The Somerset Heritage Textile Collection holds over 2,000 items. Their oldest item is a 15th Century medieval cope that is displayed at the Museum of Somerset, and their newest item is a woolly jumper worn by Mick Aston from ‘The Time Team’. Everything is very carefully packed away, cosseted in tissue paper, and labelled in boxes and garment bags all on rows and rows of shelves.
This was my first time visiting a textile collection ‘behind the scenes’ and it was hard to anticipate what to expect and what I wanted to see. I had made a vague request to see some stripes and checks when we arranged the visit. Estelle, the Textile Curator, and Bethan were very generous with their time; they gave Lucy, Debbie and I an introductory tour and had very kindly found some garments with stripes and checks for me. The garments were amazingly bright and had some interesting woven-design detail. The mastery of pattern cutting, fabric manipulation and getting the most out of a striped fabric by using different stripe angles was also impressive.
It was great that we went together, items requested by Lucy and Debbie sparked some ideas in me; in particular a fine cross-stitch map sampler map of England and Wales. Maps are an obvious way of connecting people to the landscape and I like the idea of fabric maps. While I was there I took the opportunity to visit the Public Archive to view some old linen-backed maps – their fragility and materiality is fascinating. Unfortunately I cannot publish any photos because of the Public Archive restrictions.
Edwardian day dress (skirt and bodice). I love the different angles of those stripes and how the fabric is used as decoration over the lace.
Edwardian day dress, detail. The archive tag says “???. Daydress. black and white striped voile and bands of white machine made lace insertion of black velvet trimming. Skirt full at back with slight train worn over separate cream taffeta underskirt and sham frills. Bodice high boned neck sleeves of spotted net. ” On the right notice that the edges of each white or black stripe are defined, darker/more intense in both white and black. Two? threads are woven as one, in contrast to the single threads in plain weave in the rest of the stripe.
Victorian checked dress (skirt and bodice), detail. Between each of the background vertical stripes there is a light turquoise stripe of a single thread to highlight the edges of the stripes. The bold foreground gold and dark blue stripes are probably in a thicker yarn and were possibly on an additional warp beam (extra warp).
Victorian check dress (skirt and bodice), details. I love the clever ability to have long or short sleeves on the bodice. On the right you can see that a tougher ribbon has been handstitched to the hem to protect the silk hem from contact with the floor and fraying.
Silk striped dress, I am unsure which era, possibly 1920’s or 1930’s ? A beautiful wearable dress that has really made the striped fabric work to create some tension and drama in the design.
Checked and spotted dress (skirt and bodice). Unsure of the date of this dress, it reminds me of the Judy Garland, MGM musical “Meet me in St Louis” so it may be early 1900s.
The sampler map was created using very fine cross-stitch, unfortunately in wool because a lot of the names of the counties have been eaten! Apparently maps in samplers are quite common; they were used as a tool to learn geography. An old paper map of Somerset on the right. Here Somerset stretches from Portishead and Bath in the North to Dulverton and Yeovil in the South, and it looks like Bristol is included.