Cloth Cultures Season 2

In this series of six podcasts and accompanying digital exhibition fashion historian Amber Butchart explores textile objects and artefacts held by museums, archives and manufacturers from across Lancashire.

The series features an eclectic mix of objects from fabric sample books showcasing cutting edge experimentation from the forefront of 19th century fabric production to examples of rare Medieval embroidery and the intriguing ‘Yama Yama’ suits designed for visitors to Blackpool Pleasure Beach. In each episode the stories behind the items will be brought to life through interviews with collection staff, artists, researchers and volunteers.

As you listen to the episodes browse the images below to see the objects as well as hearing about them. You can also click the ‘View Collection’ buttons below each image description to see that objects dedicated page in our Collections area.

To kick us off, Amber heads straight to the heart of Lancashire’s textile heritage. In this episode Amber is joined by Phillip Butler and Heather Davies from Lancashire County Museum Service, and Madhu Mani, one of the newly commissioned artists for the Lancashire Textile Gallery.

Three of the books come from Rosebank Mill in Lancashire. They contain samples of mainly dress fabrics but also some furnishing fabric, mostly printed on cotton. The cover of this particular book bears the name Thomas Comstive and indicates that the book covers the period “1832 and part of 1833”.

This book is part of a small collection of similar books featuring printed and dyed fabric samples alongside accompanying notes detailing the methods used to produce the samples. They outline the recipes used for the dyes, method of applying the colour and specific details about the treatment of the fabric at each stage of the process. They cover an exciting and highly experimental period of great technological innovation in both printing and dyeing methods, with manufacturers striving to perfect new combinations of pattern and colour in a bid to outdo their competitors.

This particular page shows a block printed design a technique that was still being widely used even after more modern printing methods were developed. It was often used in conjunction with the newer technique of cylinder or roller printing.

Books such as these would have been an incredibly valuable record of what methods had been tested. as well as how successful they were. They are an amazing snapshot of the variety of patterns and colours available for use in both garments and household furnishings and also showcase the skill and ingenuity required at every step of the process. From weaving high quality fabrics as a base for the patterns, to designing the print itself and then working out the best combination of printing and dyeing processes to achieve the desired effect – each step of this process required expertise and experience that would have been developed over a lifetime.

Within this book there are examples of lilac or mauve backgrounds with finely detailed black patterns that may be examples of dress prints intended for use in half mourning when greys, lilacs and mauves were appropriate.

There are also several examples of ‘lapis’ prints in this book – a process that finally allowed madder reds and indigo blues to be printed directly alongside each other without the need for a buffer area between them.

Also featured in this book are examples of ‘rainbow’ prints, which have a distinctive gradient stripe and had to be produced on specially set up machinery which applied dye to rollers in graduated bands to give smooth, continuous gradients in the finished print.

In this episode, Amber will be delving into Opus Anglicanum, a form of English medieval embroidery that was prized around the world for its skill and artistry. Amber will be joined by Alison Cooper and Margery Dunderdale from Towneley Hall, to talk about how this historic house in Burnley, Lancashire has a set of remarkable Medieval vestments in their collection. Later in this episode we will also hear from researcher Esther Rollinson who is working on a commission for the Lancashire Textile Gallery.

The Whalley Abbey Vestments are a set of exquisitely embroidered Medieval ecclesiastical garments with the full set comprising of a chasuble, two dalmatics and a maniple. Of these, the chasuble, maniple and one dalmatic are in the collection of Towneley Hall, while another matching dalmatic resides in the Burell Collection in Glasgow. These vestments are the only surviving full set of their kind.

The chasuble is the outermost part of the liturgical vestments. Like the accompanying dalmatic, the one in the Whalley Abbey set is made from cloth of gold and decorated with fine embroidery depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary.

Vestments form part of the traditional religious ceremonial dress used during Christian services and this set were originally used by the Abbot and Deacons during Catholic High Mass at Whalley Abbey; a Cistercian Abbey on the banks of the River Calder, founded in 1296. In 1537 when the Abbey was destroyed as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries carried out by Henry VIII, the vestments were rescued by Sir John Towneley and brought to Towneley Hall for safekeeping.

The dalmatic is a long sleeved tunic that forms part of liturgical vestments. Like the accompanying chasuble, the one in the Whalley Abbey set is made from cloth of gold and decorated with fine embroidery depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary.

In this detail the opus anglicanum embroidery can be seen. The figures and foreground scenery are mostly worked in split stitch using fine silk floss with some areas highlighted using metal thread. The background of the scenes features distinctive patterned couching, again worked in metal threads, which was one of the hallmarks of the opus anglicanum style.

