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Sue Prichard: Textiles on Film

Former V&A curator and current Senior Curator of Decorative Arts at Royal Museums Greenwich, Sue Prichard, unravels some key works from our Textiles on Film collection.

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Sue Prichard: Textiles on Film
View Masculinity in Modes
Masculinity in Modes
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Masculinity in Modes 1931

Women wear the trousers: sample the latest Parisian couture with this pretty stencil-coloured piece from Eve's Film Review.

1 mins United Kingdom

"Androgyny is such a staple feature of the 21st century catwalk."

Androgyny is such a staple feature of the 21st century catwalk; it is hard to imagine a woman wearing trousers as being worthy of note. In this film we are left in no doubt as to the risqué nature of such attire. In the 1930s ‘Pyjama parties’ were considered racy and the satirical weekly magazine ‘Punch’ ridiculed trouser wearing women. The allusion to Eve’s desire to ‘wear the trousers’ emphasizes the perceived predatory nature of the modern woman. However, there is a certain charm in the ungainliness of the mannequins as they struggle up and down the stairs in their glamorous attire.

View Make-do-and-mend
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Make-do-and-mend 1945

A wartime family look on in amazement as their old clothes offer useful advice on how to make their clothing coupons go further.

1 mins United Kingdom

"I have a particular fondness for this public information film."

I have a particular fondness for this public information film as my grandmother brought me up to ‘make-do-and-mend’. The significance of the message is perhaps lost on contemporary audiences, however dwindling resources meant that by 1942 household linens were included in the clothes-rationing scheme, and the original issue of sixty coupons per ration book had been reduced to forty-eight. A woman’s short jacket or coat, blouse, skirt and shoes required twenty-eight coupons. Sewing and mending thread was off ration and recycling clothes was both patriotic and necessary. I like the sense of community created by the ‘make do and mend group’ however I have a sneaking suspicion that the Celia Johnson accent is a voiceover.

View Cotton Come Back
Cotton Come Back
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Cotton Come Back 1946

A passionate post-war plea for workers to return to the cotton industry after decades of decline, framed as an argument between father and daughters.

26 mins United Kingdom Director. Donald Alexander

"A fascinating glimpse of working class life."

This is a fascinating glimpse of working class life in a post war Lancashire mill town. The set piece dialogue encouraging workers to support the textile industry and return to the mills has obviously been scripted by government agencies. However the use of local people as opposed to actors gives a real sense of authenticity; listen for the sound of clogs on cobbles as the workers leave the factory. The scene where the young daughter skips past the spinning mule is almost balletic. The introduction of a factory dance hall complete with live band on a Friday night does not detract from the lamentable difference in wages for male and female employees, as illustrated in The Cotton Board’s traveling exhibition.

View It All Began with Velvet
It All Began with Velvet
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It All Began with Velvet 1955

Fabrics galore burst into a Britain just recovering from war rationing, with mohair velvets, moth protected carpets and waterproofed textiles adorning London Routemasters.

30 mins United Kingdom

"A riot of colour ... a feast for the eyes."

Opening with a romp through the history of weaving seen from the viewpoint of a romanticized pastoral idyll, this fascinating look at post war British textile production is a feast for the eyes. Notice how often the words ‘Lovely’ and ‘loveliness’ appear in the script, and the uplifting soundtrack. Visually, the film is a riot of colour and reflects the increasing demand by consumers for a new approach to furnishing the home. Studio designers were often anonymous and uncredited on the selvedge of fabrics so it is nice to follow the design process from drawing board to loom. The myriad spindles of threads required to weave the pattern looks almost like a contemporary art installation.

View London Line No. 373
London Line No. 373
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London Line No. 373 1971

A Ghanaian fashion student and a Nigerian squash player are among the Africans making a life in 70s Britain in this edition of the magazine show.

6 mins United Kingdom

"Reminds me of growing up in London in the 1970s."

I enjoyed this magazine show so much before it reminds me of growing up in London in the 1970s. My school curriculum included Wednesday afternoons spent in the Needlework Department where were would be tasked with designing collections, including cruise wear, and learn how to thread up our Bernina sewing machines. At weekends I would wander along the King’s Road – I had very little money but aspired to look like the leggy mannequins in the window of Chelsea Girl. Barbara looks totally amazing – I hope she made it as a fashion designer.

View So It All Comes out Super in the Wash
So It All Comes out Super in the Wash
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So It All Comes out Super in the Wash 1972

Are you being served? A bewildered shop girl gets a boutique introduction to an innovative fabric.

17 mins United Kingdom Director. Jeff Inman

"An important part of the IWS’s Research and Development Programme. "

It is easy to dismiss this training film as the love child of one of the more surreal episodes of the cult classic The Avengers and the risible humour of the shop floor sitcom Are you Being Served?. However, in the 1960s and 1970s the International Wool Secretariat was one of the most important textile companies in the world with offices across Europe. Despite the playful sets and comic miming, the garment care programme for washing machines was an important part of the IWS’s Research and Development Programme. Interestingly, Seamus Flannery who appears on the credits for design later worked as Art Director on The Wicker Man.

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