Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Liberty at the Fashion and Textiles Museum: Part 1, 1910-1940

I had a very brief trip to London last week to see my brother on his birthday.  We had tickets for Hamlet at The Barbican with Benedict Cumberbatch in the starring role- his present for my birthday the previous month, and we also managed to squeeze in a visit to the Fashion and Textile Museum on Bermondsey Street to see the Liberty in Fashion exhibition.   

It celebrates 140 years of the Liberty company with examples of key trends, designer collaborations and many glorious garments, scarves and more.  I've divided my rather large quantity of pictures into three posts.  Photos are permitted and although I took a lot, I wish I had taken more!  Here's part 1 of three posts.  This covers garments from 1910-1940s.  The first garments in the exhibition wouldn't have looked out of place in early episodes of Downton Abbey.  They were Aesthetic inspired tops and dresses most made of silk and with some exquisite details.  You can see the embroidery on the cuffs on the top above.  It still has a contemporary look about it too.

This green dress fabric had a crinkle pleating effect which gave it a body skimming shape.  I loved the simple turn back cuffs and the chunky stitches around the edge.

Lots of these early 1920s tops and dresses were made of plain fabrics of the highest quality and there was always a subtle detail to spot!  The fullness on the sleeve below created by a gathered inset piece of fabric.

This was one of the few patterned dresses.  I think it is the Elysian print, still going today but in very muted colours.  I was rather fascinated by this top stitch panel - I wasn't sure if it was a giant belt loop or just decorative! 

There was some even earlier clothing.  These  traditional English smocks based  are based on eighteenth century shepherd's/waggonner's rural workwear.  The grey is linen and the cream is shantung silk.  Both are circa 1910 and are heavily smocked and embroidered.  

These are children's smocked dresses from c.1920s.  The far left and right styles are timeless.  I remember wearing similar hand-me-down versions as a child for special photographs or parties in the early 1970s.

I think these are late 1930s and early 1940s styles- I didn't take photos of all the info displays as I was almost giddy with all the patterns and dresses!   I do remember reading (and the ticket booklet confirms) the 1920s shopper preferred prints on a dark ground and this changed in the 1930s to a lighter, more romantic mood and colours in the 1930s.  So many, if not all of these styles could be worn now.

This dress caught my eye.  The dramatic colours and the gathers which defined the bust and sleeve- further emphasised by velvet ribbon decoration which continues round the waist.  The neck line is defined by a multitude of separately made flowers.

So many style variations and beautiful details, especially when you look in closer.   Note the curved seams above the hips and below the waist, gorgeous!  The fabrics are a  mix of Tana Lawn or crepe-many looked like silk.

I loved the neckline on this dress.  There is no separate collar pieces, different part of the bodice form the neck and I especially like the higher back section.  There are a multitude of clever gathered and ruched areas al over the dress to create controlled fullness in the upper part of the dress.  There's also a pleat detail in the hem of the panelled skirt.

Possibly my favourite!  I think it is a mock placket but effective nevertheless.   The sleeve head is pleated to give a boxy effect- there must be shoulder pads underneath - and the skirt has box pleats too.  The bound buttonhole style details continue on the sleeves as well as the bodice.

The exhibition has inspired me to make more Liberty dresses.  Back with more in part 2, this time it will be a 1970s special!  You can see all my photos in a Liberty in Fashion album on Flickr.
sib blog


  1. I'm not sure if I can get to the exhibition but your photos make me want to go. The thing I love the most about vintage clothing is all the extra details. Even every day wear for the average person often had little touches that made it feel special. I still get this feeling about some modern clothes when I find an inside seam bound in a pretty contrast fabric or some other little detail. Can't wait to read the next post.

  2. Thanks for showing us these wonderful Dresses :)

  3. I went yesterday and loved it, great to be able to get so close to them and see the detail.

  4. I love the dresses that you've highlighted, especially the first one - the print is brilliant! If you hadn't said, I'd have guessed that they were from the 1970s.

  5. Thanks for all the pictures! I'm going to London in a few weeks and this exhibition is height on my list of things to do.


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