Dress designed and made by Mabel Haythorn

Preston, Lancashire, Great Britain

Date: c.1950s

Origin: Preston, Lancashire, Great Britain

Venue: Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library

In 1982 the Harris received a bequest from a local lady who had recently passed away. Miss Mabel Haythorn (born 1910) lived in an apartment in Frenchwood House in Preston her whole life. We believe she never married and had a private income. In her will, she left the Harris Museum & Art Gallery a collection of 31 homemade garments – including dresses, bodices, capes and gloves – all beautifully decorated with hand-cut shapes and flowers in felt. The collection came in the name of Mabel Haythorn – although her recorded name was Caroline Mabel Haythorn. Mabel also donated to the Harris two paintings – where a lady (which we believe to be Mabel) proudly models two of these garments.

Mabel was described as something of an eccentric. She was apparently quite a traditional dresser in public – but if you visited her home, she would wear her homemade creations and she had several mannequins dotted around the rooms which showcased her homemade clothes, and other historic 1920s and older fashions she owned.

The felt shapes all appear to be hand cut, albeit using templates, and have been carefully and meticulously arranged and then sewn onto the background fabric. Whilst the stitching used to apply the felt shapes is precise and well executed, the actual construction of the overall garments is more rudimentary and the fastenings used are mostly press studs. The garments tend to be made of cheaper furnishing fabrics and seem to exist solely as a basis for the exuberant patterns created with the felt shapes.

This dress has a solid grey fabric bodice decorated with black velvet ribbon bows and a wide black velvet belt. The bodice also has a yoke of cream net with applied cream felt flowers and the short puffed sleeves have matching net and felt cuffs. The full skirt of the dress is made from grey fabric with a separate layer of cream net overlaid on top of this, onto which many individually cut cream felt flowers have been applied in wedge shapes.

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