“Embroidered in Dyes” – Fabrics and Fashions by Footprints from the Gunnersbury Museum Collection

Dissertation time has come for us MA students. My research on Footprints, a London-based fabric printing workshop active during the interwar years, has led me to Gunnersbury Museum, a local history museum based in Gunnersbury Park, London. While the museum is currently closed for renovation, the curators were kind enough to let me research their small but exciting collection of Footprints artefacts.

Footprints was established at Durham Wharf, Hammersmith in 1925. It produced hand block printed fabrics and garments which were sold at Modern Textiles, a small shop opened by Elspeth Anne Little at 46 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge in 1926.

Footprints was mainly staffed by female art students or recent graduates of the Central School of Arts and Crafts. It was initially run by Gwen Pike, a painting and block printing graduate of Birmingham School of Art. After Pike’s death in 1929 the workshop was taken over by Joyce Clissold, who had previously worked at Footprints as a Central School student. Clissold did most of the designing and carving of the lino blocks, while her employees prepared the dyes and did the printing.

Clissold eventually opened a shop called Footprints at 94 New Bond Street in 1933, followed by a second shop at 22 Knightsbridge in 1935. Both shops were located in London’s fashionable West End and attracted celebrity customers such as the actresses Yvonne Arnaud, Gracie Fields and Anna Neagle.

At Footprints, one could purchase lengths of hand block printed and painted fabrics, or small ready-made items such as scarves, shawls or hats. Customers who desired custom-made garments had their measurements were taken by ‘Madame Blanche’ – the working name of the in-house dressmaker Mrs. White.

Footprints jacket dating from the 1930s with ‘Huntsmen’ design in black and red on unbleached linen. At Gunnersbury Park. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

etail of ‘Huntsmen’ jacket. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

The Shawl of her Dreams!

Footprints also advertised their fabric painting and printing services directly to dressmakers, which I discovered through an early publicity leaflet I came across in Gunnersbury Museum’s collection. In the leaflet, Footprints’ fabrics were described as “embroidered in dyes”. They were hand block printed and painted in “lovely colours, vivid or demure; designs flamboyant or modest”. For even more novelty and exclusiveness, the dressmaker’s own design could be carried out by Footprints.

The leaflet’s cover is gorgeously illustrated with a printed design of a fashionably short-haired lady. Seen from the back, she wears a fringed shawl with a bold floral design in blue, green, pink and purple. The illustration reminded me of a photograph from the Central Saint Martins Museum and Study Collection, which is the largest collection of Joyce Clissold and Footprints artefacts. In this photograph taken around 1927 Joyce Clissold poses wearing a shawl of her own design.

Joyce Clissold wearing a shawl of her own design, c. 1927. At the Central Saint Martins Museum and Study Collection. Photocopy: © Central Saint Martins Museum and Study Collection.

Finally, the leaflet conjured up a scene at a dressmaker’s establishment where the customer, or “Madame”, lays her eyes on just the perfect addition to her wardrobe: “That five minutes in the showroom on the way to be fitted. That’s when Madame’s eye roves… The SHAWL of her dreams! The SCARF that just goes with the tailor-made. The irresistible little COAT. The intriguing POCHETTE. She falls to it so gladly”.

Oh, imagine how it must feel to find your dream shawl, or any other kind of garment you wish to add to your wardrobe, embroidered in dyes of lovely colours…

Detail of cover of Footprints leaflet, undated. At Gunnersbury Museum. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

By Nelleke Honcoop

Further reading:

Clark, Hazel. ‘Joyce Clissold and the “Footprints” Textile Printing Workshop’. In Women Designing: Redefining Design in Britain Between the Wars, edited by Jill Seddon and Suzette Worden, 82–88. Brighton: University of Brighton, 1994.

Gunnersbury Museum is currently closed for renovation, but will reopen in June 2018. See: http://www.visitgunnersbury.org/collections/.

A Day at London Fashion Week 2018

 

London Fashion Week was the talk of the city February 16-20. Local and international fashion icons were traveling the three-mile radius of LFW visiting shows, presentations, special events, and parties over the course of these well awaited 5 days. The home base of this biannual event, ‘the Store Studios,’ was just a quick walk down the Strand from the Courtauld, and I was fortunate enough to attend thanks to the generosity of my extended family who lives in London.

A long and winding red carpet escorted you immediately through the ‘designer showroom,’ a space comprised of small boutiques of over 150 British and International designers. Rich with a diverse collection of garments and accessories, the showroom provided the space for selected designers to showcase their work and products. I spoke with a number of designers about their collections and inspirations, as the majority of them were posted-up each day in their respective spaces chatting with LFW visitors.

