Feature Friday: Making Historical Dress Network

If you have been in the historical costume community for many years, you may know that while dress history is an established field, the act of making and recreation has only more recently become an accepted academic practice. And this month’s feature has created a wonderful dedicated space to further that area of research!

The Making Historical Dress Network was founded with the goal of “unit[ing] established and emerging scholars of dress with practitioners in the worlds of costume production, curation, and conservation, as well as the social media community of historical costumers.”

The founders of the network, Dr. Serena Dyer (@dressing.history) and Dr. Sarah Bendall (@sarabendall_dresshistory), not only incorporate making into their academic work, but have also been part of the online costume space for many years.

Sarah elaborated, “I think I can speak for us both when I say that one of the reasons we both became dress historians was due to our love of both history and of sewing, of reconstructing historical clothing in particular.”

“Serena has been recreating historical garments for over 15 years and [I have] for over 10 years,” she continued. “A long time ago, I even had a blog about my sewing and reconstructions before Instagram and YouTube became the places to be. So, we really do consider ourselves as sitting in both communities and want to bring them together more to enrich the study and making of historical dress. Being part of the wider historical costume making community has helped to nurture our own sewing skills and our academic practice.”

Sarah went on to expand on the network’s mission. “[H]istories of dress, textiles, and manufacture often lack awareness or acknowledgement of the physicality of garment making. Such processes were rarely captured in text, and extant material objects usually only represent the finished product.” On the other hand, “through these ‘embodied’ approaches, garment construction can be reverse engineered, lost skills can be recovered, and instructions and diagrams can be tested.”

The aim of the project is to not only expand the field of dress history but also to democratize it. “The international Making Historical Dress Network…flattens traditional hierarchies between a diverse range of scholars and practitioners who have…taken to their needles to recapture practical sewing knowledge of the past,” Sarah added.

“Attention to practices of making offers a mouthpiece to laborers,” she continued, “particularly women and BAME makers, who are often obscured in guild records and industrialist accounts.”

Finally, the creative process of making historical garments has practical applications to our modern world. “Recreation recovers the manual skills devalued by present-day fast fashion,” Sara noted. “It illuminates and retrieves the human labor required to make clothing, which historic narratives around, and current practices of, mass manufacture have diminished.”

To further the mission of creating a cohesive acceptance of “key terms and methods,” as well as uniting “scholars and practitioners…working on different periods or employed outside traditional academic institutions,” the network is planning a series of in-person and virtual events over the next two years.

The first two in-person workshops will be held this September, and while these can only accommodate the presenters, the presentations will be recorded for those unable to attend. They also plan to host several online events, to be announced this fall. In addition, they will be launching a mentorship program at the end of the workshops, in which “academics and practitioners are paired to flexibly mentor each other in their respective areas of expertise.”

To keep up with the latest news and announcements for the Making Historical Dress Network, or to become involved yourself, be sure to follow them on Instagram, @makinghistoricaldressnetwork, and on Twitter, @MakingHistDress.

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