the silver and gold lace maker for pin money.  It became all the rage of the ton – the fashionable set – not so much for the money as for the amusement it provided. It is said that Prince Leopold spent most of his leisure hours in drizzling using the drizzling tools that belonged to his wife.

Goldwork was originally developed in Asia and has been used for at least 2000 years. Its use reached a remarkable level of skill in the Middle Ages when a style called Opus Anglicanum was developed in England and used extensively in church vestments and hangings.  In the 18th century it was often used in decorating waistcoats, particularly those of the early part of the century.

Velvet is a material that immediately denotes wealth.  Its production was very labour intensive and skilled, a velvet weaver could take many weeks to set up the loom for a complex weave. Some of the most exquisite velvets are found in the 18th century from Italy and France and are created by combining cut and uncut velvet to produce sophisticated and vibrant designs.

The technique of tambouring was developed on the Indian sub-continent and was transported by the various European East India Trading companies to Europe.  The fabric to be embroidered is stretched over a frame and then embroidered from below using a tambour hook which creates a running chain stitch.  The effects were very popular in the 18th century and it was an activity done by many young ladies who could reveal the elegance of their hands whist tambouring.

The printing of textiles from engraved copperplates was first practiced in the United Kingdom by Thomas Bell in 1770.  The presses first used were of the ordinary letterpress type, the engraved plate being fixed in the place of the type. Later the cylinder press was employed – the plate was inked mechanically and cleaned off by passing under a sharp blade of steel; and the cloth, instead of being laid on the plate, was passed round the pressure cylinder. The plate was raised into frictional contact with the cylinder and in passing under it transferred its ink to the cloth.

The waistcoat above is cream silk embroidered with flowers in multicoloured silks with spangles interspersed. The foreparts are edged with gold and silver braids and black velvet and spangles, each surrounded with a ring of vellum. The pockets and collar are edged with gold and silver braids. It appears to be an earlier garment adapted to the changing fashion of the late 18th century.


Wearing the Garden‘ will be on display until 30th June. The next exhibition, ‘Big Bottoms & Small Waists‘ will be on display at Berrington Hall July 1st – August 31st.     


Textile and Dress Historian

The power of objects to inspire a thousand fancies
Charles Paget Wade

Charles Paget Wade, a poet, architect, artist-craftsman and not forgetting keen collector of eclectic objects, to inspire.

This collection can be seen at Snowshill Manor, which Wade gave to the National Trust in 1951. The collection of course would not be complete without costume (2,200 items of 18th to 20th century to be precise) which is stored at Berrington Hall. The collection is cared for by Althea Mackenzie, Costume Curator.

This year Berrington Hall is bringing to life the Georgian interiors of the Hall by displaying costume, from The Charles Paget Wade Collection, Hereford Museum Resource and Learning Centre and COSPROP (costume from The Duchess and 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice).

The displays shall enchant visitors by taking them on a journey, peeping into the lives and fashion of Georgian society.

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Berrington Hall

A Thousand Fancies….