A Stitch in Time at Ham House

BBC Four produced a Mini Series with Fashion Historian Amber Butchart on recreating Famous Costumes from paintings throughout different time periods. Using traditional dress-making skills. 

"I believe fashion is the mirror of history" Louis XIV

Each Episode goes into the history behind each portrait, the importance of dress during the period, how the garment was produced from Fabric Weave, Dying, Pattern Cutting and Stitching. 

It is a wonderful source on discovering how tailors and dressmakers could make the high of the fashion. As well as being a great Costume Source to learn new and wonderful ways to make Costumes.

Ham House happens to have Charles II Present with a Pineapple on its walls of its house, which makes showcasing the Costumes from the series a perfect place. 


The Arnolfini Portrait - 


The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck at The National Gallery, is something I studied at High School discussing the importance of the objects placed around the painting making it one of the most talked about paintings in Art History. But we never dicussed the importance of the Dress.

The Arnolfini Family where are wealthy merchant family from Italy, where this couple portrayed lived in Bruges and where they traded in luxurious fabrics.

This painting is the ultimate display of the wealth that they had. The fabric used is a expensive wool that would have been better than what the noblemen wore. Wool was the most important fabric in the 1400s showcasing the wealth of the wearer from a ragged wool used for a peasant to the almost silk wool used for Nobility.  The lustrous Green Colour of the dress further showcases their status as wealthy traders used the colour to display high finance. Not only was it a show of high finance, green took a huge amount of effort to create as it took 2 different dye and the greener it was the wealthier you were. 

The fur would have been imported Arctic Fox, which lined the majority of the dress. The edging of the sleeves where created using a pinky tool which styled the layers of strips into an fabulous demonstration of the wealth and time that is took to create this whole beautifully rich garment. 




The Black Prince -


The Black Prince's costume was taken from his Effigy and Jupon at Canterbury Cathedral. Prince Edward, The Black Prince was the Hero of the English. The Prince was known for his military career and projecting he was a man of action which is showcased further by his Jupon that he wore on the battle field. The Jupon was on display above The Black Prince's tomb until World War II and still survives. The A Stitch in Time Team have recreated a wonderful tribute to The Black Prince's Iconic history.

Historians believe the in the 14th Century, fashion began with the changing cycle of style. A Jupon was a padded sleeveless one would say jacket that was worn over Armour. It gave added protection against arrows with its use of padding filled with Raw Cotton and Sheep Fleece, as it would save a mans life. It is made with the finest velvet of the time and embroidered with gold thread making the Prince's Heraldry. The Black Prince's Heraldry showcases his mark that is the Son of the King and the leader of the English Army. 

"Men Follow there Leader like a candle in the dark. The Herald is the flame of the candle." 




Dido Elizabeth Belle-


The story of Dido Elizabeth Belle had been hidden for 200 years until 1980 when the portrait of Lady Elizabeth Murray and her companion was discovered to be the illegitimate daughter of a Slave Maria Belle and Naval Officer Sir John Lindsay.  Dido Belle lived with her Cousin Lady Elizabeth at Kenwood House and was beloved by her family, but due to Britain's use of the slave trade she lived in a state of limbo in society and her family. 

It is a great tribute to see her painted in 1779, as this would have been ground breaking and shocking in the day. Dido Belle shared equal status with her cousin showing the sisterhood between each other. Dido Belle seems to be fun and mischievous demonstrating how this is not a classic western image, by painting her in an exotic and relaxed style compared with her cousin who is painted as a gentlewoman.

The garment was a challenge for the A Stitch in Time Team, much of her garment was covered hiding the main details used to understand the dress. Using high Georgian society paintings, they compared a variety of styles to create this elegant, simple and exotic look. The use of Eastern garments and classic drapery helped style how the Pure Silk fabric would drape to show a Silver shine in the garment, making her dress come alive just like if she walked into the room today. It is wonderful we have finally discovered part of her story.




The Hedge Cutter-


The Hedge Cutter is an extremely beautiful representation of second hand clothing. Paintings where normally people of wealth due to the expensive cost of labour, it is very rare to see common folk and workers immortalised making this painting an unsual source in Art and Fashion History. Painted in the late 18th Century shows that this rugged jacket had at least 40 years use of work as a labourer. 

The garment is believed to have been once a smart and fashionable garment for a Gentleman then passed down to someone below his station and passed down at least 4 more times before painted into history.

