Yesterday (30 July 2016), Willem, Keireine Canavan (a fellow textile lover from the Cardiff School of Art and Design) and myself went to Buckingham Palace (where else) to see their latest exhibition about the garments worn by Princess, and later Queen, Elizabeth of Great Britain. The garments spanned a period of ninety years, from her christening robe to outfits worn with the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games in London (with James Bond in the helicopter). The highlights included her wedding dress and coronation robe. In addition, there were outfits worn as a child to the coronation of her father, George VI, on 12 May 1937; uniforms worn while she was in the army during World War II, and many of the garments worn during state visits to other countries and state events celebrating various visits of leaders to Britain. In many cases there were photographs of her wearing the outfits with accessories, such as hats. Speaking of which, there was a gallery dedicated to five decades of hats and hat designers. One thing that was missing was jewellery, that all important accessory that makes and finishes an outfit, but as she wore the same pearl necklace on various occassions, it is likely there was not enough jewellery to go around, let alone the security problems associated with their display.
One thing that struck both Keireine and myself was how badly some of these specially designed garments were made, with varying hem lengths on coats, poorly finished cuffs, even poor tensioning of the sewing machine, which left numerous ripples in the cloth (which should have been flat). It has nothing to do with age, as a photograph of the Queen wearing a particular garment clearly showed the ripples. Very curious.
In addition to seeing the exhibition (which was incredibly crowded), the ticket also included a visit to various state rooms inside the palace. What an amazing place to live and work, surrounded by paintings of the ancestors, as well as the odd Van Dyke, Rubens, Canaletto, and one particular Rembrandt that got to all of us, namely the portrait of Agatha Bas (1641). One of the most intriguing, wonderful paintings ever, with Agatha dressed in some of her finest garments and lace.
A coffee/tea, plus a walk around part of the palace grounds finished the visit. The exhibition of garments runs until 8 January 2017 and is well worth seeing, although the hefty price of the ticket was initially a bit of a shock, more than twenty pounds, until we realised it also included the chance of seeing the staterooms and all the paintings, sculptures and so forth (although with a noticeable lack of tapestries and embroideries).
Part of the afternoon was spent at The Foundling Museum, to see the tokens, especially pieces of cloth, that were attached to children's records when they entered the Foundling Hospital, an eighteenth century charitable institute. These now provide the largest sample of dateable eighteenth century textiles from the lower ends of London society. A sad reminder of a very different and hard way of life. These textiles have been published by Prof. John Styles in a book called Threads of Feeling (2010). A book that is well worth reading, both for the textiles and the social history surrounding them.
Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 31 July 2016