Back to our roots

Detail of a waistcoat embroidery

Tree of Life,  decorative dress celebrating orchards and woodland is a brand new exhibition at Killerton for 2019. It will be on show on the first floor of the house until 3 November 2019.

2019 is a special year. Killerton estate is celebrating 100 years since an Act of Parliament heralded the formation of the Forestry Committee, forerunner of the Forestry Commission. Francis Acland M.P.'s part in this is explored on the ground floor of the house, and there is an innovative display exploring woodland management 100 years ago and today.

Echoing this story, the latest fashion exhibition on the first floor takes a look at designs derived from the ancient, symbolic Persian flowering tree or Tree of Life, to 20th century patterns inspired directly by nature. Printed, painted, woven and embroidered textiles dating from the 17th and 18th centuries onwards are all represented in the displays.

The annual fashion exhibition features a new project by Exeter School of Art (Exeter College) Art and Design students echoing the theme of trees and woodland on the Killerton estate.  

This year pieces selected from Killerton’s historic collections include a Privy Councillor’s suit worn by Francis Acland M.P. The design of this regulation court uniform, worn only by advisors to the Sovereign, was governed by strict rules. The Acland uniforms are embroidered with symbolic oak leaves and acorns in gold thread.

The displays also demonstrate how materials processed from various species of trees can be used to make fibre, cloth, dyes, footwear and headgear. Examples of clothing and accessories made from these materials are shown alongside garments patterned with motifs inspired by seasonal trees, leaves, blossom and fruit.

1830s day dress
Block printed dress featuring in the fashion exhibition at Killerton
1830s day dress

Design motifs include the buta or pine cone derived from symbolic motifs on Persian and Indian textiles, translated via European versions into the popular ‘paisley’ pattern. The displays trace its use from Indian shawls brought back to England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to a brightly printed psychedelic silk dress made in the 1960s, and a mass-produced Richard Shops evening dress worn in the 1970s. A meticulous drawing of the complicated patterning of this dress by artist Teresa Whitfield is another highlight of the exhibition.

1960s interpretation of the buta (pine cone) or 'paisley' motif in silk
A 1960s dress in the Killerton collection
1960s interpretation of the buta (pine cone) or 'paisley' motif in silk

Beautifully turned needlework tools, an 18th century carved corset busk, and clogs made in Britain and Europe will illustrate the beauty and versatility of wood.

You’ll also be able to enjoy an exciting new section of the displays. This gives everyone the opportunity to discover more about ancient and traditional processes of making cloth from bast, the natural layers found beneath tree bark. There are raw materials and cloths to touch and handle. 

We are excited to be able to include contemporary pieces by Ugandan-British fashion designer José Hendo. Hendo works extensively with barkcloth. She promotes sustainability and challenges throwaway culture in her work, using materials from the Bukomansimbi Organic Farmers Tree Association in Uganda. Production of this material gives employment and training for young people in Masaka Uganda, but everything else in the design and creation of avant-garde garments and accessories is done in her London studio.

Trees are the longest lived species on the planet, providing shelter, food and clothing and with amazing ecosystems that give back to the surrounding land. There are lots of surprises this year. Come to see the exhibition and discover for yourself the versatility of trees in design and manufacture of products like barkcloth and cork ‘leather’…and while you’re here, make like a tree in our new dressing up area.