Velvet bodiced 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 dark blue, sleeveless velvet bodice decorated with a narrow frill of net at the neckline and armholes. The skirt is a cream coloured solid fabric with floral felt shapes arranged into wedges around the skirt and a deep gathered flounce at the hem. The accompanying portrait is believed to show Mabel herself wearing this dress.

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