In this episode, we find ourselves in Blackpool as Amber speaks to Caroline Hall from Showtown, Blackpool’s new museum of fun and entertainment about seaside modernism and the intriguingly named Yama Yama suits. Amber will also be exploring how contemporary Blackpool based artist Garth Grartrix is responding to the town’s entertainment heritage.

These suits acted as a protective layer that would cover visitors own clothing whilst they enjoyed the Fun House at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. They take the form of a robust cotton overall in geometric, colour blocked panels in brown, pink, green and yellow. the cuffs have a contrasting yellow button at each wrist and a belt fastens the waist of the garment.

Yama Yama suits were a part of the holistic design process used in the 1930s development of Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Park Director Leonard Thompson and his architects and designers including Joseph Emberton, and Percy Metcalfe designed buildings, rides, graphics, menus, clothes, table settings fixtures and fittings to bring modernist design to the Pleasure Beach. In 1936 Joseph Emberton designed the Fun House and the rides and design of the interior were designed as part of the process including the Yama Yama suits for visitors to wear.

In this episode, Amber heads to Blackburn to speak to museum curator Caroline Wilkinson about a collection of textile swatches and designs by a now closed local company called Birtwistle and Oddie. Amber is also joined by Richard Crowsdale who shares some of his recollections as a loom fitter in the 1950’s and 60’s, and artist Joseph Ayavoro to talk about his cross cultural textile project.

Birtwistle & Oddie was founded at Prospect Mill in 1907 by H. H. Birtwistle and A. M. Oddie. The company remained there until 1972 and was known for producing jacquard woven brocades, and later cotton and rayon mixture brocades, as well as sateens. Blackburn Museum & Art gallery holds a small archive of material from Birtwistle & Oddie Ltd (approx. 68 items) which is made up of a range of fabric samples, hand drawn designs and hand drawn jacquard patterns for a variety of the fabrics they produced which included furnishing fabrics and ecclesiastical fabrics. Up to the mid 1920s Birtwistle & Oddie produced fabric for export all over the world, including India, West Africa and South America.

Here an original hand painted design can be seen alongside the corresponding jacquard woven fabric. The design features the flag of Great Britain flanked by lions; a distinctly colonial motif.

While many of the samples have colonial motifs, there are also plenty that feature floral and fauna that would familiar to the local population the fabric was marketed to. This includes plant motifs like as these palm trees as well as animals such as monkeys, lions and elephants.

In this episode, Amber heads to Chorley to talk to Amy Dearnaley and Jane Warburton-Ball from Astley Hall, and conservator Alison Lister to find out about their set of huge mid 17th century tapestries. Later in this episode Amber also speaks to tapestry artist Aruna Reddy to learn more about the contemporary art of tapestry weaving.

The four Tapestries situated in the Drawing Room of Astley Hall date from the mid-17th Century and depict the mythological story of Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece. They were made in Flanders (Northern part of Belgium) and according to the records of the Victoria and Albert Museum there are only two other similar sets in England one of which belonged to the Earl of Iveagh and the other to Denham Place. Astley Hall’s collection is unique in that it comprises a complete set, rendering them an important collection.

Scenes from Classical mythology were one of the most popular designs for tapestries during this period and the set at Astley depict key moments in the story of the Ancient Greek hero Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece. In the story the hero Jason is sent on a quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece in order to reclaim his kingdom. To obtain the fleece he must complete three seemingly impossible tasks set by the King of Colchis but he is aided in each task by the King’s daughter Medea. Here Jason is shown kneeling before Medea as she offers him help in the form of a magical potion.

Tapestry is a weaving technique usually worked with a plain coloured wool warp over which colourful weft threads are woven to create elaborate and detailed pictures. The weft thread was often wool but could also incorporate silk for extra detail and depth. The weft is usually woven back and forth across small areas at a time to create blocks of colour that make up the larger scale image. Tapestry weaving was a highly skilled profession and therefore the end product would have been an expensive and luxurious investment. A beautifully detailed set of hangings like these would have been a huge status symbol and a recognized display of both wealth and good taste.

The tapestries have recently been conserved to stabilise them and allow them to be safely hung once again in Astley Hall.

In the final episode of this series, Amber is at The Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston, Lancashire, talking to curator Caroline Alexander and costume collection champions Pat, Zilfa and Eileen about their well known collection of Horrockses Fashions, and lesser know but brilliant fuzzy felt fashions of Mabel Haythorn.

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.

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.

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.

In this painting a woman, believed to be Mabel herself, models one of the elaborately embellished dresses. The felt appliques are remarkably accurately depicted when compared to the actual garment.

This bodice features a pattern of repeating felt paisley motifs in shades of red, green, blue and yellow on a while background fabric. The cuffs, peplum and yoke are a solid green coloured fabric outlined with a black braid.

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.

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