Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles
Resource Review

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

The Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles is located in the Maitland area, Hunter Valley NSW (Australia). It was founded by Nell Pyle after a public meeting in 2005 generated enough support for such a museum. It is the only public museum in Australia that is devoted to clothing. The museum has a strong membership and stages displays, presents parades and hosts talks to various local and community groups.

Its founding member, Nell Pyle, was interested in period fashion as long as she can remember. Her mother had preserved many of her and her family's garments and stored them in an old cabin trunk that Nell would often visit. In fact in 1938 when Nell was in junior high school, a period fashion parade was held in the school grounds to raise money for the War effort and Nell wore a net dress that was made in the 1910 decade.

After her training at Armidale Teachers' College (NSW) she taught at schools at Stroud (NSW) and Wyong before being transferred to Beresfield in 1947 She joined the Maitland Repertory Theatre and so combined her two passions: acting and costume. Soon after she became the company's wardrobe mistress, a position she held for over fifty years, caring for and providing costumes for actors.

Her personal collection grew as many garments were offered to her, because over time they became too precious or fragile for theatre use. While Nell staged parades and gave talks for charities on the aspects of costumes and the social history behind them, it was during a display "Garments and Gadgets" that a viewer made a remark that - "These things should be in a museum" - that prompted Nell to hold a public meeting in 2005 that formed the Museum.

Nell married Neil Pyle. She has written a wonderful account of the costumes and social history of some of the collection held in "The Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles". Her book - "History Hidden in Hunter Wardrobes"[1] - is a must read! I have only given you a glimpse of some of the costumes held by the museum and a very brief social history behind them.

The Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles
This is just a snippet of the collection held by The Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles.

Matilda Vile's 1900 Farm Bonnet
Comments[1]: The bonnet was a sensible and serviceable work garment of cotton, in a paisley design. The ties made sure it stayed on the head in windy weather or when caught in a branch. The front of the bonnet provided protection from the sun and wind when worn forward. The length of the 'skirt' gave protection to the neck.

Annie King's Afternoon Tea Apron and Cap
Comments[1]: The apron and cap are made of voile with edging and trim of Valenciennes lace, or "Val" lace as it is more commonly known. The apron is knee length, slightly gathered at the hem. The cap, gathered behind the turned back edging has draw strings of silk card at the back.

Linda Way's 1950 Dance Dress
Comments[1]: The war was over. Materials were no longer rationed and Christian Dior introduced his "New Look" in 1947. In the 1950s, full skirted dresses were the fashion, worn with gathered, roped or wired half petticoats. This dress, which Linda wore to the local balls, is of nylon, a fabric introduced at the time, and is watermelon pink, flocked in grey and silver.

Betsy Arnold's Navy Blue Coat of 1910
Front and Back.
Comments[1]: The shorter length jacket was popular in this era, either on its own or with a matching skirt. This garment is made of pure wool in a fancy twill weave with buttons covered in a lighter fabric. It is decorated around the hem and cuffs with fancy braiding.

Emily McDonald's 1915 Cream Net Dress
Front and Back.
Comments[1]: After 1910 fashions became more relaxed for women. The ankle could be seen, necklines were lower, sleeves no longer covered the wrists. The organdie panels are hand embroidered.
Photograph Courtesy of Eloise Crossmann.

Essie Cant's White Dress of 1920
Comments[1]: This dress is in the typical styling of the 1920s. It has a lowered waistline, is mid-calf length and made on straight lines. Machine pin tucking and filet lace were often features on dresses of the time, and white was popular. The dress was suitable for receiving visitors or for outings.

Mary Russell's 1920 Black Coat
Comments[1]: The coat was made by Mary Russell in the decade 1920-30. Braid edges the collar and opening of the coat. The collar itself has two more rows of the same braid. The cross over front is fastened with two buttons and braid ties. The coat reaches about fourteen centimetres below the knee.

Dame Florence Austral's Georgette Blouse
Comments[1]: The georgette blouse is in the "blouson" style popular in the 1930s. A red and black patterned overlay covers the top half of the garment and ties in a central knot. The sleeves are double with the top sleeve patterned and the lower red with patterned edging.

Fran Gregory's Curtain Fabric Gown
Comments[1]: Fran had made a cotton dress in the typical style of the war years, when material was rationed. The bodice is simple, the skirt is slim and there are no decorative gathers or pleats. A black neck flounce was added for wearing to a ball in Maitland Town Hall (NSW) later in the forties.

Beryl Baker's 1960 Evening Jacket
Comments[1]: Hot pink was a favourite color for 1960 female garments. So too was the "empire line" featured in this lacy evening jacket. The fashion dates back to early Grecian times. Lord Horatio Nelson's mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton, a dancer and entertainer, designed garments of this style for her performances.

Eva Giles' "Pumpkin Dress"
Comments[1]: The sleeveless "pumpkin" dress is in the 'over the top' style of the 1980s with a very full skirt. Black spotted net completely covers the lime green dress, but, though the dress has a bee shaped neckline, the net covering extends right up to the base of the neck. The neckline, the shawl collar, and the frill at the base of the skirt, are edged with narrow black and gold lace.

[1] Nell Pyle, History Hidden in Hunter Wardrobes, The Australian Museum of Textile and Clothing, Maitland (2015).

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