Thursday, January 16, 2014

Textile History at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Visiting a large museum can be a daunting task. What I like to do when I go to a museum is to pick a theme or a time period to focus on, to make my time more productive and enjoyable. I'm one of those visitors who likes to read the placards under the displays!

My familiarity with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London was limited, but I had read a book checked out from our local library about the British textile collections from the museum. 

So my theme for the day would be to find examples of early textiles, using techniques that we still use today.  Disclaimer: my photographs aren't the best! Everything was behind glass, with low lighting to protect the textiles. I did my best :)!


Here is a mantua, or court dress, from the Rococco period, c. 1740-5. I always thought these were the most absurdly shaped gowns, certainly nothing that enhances the female figure. And who would like to be going through doorways sideways all of the time?

Well, now I know the purpose of the shape of the skirt - to display all of the embroidery, in it's entirety! How wonderful that the design and craft of embroidery were so valued, even at the expense of the female figure.

Doll Making:

For those of us who feel a little bit silly about our passion for owning dolls, making dolls, or both, as adults, maybe this will make you feel better. These two dolls, c. 1690 - 1700, according to the placard, were probably made "for the amusement of adults at home, as were dolls' houses at this time".  The doll bodies were made of wood and wool.


I have always loved beautiful gloves, and would not mind seeing this beautiful fashion item resurrected today! This suede glove, c. 1714 - 1715, was trimmed in two types of ribbon. The museum speculates that there was a increase in the use of ribbon on dress during this period as a new Dutch engine loom had starting weaving ribbon. Ribbon had been woven on hand looms until then, at a much slower rate.


Here is a detail of the beautiful quilting and stuffed work on the c. 1360 - 1400 Sicilian linen bed quilt, showing the Legend of Tristram.  It measures 106" wide by 122" long. The outlines of the main elements are stitched with brown linen thread, and the filling quilting is stitched using a natural linen thread. (1)  Beautiful!!

Wool Applique:

I really wish I could have achieved better results with this photograph, but the lighting was extremely low in this area. The detail is from a wall hanging from Germany, c. 1370 - 1400. The hanging depicts scenes from the story of the romance of Tristan and Isolde, worked in wool applique. The wool motifs are applied to the wool background a little differently than we do today. A gilded leather cord surrounds each of the shapes.

Just for fun:

I always thought that the wearing of a pair of socks with open toed sandals was kind of a fashion faux pas! Well, I guess it is really an age old tradition. I had to laugh! I'll let you read the placard yourself.....

My last stop of the day was the V&A bookstore, where I found the book pictured below, which has beautiful photographs of the quilts the museum has in it's collection, although not on permanent display. Great find!

Here I am shivering outside the entrance after a long day exploring!

Thank you for spending some time with me on a virtual tour of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Until next time,

(1) More information on the Legend of Tristram quilt, was taken from Quilting, by Averil Colby, c 1971.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Martha, How exciting to see that you're in England exploring all its treasures. I've always wanted to go there. What a fun post! I loved seeing the treasure trove of items in the V&A Museum. I especially enjoyed seeing the wooden dolls. They are quite exquisite! Thanks for taking us along on your tour!