The Skeleton that is my Wardrobe - Introduction to this Blog

As are many with a passion for collecting, I am limited by purse strings and space, although, to be strictly truthful it is the former rather than the latter, which has ever been my greater concern.

However, with a chance that we may move home in the near future and with the added impetus of being costumer on a new film project, I decided to set myself the challenge of freeing up at least part of my fabric, furnishings and clothing collection. Material and clothes are meant to move, hanging them up in a wardrobe or folding them up on a shelf assures they remain inanimate. It's time to open the wardrobe doors, loosen their bonds and let them escape. The fiat has gone forth for them to be shaken out and/or deconstructed, then re-fashioned to serve a purpose above and beyond being stared at and coveted by me.

From skirt to sleeves. The 'old woman' costume above uses one of my favourite skirts as a trompe l'oeil to create my take on a traditional Russian sarafan.

The Challenge - Unwrapping the Mummy

I started my collection of fabrics and clothes years ago when I had easy access to some of the great historic markets such as Brick Lane, Bath and Covent Garden. It was also at a time when the UK still had fabric shops a-plenty and the beginnings of cut price fashion such as the Monsoon Sale Shop and Next to Nothing. The main treasure trove though, for serious collectors, was to be found in the jumble sales, charity shops, auctions and the wonderful vintage (and older) clothing emporiums. Finding clothes has been for me a study in social history, just as collecting china would mean a visit to the Potteries, so vintage and 'old' clothes could be traced to the textile centres of the North and Midlands of England.

Above; contemporary lace collar, 1920's beaded and sequined lace and feathered aigrette, 1930's kid gloves, 1950's costume jewellery belt from a Dior frock, Victorian lace pillow case and Regency cut steel removable shoe buckles. It is interesting to note that in previous eras people valued and upcycled parts of their clothing. Collars and cuffs, for example, as these modern versions below, could be removed and laundered separately, thus endlessly re-fitted to the classic subfusc work clothes.

As someone who has always made clothes, starting as a small child outfitting dolls and working upwards, whenever I look to buy garments I generally turn them inside out, to see how they are made. Even when well-worn and mass-produced, these clothes are now great for upcycling as they are professionally sewn and often have generous seam allowances. I have also bought a few good quality clothes at knock-down prices because they needed mending, so part of my challenge will be to complete these projects too. Other items, such as woollens, where the fabric is worn beyond reuse and good only for rags and dusters, I have now been able to upcycle for fixings, such as beads and buttons.

I only bought/buy natural materials, except on the few occasions, where I have been particularly drawn to a print,  so again these have worn well and are suitable for reuse. Over the past 10 years I have purchased mainly organic fabrics, so with some of these, as they are plain and often in a raw state, I will be experimenting with natural dyes and appliqué. (Above modern linen print, 1930's embroidered crêpe de Chine, organic flannel, hand-painted 1920's silk peignoir. Below, from Birmingham rag market, full length of wedding sari and heavily decorated scarf.) 

In addition to dress fabrics,I have a great hoard of linen, lace and embroidery as well as a reasonable amount of offcuts from furnishing fabrics and curtain materials. 

Proving that there is nothing new under the sun, here is an intricate piece of framed embroidery work, which is in fact an upcycled centuries old kimono sleeve.

Here also another of my collection, not for upcycling but does need some attention, a trumpet banner, a little memento got up in gold thread couched work on a pink silk ground to celebrate a visit from Queen Victoria.

Some of my textiles, including these embroidered roses on this beautiful late Victorian wedding tea cosy, will provide inspiration for my costume work and in particular for my first project which I will now set out below.

