Sartorial heritage

Last updated 05:00 21/09/2013

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"Made in Marlborough" garments will be discussed in the Marlborough Museum's final winter afternoon talk on tomorrow.

It coincides with the opening of a new exhibition, Marlborough Threads, where mannequins dressed in clothes dating from the 1870s will be displayed at the museum for the next six months.

Many were made by Marlborough tailors and dressmakers and had labels like: "Smale and Hay Costumes - Blenheim tailors" and "Frank Patchett for quality menswear".

"You would always see [Frank] with a tape measure if you went into his shop," says Pam Saunders, the Marlborough Museum textiles manager who is giving tomorrow's talk.

Home-sewn garments filled earlier generations' wardrobes, too, and housewives typically had their own dressmaking tools. An array of pins, needles, cottons, scissors, materials and patterns will be included in Marlborough Threads.

Pam says her war widow mother worked for Blenheim dressmaker Doreen Blythe and always sewed the family's clothes at home to make ends meet.

Pam followed that tradition with her own four children. In fact, Pam was so prolific she literally wore out an Elna sewing machine, she laughs.

She believes sewing is still a valid craft for young people to learn.

It is no longer cheaper to physically sew everyday garments, but store-bought ones will last a lot longer if someone has the skills to alter and mend them.

"And people who want special outfits will go to the dressmaker, especially with bridal things."

Renwick bridal designer Bernadette Thomas has loaned the museum one of her gowns for the Marlborough Threads exhibition and Pam says two other dressmakers advertise their services in the Marlborough phone book.

Their presence continues a long tradition.

"When you look at very old photographs of dignitaries and their wives in the genteel population, 70 per cent of their clothes would have been made or altered and fitted by local people," Pam says.

Her involvement with the museum's clothing collection began by helping Edith Collins who established it through the Marlborough Historical Society.

In 1985 it organised a fundraising period-fashion parade. Everyone had a lot of fun and Pam's daughters were even two of the models but she says such an event would never be permitted today.

"We don't allow any [period] clothing to be worn because of the pressure and the oil off your fingers. And people might be too big or too small wearing them."

Textiles are among the most difficult thing a museum looks after, she says.

Many of the old costumes are made from silk and when they are not being displayed they are packed in boxes and stored at safe, even temperatures.

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"UV light is the worst thing and heat, change of temperature and bugs are other hazards.

"We have to be totally vigilant."

The Marlborough Threads talk starts at 2pm tomorrow at the Marlborough Museum, Arthur Baker Pl, Blenheim. Entry is by gold coin donation and people are asked to book a seat by phoning 03 578 1712.

- The Marlborough Express

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