Reading Materials

An edition of The World of Dress, edited by Mrs Aria, 1903

A new month starts on Saturday and I’ll be travelling to the Artworker’s Guild in London for the Costume Society’s annual conference. This year the society celebrates 50 years since Costume, the Journal of the Costume Society, was first published.

There will be some distinguished writers and speakers stepping up to the lectern, with fashion writing one of their main topics, and I’ll be speaking briefly about plans for the Killerton fashion exhibition re-launch next year.

Travelling through the years, magazines and books have remained firm favourites for on board entertainment .  The development of the media went hand in hand with the progression of the railway network in the 19th century.  Well-known High Street brands like WH Smith began as a newsstand on railway platforms selling newspapers and magazines to passengers.

I haven’t decided yet which magazine or book I’ll treat myself to for the train ride up to London.  Maybe I’ll take some knitting with me, or perhaps I’ll buy one of the Falco novels as author Lindsey Davis will be speaking at the conference.

What’s your choice for a long train journey or a holiday read?

Black and white but re(a)d all over…

Killerton’s collection has a small varied collection of magazines and periodicals which discuss fashion from differing points of view.  Most are general interest magazines, with a regular column or fashion page highlighting the latest trends. Some include hand-coloured fashion plates, and others, directed at home dressmakers, have pattern give-aways.

Needlecrafts feature prominently in women’s magazines from the earliest, published in the late 18th century, to 20th century weeklies like Home Chat and Woman’s Weekly.  Many of the 18th and 19th century magazines were aimed at an upper class audience. By the mid-20th century high end glossy, well-illustrated fashion journals were well established, and worlds apart from their more domestic weekly cousins. Both were closely tied to advertising and rising consumerism.

Unlike the colourful glossy mags we’re used to, 19th century ‘ladies’ newspapers’ were printed in black and white, and illustrated with line drawings.  Photographs were first introduced via the photogravure process towards the end of the 19th century.

Colour was added by hand to some illustrations, and to supplements such as fashion plates and embroidery patterns which were given away free with the paper.

The Young Ladies’ Journal, which ran from 1864 to 1920, was a monthly newspaper aimed at young, middle-class women. It published several fashion supplements featuring fashion needlework designs and crafts as well as dress patterns to be cut out and traced onto fabric.

This December 1887 issue carries an instalment of a serialised story on the front page, with line engravings illustrating fashion and craft inside. A piece of music was also printed every month. The publishers, E. Harrison of Fleet Street, also issued the popular  Young Ladies’ Journal  Complete Guide to the Work Table, which appeared in several editions. This collection of  instructions was a compendium for all kinds of craft from embroidery, Berlin woolwork and knitting to lace, tatting, and Poonah painting. Poonah (Pune) painting imitated Far Eastern techniques by applying thick paint to a thin paper or silk ground.

The Young Ladies Journal, December 1887
The Young Ladies Journal,  December 1887

'I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train’ is in fact the full line, spoken by Gwendolen Fairfax  in The Importance of Being Earnest.  Almost as sensational was the pen of ‘Mrs Aria’, a writer and gossip columnist who counted both Oscar and Willie Wilde as friends.

An edition of The World of Dress, edited by Mrs Aria, 1903
An edition of The World of Dress, edited by Mrs Aria, 1903

One of the best known women writers of the 1890s and 1900s, Eliza Davis Aria, ‘Mrs Aria’  (1866-1931) wrote many articles on dress often reporting on transatlantic and continental fashion. She authored ‘Woman and the Motor Car: being the autobiography of an automobilist’  , 1906 and  ‘Costume - Fanciful, Historical, and Theatrical’ 1906 as well as an autobiography, ‘My Sentimental Self’,  published in 1922.

Well connected in the literary and theatrical world, and a society hostess, Aria became founder and editor of The World of Dress.  The magazine reflects the interests of her circle of literary and theatrical friends. Perhaps it is no surprise that she became a successful gossip columnist, having befriended H.G. Wells, Sybil Thorndike and Rebecca West. Her niece recalled that she ‘sent her great-nieces a collection of autographs that looked like the Milky Way’.

" Whilst I was working for Hearth and Home I conceived the notion that I must possess and edit a journal of my own. Thus came into existence the monthly magazine known as The World of Dress, destined of course to show all other editors how fashion papers should be conducted"
- Eliza Davis Aria, ‘Mrs Aria’

Eliza was also the long-time lover of Henry Irving from the 1890s until his death in 1905. Her articles included interviews with artists, dressmakers and novelists such as the English couturiêre Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon and her notorious novelist sister, Elinor Glyn. In her autobiography Aria wrote.

‘The World of Dress possessed many excellent features from many excellent sources. Fashion news from Paris, Vienna and New York, interviews about dress with famous people… [including] Downey, the royal photographer’ My Sentimental Self, 1922.

Home or away

Whether looking for something to read or do on the train, a magazine published by Weldon’s or Leach’s provided endless entertainment for the industrious woman with needlework skills.

Leach’s Home Needlework Series, crocheted yokes and trimmings for lingerie and nightwear, about 1920
Leach’s Home Needlework Series, crocheted yokes and trimmings for lingerie and nightwear, about 1920

 Leachs and Weldons were both long established publishers of popular magazine and pattern series’, bringing fashion to a mass audience.  An astonishing range of craft and dressmaking magazines were sold and carefully kept by the purchasers. Killerton has many splendid examples dating from the 1920s and 1930s including copies of similar titles such as Fancy Needlework Illustrated, which was published by the Northern School of Art Needlework, Manchester once a quarter. For an annual subscription of one shilling (about £1.50) or a cover price of 2d (25p) readers would have 16 pages of fashion and needlework to peruse, with an average of 16 crochet or needlework patterns to work into clothing or trimmings.   The magazine always included a competition sponsored by Ardern’s yarns. The top prize was £500.00, the astonishing equivalent of about £14,000 now.

Woman and Home, February 1959
Woman and Home, February 1959

Woman and Home is still available on newsstands today. Many people will associate this popular magazine with their childhoods.  As well as the usual needlework and dressmaking patterns, advice and cookery articles it carried a cut-out paper doll with an extensive wardrobe on its pages.  These were excitedly looked forward to and avidly collected.

Maybe I’ll buy this month’s edition for the train, or better still, google Mrs Aria for some transatlantic sartorial gossip from the 1900s.