Designer showrooms

The lounge on the second floor overlooking the Thames was lush with foliage and flowers. The marble tables and the large cozy couches provided a restful and refreshing space to work, recharge, and re-caffeinate in between events.

BFC Lounge x The Store

Downstairs, the ‘BFC Show Space’ was home of presentations and shows throughout the weekend. The Autumn/Winter 2018 presentation by Paula Knorr was dramatic through her use of bold red and black colors, and the addition of metallic and sequined fabrics. The space fluctuated between pink and white light, and between music and live spoken word, creating an all encompassing sense of drama and illusion—enhanced even further by the sequined carpet/faux-runway that ran down the middle of the space. The garments of Knorr’s collection were extremely tactile and presented a number of various juxtapositions, playing with transparent and opaque fabrics, fitted and loose silhouettes, and ruffled, fringed, and sequined textures. The models all had dramatic makeup and hairstyles, and were accessorized with metallic ear cuffs.

Paula Knorr Presentation

In addition to ‘the Store Studios,’ there were designer presentations and shows at numerous venues around London throughout the week. Unfortunately, this time around, I missed the Queen’s guest appearance…

By Arielle Murphy

‘Second Skin’ Exhibition at London’s City Hall

Jennifer Rothwell's garment

Jennifer Rothwell’s garment

Natalie B Coleman's garment

Natalie B Coleman’s garment

Joanne Hynes' garment

Joanne Hynes’ garment

London’s City Hall is perhaps the least likely venue for an exhibition on sustainable fashion, however it was the setting for the recent ‘Second Skin,’ an exhibition that first opened in Ireland and came to London for a week in late March. It was part of the Irish Design 2015 programme and posed a challenge to four Irish fashion labels to source and create a garment totally within Ireland.

Lennon Courtney's garment

Lennon Courtney’s garment

The exhibition, nestled right at the bottom of the round glass building, displayed the finished garments, as well as photographs from the process of their manufacture. Starting with a series of fairly shocking facts about the fashion industry, such as ‘the Chinese textile industry creates about three billion tons of soot each year,’ and ‘in the UK 1.4 million tons of clothing is dumped onto landfills annually,’ it highlighted the ethical issues caused by the production and consumption of clothing.  In the past three decades, one third of the planet’s natural resources have been consumed, and therefore it is vital that the fashion industry adapts its practices. There are, of course, also the humanitarian concerns that the production of clothing creates, such as the sweatshop conditions that many people, often young children, must work in to make the garments that we buy. It is often easy to overlook the ethical and environmental issues posed by the fashion industry, so displaying them so starkly is an important wake up call for many people. The objects on display in ‘Second Skin’ address these issues, as they are created using purely locally sourced materials and by Irish workers who were paid a fair wage.

 Curator Louise Allen writes that ‘today we have become used to fast fashion [however] we don’t tend to consider the collective impact of our individual buying patterns.’ This desire for cheap clothing that is not made to last is a fairly new phenomenon. For most of the twentieth century, the emphasis was on high quality clothing that could be worn for a long period of time. Our contemporary throwaway attitude is one of the main problems facing, and indeed caused by, the fashion industry, and something that the designers in ‘Second Skin’ seek to address.

The garments created by brands Natalie B Coleman, Joanne Hynes, Lennon Courtney and Jennifer Rothwell for the exhibition are the opposite of cheap, convenience clothes. They are handmade and unique garments, all inspired by aspects of Ireland. Natalie B Coleman, for example, was inspired by books from her childhood, such as ‘The Enchanted Wood’ series by Enid Blyton, and worked with textile artist Caroline Schofield to create objects both dark and whimsical. Jennifer Rothwell drew her inspiration from folklore and mythology, working with artist Harry Clarke to create a dress that resembled stained glass windows. She used vivid purples, blues, oranges and reds to depict the Eve of St Agnes. She claims to want to reignite the Celtic revival of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries today.

Sonya Lennon, of Lennon Courtney, worked with a local furniture designer to create the wooden shoulder pads that adorn her dress. She says that ‘the real value of producing in Ireland is in developing collaborative relationships.’ This intimate working relationship, that used to be so important in homemade and handmade clothes, is lost when garments are made by many different people who are part of a large system. Joanne Hynes also worked with local craftsmen to create her knitted garment, however, her use of 3D printing is aspirational and looks towards the future of textile production.

The 'Second Skin' exhibition space

The ‘Second Skin’ exhibition space

This exhibition served to highlight the importance of sustainability in fashion, especially in the years to come. It also showed how unique and beautiful clothing can be when created by local craftsmen and using locally sourced materials. It also provided an interesting insight into the contemporary fashion manufacturing process. The one shame is that it was on display in London for such a limited period, and in such an unheard of and little advertised exhibition space.

 Sources:

http://www.nationalcraftgallery.ie/secondskin/essay