October 5, 2017

The Red Ribbon [review]

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:21 am by historywardrobe

I’m so pleased this story of 1940s dressmakers is having such a powerful and positive response

Snazzy Books

The Red Ribbon - Lucy Adlington

Title: The Red Ribbon
Author: Lucy Adlington
Publisher: Hot Key Books


Rose, Ella, Marta and Carla. In another life we might have all been friends together. But this was Birchwood.

As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day at work she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Ella has joined the seamstresses of Birkenau-Auschwitz.

Every dress she makes could be the difference between life and death. And this place is all about survival.

Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive.

Is her love of clothes and creativity nothing more than collaboration wth her captors, or is it a means…

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The Red Ribbon [review]

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:20 am by historywardrobe

Source: The Red Ribbon [review]

September 26, 2017

The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington |REVIEW

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:57 pm by historywardrobe

Great review thank you. The true story of the dressmakers of Auschwitz is absolutely startling. I couldn’t resist writing about it. It’s a lovely lovely hardback edition too.

Niffler Reads

The Blurb:

As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day working at Birchwood, she steps into a world of silks and seams, buttons, lace and ribbons.

Ella is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Every dress she makes could mean the difference between life and death.

This room, this place, this world, is all about survival.

Title: The Red Ribbon

Author: Lucy Adlington

Publisher: Hot Key Books 

First Published: 21/09/2017     This Edition: 21/09/2017     Pages: 287

Date Started: 21/09/2017   Date Finished: 26/09/2017

My Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ✨ 

Four of us: Rose, Ella, Marta and Carla. In another life we might all have been friends. But this was Birchwood.

This book guys.. 😭

I won a copy of this book via Readers First and I wish I got around to this sooner!

It’s a YA, Historical Fiction…

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July 31, 2017

Laura Ashley Sample Book of Secrets

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:10 pm by historywardrobe

A charming mini masterpiece for fans of Laura Ashley fabric

Annjrippin's Blog

After much deliberation I finally decided how to present the Laura Ashley sample quilts that I wrote about on the blog towards the end of last year.  These are tiny little pieces using up the very smallest scraps of the Laura Ashley fabric I have been given and adding elements to them to suggest a narrative which we can’t unlock but can’t resist putting together.  For example:

I am very committed to the idea that we are all born storytellers and that this is how we make sense of the world, so when we see something like the little red quilt above, we start to make up our own story to explain why there is a spoon with the Mayflower on it: a present from an American relative?  A souvenir of a special trip?  A birthday present from a friend who knew about the spoon collection?  A Daughter of the…

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June 15, 2017

The Victorian Seamstress

Posted in Uncategorized, Victorian at 2:40 pm by historywardrobe

How easy it is to take our clothes for granted… and to forget those who labour making them. I’m always eager to hear tales of the dressmakers, tailoresses and seamstresses from the past, so often lost to history, or surviving only in the vintage garments that remain.

“…a very elegant, kind, loving woman”


Eleanor c. 1895

A History Wardrobe fan recently shared images of her grandmother Eleanor, born in 1867, and married, aged 30, to a Younger Man (only 23 – heavens!). Before her marriage Eleanor worked at Pennington’s Department Store in Spalding, Lincolnshire.  The original shop opened in 1850, and only closed when it was hit by a bomb in 1941.  I came across a lovely memoir about a dressmaker’s apprentice at Pennington’s in the 1930s.

Back in Eleanor’s day, customers usually bought their fabric first – a dress length or a costume length – then it was made up by the seamstress.  Designs could be chosen from a shop display, or from commercial fashion illustrations and patterns.

GOA 1889-90_0006

Afternoon outfits from the Girls’ Own Annual 1889


Conditions in Victorian workrooms varied from friendly and tolerable to Spartan and unpleasant. It seems that Eleanor enjoyed camaraderie with fellow workers at Pennington’s. She is picture here with other workroom girls, sporting the fabulous puffed sleeves of the mid 1890s.

Penningtons  backroom girls circa  1895.jpg

Pennington workroom girls c. 1895


Professional dressmakers were distinguished from the truly impoverished sweated labourers by their higher wages and smarter outfits.  They could almost be walking adverts for their employers, as seen in this final portrait of Eleanor (standing, left). Aren’t these winter ensembles magnificent? I love the frogging, the gloves and the muffs.

Penningtons girls

Eleanor with friends


If you’d like to know more about the life of working women in Victorian times, why not join us for a History Wardrobe presentation – A Very Victorian Lady? We feature all-original 19th century garments, and explore the lives of milliners, mill workers, mothers and even emigrants. You can find all event details on our website diary:


April 27, 2017

A Fabulous Fifties Afternoon Tea

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:37 am by historywardrobe

Happy memories of a lovely vintage afternoon

Lizzie Thimble

On Sunday, my friend and colleague Katie and I treated our mums to afternoon tea with a vintage twist. Organised by the Friends of the Richardson Hospital in Barnard Castle, the Fabulous Fifties Afternoon Tea combined three of my favourite things – 1950s fashion, history and lots and lots of cake.