The A Stitch in Time team have reconstructed the garment has is would have been originally to demonstrate the Cradle to Grave nature garments had during this period, unlike today where fashion is disposable. Leather has been used to endure a length of time using the spine of the skin as the strongest part of the garment to drape  around the body. The leather shows the functionality of the Hedge Cutter, where it would have had a long life in the sun, beaten along the rose bushes and patched together as hard work forced repairs. 

This is a fantastic source of understanding the workers life in Britain in the 18th Century as there are few portraits and fewer examples of garments. 




Charles II-


'Charles II being presented a Pineapple' by Thomas Stewart 1675-80 if one of my all time favourite paintings of British Royalty. When moving to the UK people found it odd I would bring a Pineapple to a BBQ to grill but the pineapple who have shown wealth, so if you brought a pineapple to a party you where showcasing your power to have such an exotic fruit.

Charles II was the Restoration King being invented back into a seat of power as the Monarch after 10 years of Commonwealth Rule.  Charles II needed to present a fine line of regal and sensible to his British Subjects. The Parliament controlled his finances so he had to watch out how using fashion as a projection of power and political opinion pressed his rule as King. 

In this costume even thought it seems as a simple garment worn by the common folk there is a use of high quality British Cloth and a changing Silk lining, the garment was decorated in fine silk knot trimming and over 100 buttons making it seem plain it still portrayed his wealth as the king. 

Charles II is known to have created the 3 Piece Suit, when on the 7th October in 1666 the British Court rejected French Fashion to appease the people creating a English Style which was the introduction of the Vest, which at the time was the Long Vest to the knee. This created a rivalry between the 2 cousins where Louis XIV thought how unseemly the Vest was he dressed all his servants in one. (Talk about Burn!). 

"The greatest indignity ever done by one prince to another" by Samuel Pepys

The Coat in the British Court was not a fashionable garment. It was designed to be a practical garment rather than attractive. The Suit became standard Court Dress. Unable to wear an average Jacket, one would have had to make one that was Jazzed up to be present in front of the King. 

It was exciting to see this Costume recreated and placed underneath its original painting at Ham House. Most certainly was a once in a life time opportunity to see the past face the present.




Marie Antionette La Reine a la Chemise- 


Marie Antionette is a Fashion Icon. Her sense of fashion was legendary throughout France, everyone wanted to dress like the queen which filtered down into society from courtiers to working class. Fashion and Dress took on a role during the fall of the French Monarchy making her a victim of fashion.

La Reine a la Chemise was a scandalous painting which cause damage to the popularity of the monarchy. The painting was shown at The Salon which was a public exhibition that took place every 2 years at the Louvre, the shock and scandal that the painting caused led to its removal straight away. The same artist painted a portrait in the exact pose but draped in layers of silk as a way of appeasing the scandal.  Wearing a Chemise dress was inappropriate for a Queen to be shown in this manner of undress. This moment some say led to the beginning of her downfall. The Chemise Dress was already being worn at Versailles mostly as the Unofficial Uniform of her Courtier friends at the Petit Trianon, but the people believed it shouldn't been worn as a formal dress. 

The Chemise Dress was created for the Queen to appease her love of playing in the Gardens in Petit Trianon at her "Country Village" known at Le Hameau. She was recreating how a Peasant would have dress which lead to this small pleasure being taken as a statement of patronising the Lower Class. The garment was made with Fine Cotton Muslin Fabric, which was exported into France and keeping a garment so white was a demonstration of Status. This Chemise that was styled in the manner of a Night Dress/Undergarment still had a Stay (Corset) worn underneath showing the divine silks used. Making Stays was hard work on the hands and always made by men using Linens, Whale Boning, Reeds and Silks to create the elegant shapes needed for the dress. 

Sadly today there are only 2 Chemise Dresses left in the world. The garments where so fine that it is now lost in time. Another heritage lost in time is the fact that none of Marie Antionette's Garments exist today, it would have been lovely if the Revolutionaries left as a understanding of the elegant silks and styles she would have used in her court life. Marie Antionette always caused a scandal no matter what a course of action was. By being portrayed in this Chemise Dress she created a contrast from the Court as well as going against some of the important roles as a Queen of France which were to Inspire respect for the Throne and to encourage the French Manufacture of Silk.  She liberated her style to create a garment to wear in her own world.



The Stitch in Time Exhibition runs at Ham House until 29th April 2018. For more information on the exhibition refer to website and more information on Ham House refer to my blog.