Why oh why did I not find this before??

I have made a dazzling discovery in the realm of historical reproduction tools: Barbara Johnson’s Album of Fashions and Fabrics, edited by Natalie Rothstein (18th century textiles expert extraordinaire!). 

Barbara Johnson (1738-1825) was a well to-do, though not rich, Englishwoman of fashion within her means (aka she was stylish, but not a spendthrift).  Over the course of much of her life she kept an album of fabric swatches for clothing she had made, these span the years 1746-1823.  The album contains 93 fabric swatches, which are pinned into the album.  Along with these are corresponding slips of paper on which she wrote such details as: fabric and fibre types, garments the fabrics were made into, yardage costs and amounts, and most are dated with at least the year.

The publication includes several essays from prominent historians in the field that tell some of Barbara’s life story as well as situate her and her album in broader socio-cultural and economic contexts.  The album is reproduced in full with high quality colour photographs that appear to be actual size.  Notes and transcriptions follow at the end.

I was first made aware of this book while trolling around the V&A’s online library catalogue near the end of my stay in London (for which I am now pining, btw!).  The V&A owns the original album as well as this publication; however the original is off-limits to everyone (including scholars), and I didn’t have time left anyway to go see the publication.  By the greatest fortune imaginable, the U of Alberta’s libraries has a copy of the publication!!! (which I’ve noticed sells now for about $300 online; “look sad and say d’oh”).  I now have it checked out until end of January 2009 (the perks of being a grad student, heh heh). 

My only wish is that I’d come across its existence sooner, because then I would have tailored this project more directly around the information given in the album.  I am hoping that it is still early on enough (I have not purchased all of my materials yet) to do so to an extent.  I very much like the idea of tying this project to an actual historical person; especially one who actually left a significant record of her wardrobe!  What makes her an even more perfect model is that she was of the social status I am gearing my reproductions towards.  Barbara was the daughter of a successful and well-off member of the English clergy, what we today would call middle to upper middle class. 

What an invaluable glimpse into costume/dress history!  I highly recommend that if your interests are like mine, and are concerned with the period covered in the album that you look it up at either a local library, or University near you!

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3 Comments »

  1. Julia Said:

    But on the other hand, if you were to make your project into a recreation of Barbra’s wardrobe, you would be headed into the dangerous area of RPG pastiche, and not into the informed hypotheses that make up graduate academic work. So use the album as one source among many, because her own representativeness is not guaranteed, either.

  2. brocadegoddess Said:

    Well exactly, do give me a little more credit Julia! lol

  3. red shoes Said:

    Oh, dear. I didn’t know you didn’t know about this! Otherwise I would have sent it your way. Ditto the new Janet Arnold. I’ll enjoy reading the blog and seeing the projects come to life. Thanks for sending the link. H


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