Saturday, 28 July 2012

Blackwork at Fashion Museum, Bath

Yesterday, Friday 27 July, I spent an extremely interesting afternoon at the Fashion Museum in Bath.  Several weeks ago I emailed Elaine Uttley to book an appointment and Elaine kindly got two ladies bodices out and a gentleman’s shirt for me to look at.

The aim of my visit was to look at blackwork and I must say I was enthralled by what I was shown.  It is only when you get the magnifying glass out that you can see the detail of the extremely fine work.  I am calling one bodice a Star bodice and the other a Vine bodice to help identify them. 

On arrival I was asked to put my bag in a locker and was only allowed my camera, my sketch pad, my magnifying glass and a pencil in the work room.  Elaine started off by explaining how everything is kept in special boxes to conserve the pieces and I was given a pair of white gloves to wear and told I could touch the garments.

Elaine packing the bodices in box
Both of the bodices had the date range of 1580–1620 and the shirt was 1600 -1610.  Both the bodices were constructed in a similar way with triangular shape inserts at the waistline.  The insides of the sleeves were open and Elaine explained that this was for a chemise to show through.   There was a turned cuff on what I call the Vine Bodice and my photo shows the sleeve blackwork from the front but the cuff embroidery is on the back.   I was amazed by the construction of the gentleman’s shirt because although the shape was quite basic with no inserts, the side and sleeve seams were joined together with a crochet – like lace.

Two hours went so quickly but I came away asking myself, who did that fine embroidery, what age was she, did she make it for herself or did she make it for an important lady?  Elaine explained that all three garments I was shown were on permanent loan from the Vaughan Family Trust and she was currently working with them to see if they could find out the provenance of these extremely rare and yet wonderfully conserved pieces of history.

I finished my afternoon by visiting the Fashion Museum itself and saw various garments with a sporting theme to reflect the Olympics.  At the end of the temporary exhibition in a permanent case I found a blackwork coiffe which, although very dark, I managed to photograph and good old Photoshop improved the image considerably.

Below is a selection of my photos which I hope you will enjoy and I would like to thank Elaine Uttley, for arranging to show me some truly wonderful examples of blackwork.  Now I know this facility is available, I will be back!!

Bodice (I call it Vine bodice) 1580 - 1620
on permanent loan from the Vaughan Family Trust

Ladies bodice 1580 - 1620
Blackwork detail - look at the direction of those small running stitches!
Detail from reverse
Detail of cuff
Construction of bodice
Reverse of blackwork

Sketch of bodice & blackwork

Bodice (I call it Star bodice) 1580 - 1625
on permanent loan from the Vaughan Family Trust

Bodice - 1580 - 1625
Blackwork reverse side
Bodice neckline

Sketch of Star bodice
Shirt - 1600 - 1610

on permanent loan from the Vaughan Family Trust

Shirts on display stands

Blackwork on shirt
Reverse of blackwork

Lace like inserts for seams

Cuff of shirt

Neck of shirt
Opening of shirt
Lace like insert for joining side seam of shirt

Shirt sleeve showing blackwork

Blackwork around neck opening - you can even see the sweat mark!!!

Sketch of shirt
Coiffe - in permanent exhibition in Fashion Museum

Coiffe on display in Fashion Museum, Bath

Detail of coiffe


  1. These are just fabulous - what a wonderful experience for you. How brilliant to see things so close. I think a trip to Bath is definitely called for!

  2. Yes Shelia, it was such a priviledge to be allowed to touch such amazing garments when you think how old they were. Isn't it wonderful that there are places like the Fashion Museum who are prepared to look after these heirlooms and to conserve them for the next generations. I don't think any of my work will be around in 400 years time!!! Ros

  3. Quite beautiful examples and how heartening that they are treasured in this way for us all to enjoy - and touch. I must make an effort to book a visit myself and encourage others to do so. Perhaps a Distant Stitch group might like to meet up?

  4. Very effective stylization of the attractive woman, absorbed in her sewing. Nice flowing purple cloth leading into the distance. Quite different, and somehow the same, as this woman resting from her sewing in a sunny garden, painted by American impressionist artist Frederick Carl Frieseke, The painting can be seen at, and ordered as a canvas print.