Meet some of the Members

WECS has a diverse membership made up of people from all walks of life who are interested in costume and the way it is construction, its history, design, embellishments and also in textiles and their conservation. Some members have worked in the fashion industry, theatre wardrobes and teaching; others just have an interest in costume and enjoy sharing their interests with like-minded people.

Let's see what they have to say and why they joined.

Iris

My interest in sewing came from my mother; she made garments for all six of her children and by the time she produced me she had had plenty of practice! When I first started work in the Civil Service at the age of fourteen I did very little sewing but then in my twenties in the effort to follow fashion as much as my purse would allow I went in search of fantastic fabrics which years ago were much more plentiful than they are now.

As a young mother my sewing machine was used to its full capacity; I made all the children’s’ clothes, even for my son until he wore long trousers. I remember buying a pair of short trousers, taking them apart bit by bit and then assembling them again to find out the order for relatively easy making. At the same time I was sewing for myself – dresses, coats etc. - so my time was often occupied until the early hours. I was also doing the accounts for the business we were in! I did a lot of embroidery during those years and still have many examples of my handiwork.

I worked mainly from purchased paper patterns but was taught how to cut patterns by Margot Arendse. Although I sew less now, when I do turn my hand to cut skirts or trousers from the many materials I still have, I use my block patterns. Over the years I have helped to make stage costumes (and worn quite a lot of them), altered garments for my relations and even ventured into making garments for other people. One was living in Australia and sent me measurements for the bridesmaid’s dress she was to wear in Bristol – thank goodness it fitted perfectly!

I am so happy to be a member of WECS, having met some lovely people over the years. Long may it continue.

Jill

While working as a children’s nanny in 1960s London, I spent my evenings selling books and records at the Westminster Theatre during the pantomime season. One evening, the Wardrobe Mistress invited me into her den for a cup of coffee and I finished up ironing a huge pile of shirts and meeting several actors who came down for a cup of tea and a chat. After that, I spent every evening in the wardrobe, washing and ironing and hoping to meet the star of the show!! It was much more romantic and exciting than being a nanny, so when I was told they needed a dresser and general wardrobe assistant, I jumped at the chance. I stayed for almost ten years working my way up to become Wardrobe Mistress and worked with many well-known designers and actors until my marriage, when I moved to Bristol. After that, I took my City and Guilds Fashion and Design and started a wedding dress business which I ran for several years. I then began to volunteer in the Play Department at Bristol Children’s hospital and when a post came up for a Play Assistant I applied and got the job. I eventually became a Play Specialist and ran the main Play Centre until I retired. I was so afraid I would be bored when I stopped working, that I joined WECS and the Embroiderer’s Guild and now volunteer at the Fashion Museum, spend hours making embroideries of set and costume design, as well as volunteering for Riding for the Disabled and Singing for the Brain with the Altzeimers Society and I am never bored!

Tony

As a child, interested in how everything was made and how it all worked, I was aware of my father at the sewing machine, running up curtains. Inevitably, my teens brought out other interests but even so my engineering mind was intrigued with the ways that flat fabric could be coaxed around the female form. My future mother-in-law was a whiz with the needle and sewing machine so Carolyn's wardrobe was assured. Sadly she died just before our wedding so somebody had to fill in when it came to minor costumes for stage performances with the local operatic society.

Later we came to making renaissance costume - corset, farthingale and dresses - becoming the de facto "experts" and consultants to some other members of the group who wanted guidance in the making of similar costumes to fit some very different body shapes. There followed a fair range of garments; from a "skort" to a " dress" via what our American cousins coyly call "intimate apparel"

In real life I was an electronics engineer working on avionics and underwater guidance systems and later became a software engineer, working on satellite control systems for the European Space Agency and NASA, ship design systems for the MOD, etc.

So why join WECS? Carolyn had been a member of WECS for several years and after each meeting I would be subjected to an hour's debriefing. Finally she relented and gave me membership as a birthday present. On my first attendance I was made most welcome and I was so impressed by the enthusiastic and knowledgeable speakers that I've been coming ever since.

Carol

I had the opportunity of buying a collection of lace and linens from a lady who attended embroidery classes with me. Her mother had been an expert who lectured to groups such as W.I.'s in the 1920s and 1930s; the oldest item was a christening bonnet c1740. I had always made lots of my own clothes, and had been interested in embroidery and the way things are made since my 1950s childhood in India when 'boxie-wallahs' came around the compound houses selling their wares of wonderful cut-work and shadow embroidery. I was also given a few pieces by some very kind elderly neighbours who found out about my interest and was told about items for sale at local antique markets.

My collection prompted me to go to Identification of Lace classes at Bristol University, where I met Heather and Pompi. Heather persuaded me to join WECS and Pompi the Southern Counties C.S. Since my first participation in Costume Society events, I have been to many fabulously interesting lectures, weekends and visits and have made many new friends.

Rod

I was an insurance broker and spent much of my time in the muck and machines of West Midlands and Black Country industry. Fashion history was a hobby but only reading about it and visiting museums until a friend recommended that I join the main Costume Society. I did so about 20 years ago and soon recognised that WECS had then, since and still has a very interesting and enjoyable programme of events.

I joined WECS and have continued to enjoy not only the lectures and visits but also the warmth of the members.

My particular interests are C19 and C20 (to the 1950s) and corsetry - part of my collection has regular outings to Womens' Institutes, Townswomens' Guilds and similar organisations.