The Golden Goblet - Five fairytale film costumes on a shoestring

Climb the Ivy like many other small independent film companies, has a limited budget for its début onto the film competition circuit. The entry date for the above film is the day before my birthday, May 30th and as the rehearsals proper are starting this month, I have already got to the point where I am sewing in the car. The costumes I have designed and am now in the process of making up, are as follows, the (aforementioned) old woman, the Faerie Queen, a young girl, a Magician/Jester and a doll. As this is a short film and as I have been given quite a free rein on the costumes, I have tried to imbue them with the personality and duality of the characters. Although I pretty much had the ideas forming when I read the script, I wanted some cultural references and also, what the heck, loved making another collection of, albeit digital, fabric and costume. To do this therefore I turned to Pinterest and created a board, which you can find here Inspiration for Costumes

In Conclusion

I will be using my collection of fabrics and clothing in a variety of projects over the coming months. These range from film costumes for both live actors/actresses and the stop motion kind, clothes, hats, shoes, accessories, soft furnishings and upholstery, (dolls' house and animation sets included) to techniques for repairing and refurbishing old textiles. So hopefully there is something for everyone, even the character below awaiting refurbishment.

With regard to the World of Haute Couture, I have three claims to a passing acquaintance with it. Vivienne Westwood once gave me a square of chocolate, when visiting a shop I was working in.  I was temp PA, for a day, to Zandra Rhodes.  We live within a stone's throw of the Villa des Rhumbs, childhood home of Christian Dior. That over with, we can now forget it and get on with the blog.

If you have enjoyed this piece and found it useful think about sharing it and also about joining this blog to be assured of new posts. Please also feel free to ask questions or make comments in the section below.

Find out more about Climb The Ivy Films here

All the very best,

 © 2015 Sue Cross


  1. Oh this is WONDERFUL! I love Textiles, and clothing, and design.......for the art of it. I have lost so much in moving, and I never buy new, can't afford to, but did have some wonderful pieces in the past. I still go to second hand stores, as I know my materials, and the style, and it is also an adventure. Such beautiful pieces, Sue. What a treat to see this morning, and I'm a wee bit weepy about the loss.......I am trying not to "hold on to material things" but what can I say? I feel the loss, anyway. And I sure have "let go" of more than so many. Well done! A beautiful blog! Desiree......(below it asks who I want to comment as and since I don't know what the other choices mean, well I know, but I don't I'll go with Anonymous and put my name in here. :)

    1. Hi Desiree, Thanks so much for your lovely comments, I really appreciate getting feedback, particularly on my first post - you made my day!

      I know just how you feel, early pieces now are so difficult to find, as the old markets and second hand shops have changed so over the years. That is why I particularly enjoyed building up a collection of images on Pinterest, because I could follow through from previous pinners and get such a range of inspirational pieces from all around the World. I also found quite a few interesting tutorials and blogs that way too. I am a great hoarder of even the tiniest bits of fabric, so making the sets and costumes for my animation and fitting out a dolls' house will give all these pieces a purpose other than being stuffed in a drawer.

      I am so happy you joined the blog, you can accompany me through my costuming journey. I made loads in the past but that was mainly for school plays and historical pageants, this is for a film with quite dramatic scenes, so I am making sure everything is sewn firmly together!!

      The comment form is really confusing, I don't understand why you can't put your own name but everything is about backlinks on the web.

      All the very best from France, Sue

  2. Oh nom nom nom not just all those glushca-crunch fabrics n bits but the fact I can have a wonderful fabric feast following your blog. I have been a great fabric hoarder collector in the past and I suppose should be ashamed to say have kept my collection in storage rather than letting it go. I presently live in a caravan and do not have room for much here and I am also studying for a degree at the grand age of 55 yrs so knitting and stitching have given way to study and essays. Your blog will give me a vicarious way of thoroughly enjoying creativity. Bless you Sue for creating this blog which I shall watch with avid interest. Blessed Be Kate

    1. Hi Kate, Thanks so much for your great comments! I agree beautiful fabrics and fixings are just delicious! I had mine in store for a few years too but I am so happy to have kept everything, as it is so difficult now to find really old pieces of textiles and clothing. Gone are the days when you could pick a 1930's velvet dress out of a skip/dumpster! Or in our cousin's case, a Pre-Raphaelite embroidery but in a way that's a good thing because it shows that these pieces are now being valued for their workmanship and artistry.

      I am hoping to get the next article written tomorrow. The weather has been so beautiful here I have been out all day gardening with the chickens.

      All the very best from sunny Normandie and good luck with your studies. (I used to teach on a course called 'It's Never Too Late' and my oldest pupils were in their 80's!)