Such a lovely event required an extra special outfit and I decided only a circle skirt would do. I love the Eliza M Vintage Circle Skirt pattern as it is so easy to make and very flattering. I created the skirt below from some curtain fabric and, for such a bold print, it is surprising how many of my tops it goes with. On this occasion I wore it with a  fuschia knitted top with a kind of wrap effect. It was also a fantastic opportunity to wear my new yellow fakelite beads and bangle from Splendette.


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January 30, 2017

Style Tribes – review

Posted in Book review, Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 5:26 pm by historywardrobe


Style Tribes: The Fashion of Subcultures

Style Tribes: The Fashion of Subcultures – Caroline Young (Frances Lincoln, 2016)

When you first discovered fashion, did you want to fit in or stand out? It seems that no matter how much we might want to assert our individuality, we can’t help making connections with others who like the same togs. And, while we think of clothes as being civilising, author Caroline Young is pretty certain that clothes are actually tribal.  Frankly, the first human adornments are believed to have been declaration of status and availability.  Has much changed?

In this attractive, picture-rich book, Young explores the links between youth, music culture and fashion.  Couture barely gets (or deserves) a look-in.  If you remember your own teenage years, much of the themes she covers will resonate.  Mine was the era of the New Romantics… on a very strict budget. My clothes were indeed influenced by music subcultures, and the cover art of those lovely LPs we flipped through at Woolworths and the local record shop. Alas, my solitary Duran Duran t-shirt soon became naff.  Since it was black, I next wore it back-to-front under a dubious fringed jacket during a moodier Goth phase.

Young’s descriptions of the sheer inventiveness of subculture fashion certainly rings true to me.  As teens (and beyond) we created our own looks from what we could afford, and what we could customise. To my chagrin, I remember attending one teen party with loops of coloured paperclips over my turquoise bat-wing top.  My best friend (always fabulously dressed & accessorised) complimented me on looking “so different.” Frankly I’d rather have been kitted out in shop-bought branded goods.  Now, of course, the high street can provide any look, often at minimal cost.  Funky, maybe, but punk it ain’t.


Style Tribes – punk


Reading Style Tribes is like wearing a pair of well-loved classic jeans – you know what you’re getting and you like it.  The chronology takes us through a cavalcade of cutting-edge fashion, all of it ultra-modern in its day.  Though mainly Western, the cultural span is broader than most fashion books, encompassing white surfer dudes and Black zoot suits; Asian harajuku and goa trance.

20170130_165101.jpgLooking back we can raise an eyebrow at outlandish extremes, or smile in admiration at the glorious rebelliousness of it all.  Beatnik, disco, riot grrls and steampunk, all are now immortalised in history.  What next?  Young says look to organically growing moods and moments in society:

“There are always new tribes… We just don’t know about them yet”


Style Tribes is smart, insightful and occasionally edgy. It celebrates all those outfits that made conservative parents shudder and say, “You can get back up those stairs – you’re not going out looking like that!”  Forget catwalks, think catcalls.  This fashion is high street & back alleys. It is attitude, not platitude. Tribalism at its most colourful and courageous.

September 4, 2016

Mewing like cats

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:55 pm by historywardrobe

A fascinating insight into early 19thc life. A big help as I research clothes & crime in the Georgian era


The Infirmary, Great Yarmouth Gaol

May 1837

The Gaoler catches the two young women leaning out of the infirmary window, flirting with the men in the airing yard below. They jump down hastily when he shouts their names.[1]

It’s three weeks since Elizabeth Humphrey complained of being sick and was dispatched to the infirmary room, with Sarah Rands to keep her company. They are enjoying their ruse, with the luxury of sugar to sweeten their tea and oatmeal, and a rush candle to light at night when they sing and tell each other stories in its warm glow. They have been palls since Sarah arrived in January, joining Elizabeth, nearly six months into her sentence.[2]

2 women EH and SC Detail from Mrs Fry Reading to the Prisoners at Newgate, 1816 Jerry Barrett (1863), Courtesy British Museum

Now Elizabeth Humphrey, aged nineteen, says she is in the family way. The matron, wife…

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July 22, 2016

Remember the old school days?

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:17 am by historywardrobe


exam paper

Well, Lucy Adlington (who IS the History Wardrobe) does. And so do I. On Sunday afternoon I was at The Red House in Gomersal with friend Clare to be entertained again by Lucy and Meridith  in the latest History Wardrobe World Premiere presentation Jolly Hockeysticks!

