Thursday, 20 April 2017

Making Vintage 1920s Clothes for Women

Making Vintage 1920s Clothes for Women is my new book published by the Crowood Press (2017)

It features 15 detailed projects for garments and accessories including a pair of fashionably daring beach pyjamas, the wedding dress of a bride from East Sussex and two striped holiday frocks.

All garments are based on original pieces held in the collections at two museums - Worthing Museum and Brighton Museum.
All projects include scaled patterns, line drawings, step-by-step photographs and instructions, photographs of the original garments and the finished reproductions.

Researching involved visiting the archives at each museums several times, identifying projects, making sketches, taking photographs, taking measurements, writing notes on fabrics, style features and manufacturing details.

The book also includes a history of everyday fashion and home dressmaking in the 1920s with further chapters on tools, fabrics and trimmings, and techniques and measurements.

Above, the collar of a dress is stretched out flat for measuring. A red laundry mark hand sewn at the centre back. Below is a sample of step-by-step photos showing how the reproduction collar was made.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Researching and writing Making Vintage 1920s Costumes for Women

I'm currently researching and writing my second book for The Crowood Press. The working title is Making Vintage 1920s Costumes for Women. My deadline is early November 2016 but I hope to be finished earlier (unlikely!) As with Making Edwardian Costumes for Women the idea is to recreate a collection of original garments held in regional museum archives which reflect the clothes worn by non-elite women of the period. All projects are based on the collections at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, and Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove. They include a pyjama suit, 4 dresses, a wool coat, an opera coat, and a velvet jacket and skirt with silk blouse. One of my favourite projects is a complete wedding ensemble with a lilac silk dress originally bought in smart London department store Bourne and Hollingsworth. The wedding ensemble also includes underwear, a lace hat and mittens. The bride was called Iris and the colour of her wedding clothes reflected her name. I was able to interview the bride's daughter who gave me some wonderful background information which was such a treat.

Two lightweight, easy to make summer frocks feature in one of the chapters. They both slip on over the head, so no fastenings or bust darts, which shows that dresses were intended to skim the body with room to spare. To be continued...
Sears Catalogue 1924

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Interpreting Duncan Grant's 1912 designs for Macbeth

In 1912 Duncan Grant was commissioned by the English director Harley Granville-Barker to produce a set of costume designs for Macbeth to be performed at the Savoy Theatre, London. As Claudette Joannis writes in her chapter in Beyond Bloomsbury Designs of the Omega Workshops 1913-19 (2009), the play was not a success for Grant because  his designs did not appear in their original form. 

Volunteers at the Charleston Trust came across the original designs recently while cataloguing the Angelica Garnett Gift. Grant's fluid sketches contain few details but give an overall impression of a set of bold and stylish costumes not dissimilar to those seen at the Ballet Russes.

An HLF funded project based at Charleston has brought 5 of Grant's designs to life for a one-off performance in the gardens on Sunday 29th May to coincide with the Charleston Festival. My role has been to interpret the designs by adding colours and selecting fabrics and to recreate the designs by working alongside talented volunteers from Brighton-based charity Gladrags.

I began with research, including a visit to study Omega textiles at Charleston. I then made 5 design boards to explain how I envisaged the completed costumes. The volunteers at Gladrags assigned themselves into 5 teams and used the boards as a starting point. The designs evolved in the making stages as volunteers were encouraged to contribute ideas and skills.

design sheet for Macduff. The colour inspiration taken from Klimt

fitting Macduff

testing the placement of squares

My design board for Lennox featuring an applique sample, and colour references taken from Duncan Grant's Omega textiles and the Ballets Russes. Calico was used as a background for the applique and for the gown worn under the cloak because it is close in texture to painters canvas and Grant's approach to design appears to have been  to consider costumes as 3D painting
Hat for Lennox 
Macduff and Macbeth
The costumes hanging up before the performance

Macduff in action

Gladrags volunteers explaining the project to the Charleston festival audience

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

Macduff collar detail and below Macduff waiting to speak

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Making Edwardian Costumes for Women

A sneak preview of some of the projects in my new book, beginning with a set of underwear;

The fabulous sketches in the book are by University of Brighton illustration student Joe McCrae
Although it's often written that split drawers were out of fashion by the Edwardian period my research proves otherwise. At one of my museum talks I even met a woman who told me that her mother wore them until the 1950s! 

