CHORD Workshop - Dress, Textiles and Heritage - 13 June 2012


Helen Cresswell, V&A/RCA, ‘Handmade Tales: Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth as Collector, Maker and Performer of Textiles and her Craft House Vision for Gawthorpe Hall’

I have a vision in my own mind of its being a great deal more than an Ed. Centre, a place of Meeting where neighbours will come for many reasons.  To seek stimulating thought by meeting often, Active Minds, To find Refreshment & Inspiration & Joy in Beauty! To create new Welfares for all the neighbourhood!

Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth, personal notes

During her lifetime the Hon. Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth (1886-1967) amassed a significant collection of textiles, dress and craft objects, largely gifted through a self-made network of friends, family and design personalities.  Her dream was to establish her collections within what she called a ‘Craft House’: a residential learning centre where the collections would be put to work, to be used in the practice and study of textile crafts.  It was only after the second world war that Rachel was finally free to devote herself to this ambition fully, and worked tirelessly thereafter to realise her vision.  Serendipity gave her the chance to establish the collections in her beloved family home, Gawthorpe Hall, the ancestral seat of the Shuttleworths in Padiham, near Burnley in North-East Lancashire, and she lived there again with her textiles from 1952 until her death. 

Now largely forgotten, it is time to put the Padiham Craft House on the map again and redress the marginalisation that Rachel has undergone since her death; this paper examines her career as collector, maker and performer of textiles, and celebrates the unique character of the craft initiative she sought to establish. 

 Considering the modes of display employed, with particular regard to the Jacobean Long Gallery of the Hall that became Rachel’s favoured exhibition space, this paper looks at the installation of textile objects within this heritage setting and their reception and interpretation by the Craft House visitors.  Encouraging touch, Rachel crafted a personal visitor experience very different to a museum environment; this was achieved by various mechanisms, including handmade labels and catalogues, but primarily through guided tours conducted by Rachel herself.  This self-styled ‘caretaker’ of the Hall, wearing the collection objects and telling their individual stories thus performed the collection, connecting the visitor with the object in a theatrical, multi-sensory experience. 


Jennifer Thomson, Walsall Museum, ‘Ordinary Women’s Clothing in the Mid-twentieth Century: The Hodson Shop Collection at Walsall Museum’

Walsall Museum’s nationally significant Hodson Shop collection is the unsold stock of the Hodson Shop, a general drapers’ shop in the small town of Willenhall.  The shop was run from the 1920s to the 1960s by two sisters, Edith and Flora Hodson.  The sisters sold women’s and children’s clothing (with the exception of heavier items such as top coats); men’s underclothing; haberdashery; small furnishing items such as sofa cushions; beauty products; toiletries and the requisites for knitting, crochet and embroidery.  When Flora died in 1983 the shop, and indeed the rest of the house, was found to contain a large amount of unsold stock which provided a comprehensive picture of the the kind of clothing worn by ordinary working class women and their children from the early 1920s until the early 1960s.  There are around 3000 items in total.

The talk will explore the history of the shop and the discovery of the collection, the content and extent of the collection, its key features such as the day and dance dresses from the 1920s, the relatively large collection of wartime Utility clothing, the significant number of blouses, the fascinating range of overalls and aprons, the variety of man-made fabrics used in the garments and the extensive collection of archive material which accompanies it, why the collection is considered to be nationally significant and its use for research into costume, social and economic history. The talk will finish by covering the arrangements for accessing and studying the collection.


Alice McEwan, University of Hertfordshire, ‘Pay Attention to my Clothes’: Curating Bernard Shaw through dress at Shaw’s Corner

For playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw, dress was an important facet of his identity: a crucial marker of his political and personal vision, and a way of making himself instantly recognisable. Conscious of the semiotics of dress and how meaning is constituted in clothing, Shaw deliberately used clothes in his programme of self-representation and self-curation as a way of manipulating and controlling his public image. Likewise cultural perceptions of the famous playwright were often directed through his manner of dressing or through sartorial metaphors. Artists such as those with socialist and utopian visions in the Czech avant-garde represented Shaw’s particular style of dress through new graphic media to epitomize the modern, urban man. His clothed body photographed in the distinctive suits became a symbol of model citizenship and civic competence; but equally it became a potent visual marker for ‘brand GBS’, conferring status and identity. Cartoonists such as Max Beerbohm, aware of the emphasis placed on dress by Shaw, deliberately satirised his philosophical associations through clothing: ‘Coat, Mr. Schopenhauer’s; waistcoat, Mr. Ibsen’s; Mr. Nietzsche’s trousers’.

Today Shaw’s Corner, the country home of Shaw now managed by the National Trust, functions as a museum dedicated to representing his life and work. Many items of clothing survive in the collection. Clearly these have the potential to express a richly textured and layered narrative in the semiotic sense: but what about the physical, material embodiment? How does the dress of this famous historical personality create meaning in ways that might be described as aesthetic, haptic or financial? What happens when the actual items of clothing are displayed alongside the many and varied cultural representations, and what kinds of possibilities are offered up by these inter-connections? This paper seeks to examine the challenges posed for the curatorial staff in the present, and looks at the ways of conveying the modernity, energy and vitality embodied by Shaw’s dress in his own lifetime, to a modern audience.