Jolly Hockeysticks is a simply smashing show about school days and school stories, whether you’re a fan of Malory Towers or Angela Brazil. Our blue-stocking Headmistress celebrates the often-untold tales of pioneers in education for girls, while the irrepressible school pupil models school uniform and gym kit galore!

Headmistress Miss Bullocks

Miss Bullocks addresses the class

Enter Miss Bullocks headmistress, complete with cane, in gown and mortar board, sensible shoes and starchy blouse and the show (and the fun) began. With examples of girls school uniforms since the 19th century and throwing in other school memories which most of us could relate to, unlike…

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June 16, 2016

The Open Closet

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:33 pm by historywardrobe

Where do your cast-off clothes go? Do you spare them a second thought when they go off to the second-hand market?

My travels in the American mid-West recently included several trawls in antique malls, where I found some delightful vintage frocks.  But what of the fate of more contemporary clothes? What happens to the garments culled from our wardrobes?  Let me invite you into the basement of St John’s Lutheran church, in the surprisingly lovely town of Dubuque, Iowa.  open closetHere, in The Open Closet, you’ll find a freshly-painted, neatly-ordered set of rooms laid out like a nice clothes store.  The stock is entirely made up of donations – roughly 150 bin bags of them a week (double this after a clothing drive).  A team of volunteers, under the expert aegis of Ruth Pugh, sort the clothes into female, male, girl & boy categories. There’s even a rather moving section of tiny garments for premature babies. Clothes are also sorted seasonally. So far, all pretty similar to any charity clothing shop.

Here’s the difference.  The clothes are all free.

Yes, for 27 years The Open Closet has been serving the needs of the community with not a price-tag in sight.  And the clients?  While I watched Ruth at work putting winter gear to one side, a young woman arrived. She seemed quite quiet.  She had just been released from prison and urgently needed a set of clothes. ‘How many items can I take?’ she asked shyly.  ‘Take whatever you need,’ Ruth said, leaving the woman to browse in peace.  Take whatever you need. A simple sentence, deep with generosity and significance for this young woman starting fresh.  Worth thinking about if you (like me) suspect that you have far, far more than you need.

IMG_1494 (2)The Open Closet is also there for people who’ve lost everything in a house fire or floods; for homeless people; for those who’ve sought refuge from violence in shelters, leaving troubled homes with literally only the clothes on their backs. Indeed, Ruth says The Open Closet is for anyone in the community who needs to be clothed.  Premature babies to prom dresses, in fact.

635937248770834705-Loras-College-Fire-6After lightening struck dorms of nearby Loras College, the young people burnt out of their rooms came to The Open Closet for new outfits.  By coincidence, one of the courageous citizens who spotted the fire, raised the alarm, then helped them escape safely (saving 45 lives) was honoured for his efforts at the same ceremony where Ruth herself was honoured for her tremendous contributions as a community volunteer.

We are not naked creatures in society. Clothes give us dignity, identity and confidence.

Ruth says she keeps a special section of work gear – overalls & ‘scrubs’ and such like – for people on low-wage jobs who need clothes that are fit for purpose. Also, she sets aside smart clothes for work-eager people going to job interviews.  Ruth recalled the story of a boot-less man due for a job interview. Without work-boots = no interview; no work.  He was referred to The Open Closet and kitted out. He got the job.

IMG_1493 (2)And this isn’t some shabby free-for-all, with any old stuff piled on tables to be picked over.  The clothes are only put out if they are clean and flawless. Clients can browse in a nice environment.  They respond by respecting the place and the stock… and perhaps themselves a bit more too.

The Open Closet works quite closely with the associated men’s shelter Almost Home.  As well as receiving much-needed clothes, the men have been known to donate clothes back to the Closet when they can, and some come to volunteer too.

Not all the clothes find new wearers, and here’s where the next level of re-use happens.  A company called St Vincent de Paul, which works to help those in poverty, collects items to sell on for shredding.  Another company, Remains collects unwanted items too.  Before the recession Remains were able to pay about $1 a sack for ‘rejects.’ Now they can’t pay, but the clothes are at least shredded, and the rags can be re-used… a tradition which has a long, long history.

As ever, The Open Closet is seeking more volunteers. Ruth isn’t above bribing helpers with candy.  “If you really want to make a difference and see that difference, volunteer here,” she says.  “You will make people happy.”

Dubuque, Iowa, may be too far for many of us to travel to.  Why not seek out local organisations and charities to find a second home for your clothes? They deserve the longest life possible.

The young woman choosing her out-of-prison outfit while I was in the Closet said as she left (holding her new clothes), “I hope to donate things back again when I can…”

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