Each of the 11 projects includes a pattern which has to be scaled up. An amazing copy shop can do this but otherwise it's a case of following instructions in the book. Step-by-step instructions and photographs are used to demonstrate the making process. Sewing is not the only reason to read the book. It contains a lot of detailed research relating to fashion and dressmaking in the period, much of it taken from my MA dissertation on the sweated production and cross-class consumption of Edwardian blouses.

Each project is recreated to be as close to the original museum garment as possible. Finding the right weight of cotton for the underwear was proving tricky until I happened to mention this to Simon at Depotex  in Lewes. He had just acquired a few rolls of cotton that had been discovered in an old shipping container where they had been since World war Two! The weight and slightly uneven slub were perfect.

Available from on the publisher's website

A link to the publisher's website with more details including a look inside
Also available on Amazon

Monday, 26 October 2015

Talk: Depictions of Fashionable Georgian Women in Contemporary Film

Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, 21st November 2015
10.30 - 12.00, £10

Pair of sleeves from a Georgian dress, Worthing Museum & Art Gallery

This illustrated talk will look at representations of Georgian fashions in film throughout the 20th century and up to the present day. From Marie Antoinette (1937) to Pride and Prejudice (2005), a range of films will be explored to see whether contemporary fashion and culture had any influence on the realisation of the costumes. Original items of Georgian clothing, jewellery and fashion plates from the museum’s collection will be on display during the talk.

To book please follow this link,details,135260,en.html

Friday, 14 August 2015

Event: Edwardian and WW1 fashion study day at Worthing Museum, 17 October 2015

For museum details and booking please click here

A whole day devoted to the study of fashion from the Edwardian and WW1 period


The day will be spilt into a series of short talks and events.

  • Suzanne Rowland – Making and Wearing Edwardian fashion. An illustrated talk based on research for the book Making Edwardian Costume for Women which includes reproductions of original garments from Worthing Museum with step-by-step instructions for making.  There will be a display of completed projects alongside original pieces from the museum. 

Tea break
  • Jayne Shrimpton – An illustrated talk on fashion and clothing in Edwardian photographs, to include images of men, women and children. The museum's collection of Edwardian photographs will be available to view after the talk.

Lunch provided at the museum followed by a guided behind the scenes tour of the costume store with curator Gerry Connelly to see some of the highlights of the collection

  • Jayne Shrimpton – An illustrated talk using photographs, adverts, posters and postcards from WW1 exploring images of fashion, uniforms and clothing. The talk will look at clothing worn by men, women and children.
Tea break
  • Suzanne Rowland – Making and Wearing Fashionable Blouses during WW1. An illustrated talk exploring the significance of lightweight blouses to the women who wore them, with an exploration of how wartime conditions impacted on manufacturing processes. Evidence includes surviving blouses, adverts, trade papers and photographs.  

Photograph and costume dating

There will be an opportunity at the end of the study day to bring in family photographs or any existing Edwardian or WW1 items of clothing for dating and evaluation

For further information

Friday, 24 July 2015

My new book: Making Edwardian Costumes for Women (2016)

Making Edwardian Costumes for Women is the title of my first book which will be published by The Crowood Press in February 2016. The book is a practical guide to creating authentic-looking Edwardian styles for women. It features 11 projects for readers to recreate based on garments and accessories from two museums in East Sussex; Worthing Museum and Art Gallery and Brighton Museum which is part of Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove. The book includes contextual research from a range of sources including journals such as Black and White, and Weldon's Ladies' Journal.

Black and White, April 1, 1899. Private collector.

Weldon's Ladies' Journal, October 1910. private collector.