Berrington Hall's volunteer seamstresses
At Berrington we have a group of enthusiastic sewing volunteers who try to make the image of the Georgians strolling around Berrington into a reality. They have worked tirelessly to help our team with the new exhibition, 'A Dress Fit for a King'. They have created a series of pieces that have been included in this new exhibition on the first floor, and we would like to share with you their story and experience.
A couple of years ago a small group of women wanted to make the Georgian style of Berrington come to life through costume. They created a plan to recreate this historically fashionable period in a way that everyone could enjoy.
So, joining together to form a group of sewing volunteers, they set about creating a whole host of costumes that could be tried on and worn by our visitors.
From small beginnings, this part of Berrington keeps growing and growing every year. Berrington now has a Dressing Room dedicated to the hands on exploration of eighteenth century costume with a wealth of different styles for visitors to enjoy.
" There is always laughter coming from that room"
The Volunteer Sewing team come into the Dressing Room a couple of times in the week to dress in period style and create the costumes, which gives them a chance to engage with the visitors as they sew. Everyone has the chance to learn something new.
The first costumes were initially designed for younger visitors who might like to dress up; however, after noticing that many of the costumes showed signs of our older visitors wanting to get involved, the Volunteer Sewing Team widened the scope, and are now creating costumes for visitors of all ages.
Many of our visitors, no matter what age, take part and don a costume; it has become a traditional part of the Berrington experience. Volunteers in the mansion, often hear raucous laughter coming from that room from visitors enjoying the dressing up, and the sewing team were delighted to discover that it has become a 'destination’ aim for some visitors. 'I never knew dressing up could be so much fun' to quote a recent visitor. It would seem as though it adds a different layer to Berrington as it’s enjoyed by volunteers and visitors alike.
Dedicating this time and effort into engaging the visitors is not a straight forward task however. Whilst reflecting the varied eighteenth century rapidly changing fashions as closely as possible, the costumes also need to be adaptable and resilient for visitors, and each costume needs quick easy-access fastenings. These are considerations that the sewing volunteers take on board so that everyone can enjoy the costumes.
" become a ‘destination’ aim for some visitors"
To ensure that they achieve these goals, the team studies books and online sources about historical fashions and sewing methods, learning and adapting fabrics and patterns as they go, and using modern-day sewing skills to produce garments that capture the essence and style of the Georgian era. Without this group of volunteers we couldn’t have this part of Berrington, especially not in such refined detail.
The sewing team has contributed to Berrington in so many ways other than creating costumes. The volunteers' skills have enhanced various craft and sewing projects throughout the property.
In 2016 they took part in our three hundred year ‘Capability’ Brown celebration by creating hand-embroidered smocks for environmental artists Red Earth. These were designed to reflect the type of garment Georgian agricultural workers would have worn during the eighteenth century, and Red Earth wore these whilst installing their artwork within the parkland, harking back to the image of the Georgian labourers in the landscape.
Then in 2018 they worked tirelessly to help with the installation of a new exhibition, 'A Dress Fit for a King'. This exhibition is based around the original dress of Ann Bangham, wife of Thomas Harley. It offers our visitors a chance to see elements of the original dress and, on selected days, they are able to witness a conservator work to restore it. From research, to recreating some of the Georgian costume that played a key part of how the dress was worn, and the styles of the day, the sewing team have done so much towards this exhibition. In place until December 2019, why not come and see all of their creations for yourself?
It is clear that the Dressing Room is a big part of Berrington’s story and the visitors' experience. In volunteering, the women of the Sewing Team contribute a great deal, but also gain a wealth of knowledge and enjoyment. Yet without this group of determined women the wig and bum shop wouldn’t be so fresh and detailed. The team is its beating heart and continues to grow from strength to strength.