British conservation charity, the National Trust, has opened a new exhibition at Killerton House in Devon showcasing over 50 garments dating back from the 18th century to the present day that have been remodeled, reused or repaired.
It’s no secret the fashion industry remains one of the most wasteful in the world, with over 90 million tonnes of textile waste produced every year. And while big brands are scrambling to find ways of moving towards a more sustainable future, there are also valuable lessons to be learned from the past.
Running until November 5, 2023, the ‘Thirsty for Fashion’ exhibition at Killerton House will feature a collection of one-of-a-kind pieces including a child’s dress made of silk brocade recycled from an adult’s gown in about 1750; a silk wedding gown from 1840 remodeled to be re-worn in the 1940s; and an embroidered parachute silk nightdress made in 1944 when fabric was rationed.
“Recycling and reusing clothing is not a new idea, but something that has been commonplace throughout history,” said Shelley Tobin, costume curator at the National Trust. “This exhibition asks the question – can we learn lessons from these past practices and reapply forgotten skills to looking after our clothes and make them sustainable? The items exhibited show that we only need look to history to discover ways to ensure that the clothing that we buy, make and wear is durable, ethical and avoids waste.”
The ‘Thirsty for Fashion’ exhibition at Killerton House will also show a selection of vintage films from the 1940s and ‘50s with advice on how to ‘make do and mend’, alongside photos of National Trust staff, volunteers and members of the public sharing their thoughts on the oldest and most precious pieces of clothing they own.
As well as looking back, the exhibition will include 12 works by six contemporary designers who refashion surplus stock to produce new clothing without any waste. “By making a feature of visible repairs, we can celebrate the life the garment has had, and make the process of mending more creative and fun,” said Flora Collingwood, one of the designers featuring in the exhibition.
“It becomes a statement to be worn with pride. Seeing historical and contemporary examples of repair and reuse together in this exhibition is a wonderful way to get excited for a future where we all care for, and reimagine, the things we already own.”
Tobin adds: “As well as the beautiful items of clothing and films on display, there will be plenty of activities to try including an upcycling challenge where visitors of all ages can mix and match different parts of deconstructed items of clothing parts to create a new garment. Prepare to be inspired!”
The ‘Thirsty for Fashion’ exhibition will run February 11 – November 5 2023 on the first floor of Killerton House. Normal admission applies for non-National Trust members.