Sue Prichard, V&A, ‘Quilts 1700-2010: Hidden Histories, Untold Stories’

In 2010, the Victoria and Albert Museum held its first major exhibition of quilts, exploring over three hundred years of British patchwork and quilt making.   Quilt making is perhaps the most accessible of all domestic crafts – and one which is inextricably linked with a female narrative.  Over the centuries men have also been involved in the design and stitching of quilts, yet the process of making, whether in professional workshops or in the home, was rarely recorded in diaries or letters.   Historically, the term ‘quilt’ was used to refer to a variety of covers made for the bedroom; ‘quilt’, ‘twilt’, ‘coverlet’, ‘counterpane’, ‘counterpoint’ and ‘cover’ were all used interchangeably and appeared in British inventories with references to decorative textiles used to dress the bed.

In 1971 , the seminal ‘Abstract Design in American Quilts’ exhibition held at the Whitney Museum of American Art sought to make links between American quilt design and notions of abstraction, thus precipitating the European fine art movement.  Displayed vertical on white walls, the exhibition was designed to re-evaluate quilts as art rather than ‘folk craft’.  Quilts 1700-2010 sought to challenge this interpretation, and focused on exploring the significance of quilts within the context of domestic production and the bedroom – the scene of so many life cycle events.  By removing quilts from an arena in which they have been objectified as ‘art’, the exhibition sought to reclaim quilts as evocative and valid objects in their own right.

This paper will present the curatorial vision, aims and objectives of the exhibition, including exhibition content and the selection of objects from regional collections to document local skills and heritage.  It will also discuss the design brief, with specific reference to lighting, mounts and graphic design, employed to create the five specific thematic sections in a generic exhibition space:

  • The Domestic Interior
  • Private Thoughts, Public Debates
  • Virtue and Virtuosity
  • Making a Living
  • Meeting the Past

Finally, the paper will discuss how the exhibition challenged some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding quilt production, which also offered an opportunity to explore a rich and little known area of British social and cultural history.


Claire Watson, University of Leeds and Lynne C. Webster, University of Leeds, ‘Down Memory Lane: Yorkshire’s Heritage Examined through Clothing’

The Yorkshire Fashion Archive (YFA) is a collection of garments and accessories worn by people in Yorkshire during the twentieth century.  The collection was conceived by the fashion staff at the University of Leeds and is housed in the School of Design.

The research methodology chronicles the cultural history of Yorkshire through clothing. It reflects changing social attitudes and influences, economic prosperity, global trends and the regional technical excellence in textiles and clothing over a 100 year period.

It can be argued that we  put on clothing for some of the same reasons as we speak (Lurie: 1992) to proclaim or disguise our identity, this qualitative enquiry has generated data which is rich in information and able to answer 'how' and 'why' questions about the social world.

Many of the garments have been donated with accompanying photographic images, information, oral histories and anecdotes concerning the piece itself, the wearer or the situations in which it was worn. The public, rather than passively observing, participate and are an integral part of the experience of ‘collecting and recording’.The research identifies, expands upon and appraises significant issues in Yorkshire’s history through research into individual pieces by exploring ways in which a society’s experiences, values and beliefs are communicated (Barnard: 2002), thus playing a role in a wider civic, social and economic context.

The twentieth century was a crucial period in the cultural, industrial and intellectual development of the Yorkshire textile trade (Honeyman: 2000) and as we progress further into the 21st century, it is imperative that this evidence is gathered before the voices are lost forever. Many of the donors have direct family links to the Yorkshire textile and clothing industries and their recollections form a unique perspective on this fascinating time.


  •  Barnard, M. (2002) Fashion as Communication. London: Routledge.
  • Honeyman, K. (2000) Well suited: A History of the Leeds Clothing Industry 1850-1990. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Lurie, A. (2000) The Language of Clothes. New York: Henry Holt.


Luz Garcia Neira, Faculdade de Tecnologia Senai "Antoine Skaf", Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa, ‘Casa de Rui Barbosa: A Research Study of the Restoration of Textile Artefacts’

Rui Barbosa (1849-1923) was a distinguished Brazilian intellectual and statesman, renowned for his involvement in the abolition of slavery. The house where he lived in Rio de Janeiro for 28 years after returning from exile in London, was acquired by the Brazilian Government after his death but it was only in 1930 that it was turned into a House Museum. The Government purchased the library (35,000 volumes) and the building itself, without the furniture or interior artefacts. In converting it into a ¨place of memory¨, it sought to recover the furniture, objects and other artefacts with the aim of ¨ preserving the way of life of Rui Barbosa and his family¨.

With regard to the textile artefacts, during the period of eight decades since the death of Barbosa, there had been considerable spatial impoverishment caused by wear and tear and the replacement of some of the remaining textile items without a specific research.

Since August 2010, an investigation has been carried out based on the principles of the Museological Review Project (2009) to recover missing information about the textile artefacts of the house and to help reproduce it as it really was by incorporating similar textile materials in an appropriate setting. This was carried out with regard to a) materials; b) patterns and c) spatial features, with stress being laid on its practical and aesthetic suitability. It should be pointed out that in Brazil, this kind of research is still in a pioneering stage and faces particular kinds of challenges since in the 19th Century, most types of textiles were imported and there is a lack of any kind of museum or collection of textiles, which can serve as a reference-point to guide this investigation.

However, the attempt to restore the natural textiles to their spaces in a way that is historically appropriate, also involves improving the museography of the House and making it a place that can be visited and provide opportunities for acquiring new knowledge both for researchers and visitors. Apart from being an inquiry that gives prominence to the decorative features of the interior in themselves, the research and its publication allows other social and economic issues to be explored: the role of genders, consumer habits, the social role of design, art and handicrafts, evidence with regard to social distinction, and the industrial and economic features of the society that the textiles belonged to.


Dr Laura Ugolini

Room MC334

Tel: 01902 321890