Behind the scenes in the workroom
This month I’m highlighting some of the things we get up to behind the scenes, where there’s no such thing as a typical day!
As Assistant to the Costume Curator, Charlotte Eddington works closely with me to manage the collection and produce the annual fashion exhibition. She’s played a vital role in the fashion department for 15 years.
Charlotte has a wide range of skills which well equips her for day to day life at Killerton. Although we have routine tasks to attend to, every day is different and there’s always a new challenge.
This morning our workroom is already busy as Charlotte fits volunteer Louise Prideaux with a replica costume for her role as suffragist Eleanor Acland in one of our Soap-box dramas. These are short performances in the garden which are running throughout the season.
A typical day might begin with a meeting or catching up with database work. Preventive conservation forms much of the department’s ongoing work, encompassing storage and packing, condition checking, pest and light monitoring, and mounting objects for displays. From time to time there are new projects, like supplying the new performance wardrobe.
As well as dressing the actors this morning, there are plenty of other tasks to complete. Charlotte has already updated the collections database and put some objects away in store.
She explains a little more to me about the autumn schools project which she is currently preparing. The Schools Apple Quilt project has become a permanent fixture on the Killerton calendar.
‘It’s one of my favourite things’, says Charlotte, as she cuts fleece fabric to back the squares, ‘I really like going into schools teaching the children to sew. Not all of the children are academic, and it’s great to help them to have this opportunity to be creative’.
Some children might be reluctant to show interest at first, but after a few weeks Charlotte has them stitching enthusiastically.
" They might start off disinterested, but then they will tell me that Granny is buying them a sewing kit, or that they want a sewing machine for Christmas, and that’s brilliant! They get so much from having the opportunity to create."
280 children from 6 schools will have that opportunity this year. After 4 weeks of work they will be able to come out to Killerton to see the apple orchards and their finished squares on display. Each depicts apples from Winter to Autumn. They will be arranged on frames to form 6 seasonal ‘quilts’. Visitors to Killerton’s Apple Festival will be able to admire them on display between 13 and 14 October.
The schools project grew from a very successful apple quilt project a few years ago, designed and made by Charlotte with an adult sewing group. Replica costumes are also made. Most recently Charlotte designed suffragette sashes, outsourcing them to volunteers to make up. 40 sashes were needed to dress the Killerton suffrage choir, as they processed along the drive and through the park.
Which leads me back to the Soap-box Dramas.
The performances continue until the beginning of November. The wardrobe has been put together to dress 8 actors in total, each representing a key figure in the anti-suffrage and suffragist movements.
Volunteers scoured East Devon charity shops to source clothing that could be altered to create the right period look for the performances. ‘They were asked to look for white blouses and long, straight skirts’, says Charlotte,’ these were remade: replacing buttons, lengthening hems and adding belts and braids’. The make-over is amazing.
Charlotte and I consulted over the ‘look’, using visual references from our library.
The hats are put on. Actors Louise and Mollie are dressed. The millinery is a triumph, with inexpensive sun-hats transformed into Edwardian confections complete with feathers and bows.
As Louise and Mollie prepare for their performance, volunteer Debs Walton arrives to start work. Debs is a trained conservator who is a great asset to our department. At present she is working through storage boxes containing children’s shoes, making supports for each little piece of fragile footwear.
And the most important part of Charlotte’s role?
" Looking after the collections, and sharing what we have with people. Fashion is a very ‘sexy’ subject. It’s something we can all relate to."