Threads of time

A costume displayed underneath a portrait at Blickling
Published : 03 Aug 2016 Last update : 09 Aug 2016

For a while now, we’ve wanted to show off the talents of our volunteer sewing ladies, and with the children’s dressing up trail in the house for the summer holidays, it’s the perfect time.

The sewing team, known as ‘The Sewing Circle’ first started making historical costumes over a decade ago for Blickling events throughout the year. Victorian clothes, tabards and bloomers were among their first projects as well as repairing curtains from the Upper Ante room with the guidance of the Textile Conservation Studio.  But it was the advent of The Diggers, our live interpretation team that their ingenuity and skill really shone through.

In fact the demand for their skills has been so great there are now over 40 costumes in the interpretation wardrobe.  Their talents are unending with sewing projects including sun curtains, cushions, bags, furniture covers for when the house is closed and even the re-lining of historic curtains.

With such great demand, work is also outsourced to other talented sewers, who then concentrate on the costumes for interpretation, leaving the sewing circle to work on the house related projects.

The costume designs

The designs are taken from patterns of the time, so they are correct.  Some of the dresses have watteau pleats (loose pleats hanging from the shoulder at the back) which Vivienne Westwood still uses in her designs today.  It’s fascinating chatting to the ladies about the research they do.  They’re very happy to tell you more about the costumes, so please do stop and ask anything.  The five ladies meet every Monday and you can see them hard at work as you walk around the house. 

" They’re quite something, absolutely beautiful."
- A visitor passing the sewing room

One of the challenges they face with the costumes is creating ingenious devices for sizing, as a number of people wear the same costumes on different days!

So what’s next on their project list?  “We’d really like to make a new Anne Boleyn costume” says Sue, “and a hat for Lady Astor”.

The house exhibition

You’ll see ten costumes on display under portraits of the people whose dresses they’re based on, including Lady Constance, Sir John Hobart, Henrietta Howard and Lady Frances Hobart, produced by the outreach sewers and the sewing circle. There are also some in the exhibition room where a small display explains to younger visitors, how clothes have changed over time alongside examples of the patterns used.

A big thank you to our amazing sewing ladies Kate, Sue, Carol, Janet and Wendy as well as all our outreach sewers – you do an incredible job! 

The costumes for the dressing up trail were made by a different group of wonderful volunteers, so thanks go to Caroline and her team for their skills at re-creating costumes for our little knights and princesses.

The exhibition will run until the end of October.

One of our sewing volunteers working on a costume

Dressing Henrietta Howard 

Before costumes are produced, they are researched to the finest detail to ensure they are correct for the period, but what challenges do the volunteer sewing team face?