A Rare 18th Century Mantua Gown Unveiled in Lincoln

Before fashion I was a costume designer. I made mostly women’s clothing for the theatre and for re-enactment. My passion was garment design, researching and using accurate historical patterns to try and remain as close to original techniques as possible.

It’s the kind of skill you never forget and even though I haven’t made anything historical in some time, you never forget what you have learnt.

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Slowly the exhibition space comes together

Way back in October 2010 I was contacted by The Museum of Lincolnshire Life about helping with a very special project. A rare example of an 18th century mantua gown had been rediscovered buried deep in the Lincolnshire archives.

This particular dress is rare because the complex fabric design contains black dye. It is not a colour seen very often because the components of the dye are very damaging to the silkĀ  fabrics of the time. It is unusual for costume examples using it to survive and this factor alone makes this dress very unique.

That it has survived in such remarkable condition is a miracle in itself. It had been boxed and stored at the Usher Gallery in Lincoln since 1937 and hadn’t seen the light of day in years.

Made for a Lincolnshire born and bred family, it has been dated exactly to 1735 by the V&A in London. It is remarkable that in 278 years it has never left the county. Its life from generation to generation can almost be tracked person to person.

Sadly a number of problems arose and the original project never got off the ground. But after some careful restoration and a lot of hard work the dress is finally going on display. I feel very lucky to have been allowed to help set up the exhibition and get the dress out of storage and into its glass case. The gown and its story as told through the extensive research done in the last 2 years stands as the focus of a small but fascinating display about costume of the period.

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The gown takes pride of place

The exhibition includes examples of historical ephemera from the period from Lincolnshire County Council’s Heritage Collection and a stunning collection of gentleman’s 18th century waistcoats.

The exhibition runs from 26th January – 24th March at The Collection in Lincoln. If you can make it, please do as it’s a very rare chance to see a beautiful dress finally available to the public.

For those of you interested in finding out more about the history and conservation of the mantua gown there will also be a talk at The Collection at 2.30pm on Thursday 7th February. It will be given by textile conservator Sheila Landi who did the conservation work.

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