Visitors to newly re-opened Cliffe Castle will have noticed that the costume display upstairs has changed.
As part of the project, we commissioned a local artist, Shirley Madden, to create a mural background to the displays to recreate the type of painted backdrops that were an important part of the 1950s displays.
Shirley, drawing on the town’s history, fashions and people has created a fantasy view of Keighley from the 1850s onwards. If you come for a visit, see if you can spot Spud Mick, (a well known figure in 1920s Keighley) in the background.
We then selected eight dresses from our costume collection. The earliest dress on display in the gallery is a light 1830s cotton paisley-print dress and the latest a brightly coloured floral 1950s sundress, illustrating what was fashionable when Cliffe Castle first opened as a museum.
We also gave the costume a little extra TLC, and had them conserved by Caroline Booth, who previously conserved Mrs Salt’s fancy dress costume for us. As you can imagine, the dresses are in all shapes and sizes, and would not have fitted the typical sized mannequins you might see in a modern shop, particularly the older dresses, which were designed to be worn with a corset. There are some very tiny waists on display!
As part of the process, Caroline therefore created some customised display mannequins for the dresses.
Caroline has created shaped padding that acts to support the dresses in a way that the under-garments would have done originally, like corsets, crinolines and petticoats. It’s been made from unbleached cotton, as it will not react with the materials the clothes are made from.
One of the dresses, a lavender silk from 1866 originally worn as a wedding dress required a little bit of extra help to ensure the skirt sat properly and would be supported, as the bodice was very short. Caroline added some cotton ties onto the skirt that could be looped through similar ones on the mannequin itself. This will help distribute the weight evenly and avoid putting too much strain on either the skirt or the padding.
Dressing the mannequins is often a two-person job to ensure minimum stress to the clothes, so Heather Millard, our Social History Curator assisted Caroline on the day of the installation.
We’ve also chosen some period appropriate accessories for the outfits, and we think the end result of all the hard work looks splendid.