Each month Costume Hire will profile one volunteer who will select their costume of the month. This month Irene Gibbons, Costume Hire volunteer for 12 years, introduces her choices - a Tudor Dress and one from the mid-seventeenth Century.

My background

Irene Gibbons

Although I’m now retired, during much of my very busy working life, I was employed by the BBC as a TV production manager, with jobs all over the country. I particularly enjoyed my time working on ‘Songs of Praise’.

I’ve had a lifelong interest in sewing and dressmaking, which probably springs from my early years as a child at home in Ireland. My grandmother was a tailoress and my first skills would have been learned at her knee; putting pattern pieces together, learning how the clothes would be constructed, and then later being allowed to tack pieces of the garment together ready for my grandma to do the serious sewing.

I’ve continued to be interested in sewing, dressmaking and doing clothing alterations for friends. I have also done some ecclesiastical work for my church, including bespoke commissions for the curate and deacon and some restoration work on the church’s altar frontals.

My work as a volunteer at Costume Hire

I’m now very much enjoying being able to spend more time making costumes, restoring those which need alteration, and generally indulging my passion for dressmaking and for period costume. I get to make interesting costumes which I’d have no opportunity to make if I didn’t volunteer here. It’s a day of pure ‘make-believe’ for me, and I thoroughly enjoy working with Luda and the Wednesday team.

My choices for Costume of the Month... are a Tudor dress and a dress from the mid-seventeenth century, and my choices are inspired by the fact that I have spent hours on both of these costumes, restoring them so that their ‘working life’ can be extended still further, enabling future clients to continue to get enjoyment from wearing them.

Tudor Dress

Tudor Dress

The dress is in typical Tudor style, very elaborate and with many different pattern interests within the costume It was made by our wardrobe department for the theatre’s 2008 performance of ‘As You Like It’ and was worn by the character of Rosalind.

The body of the dress is of pale blue silk with a gold-patterned front bodice and skirt panel with a rust, black and blue floral motif woven in to it. There is some beaded detail on both the bodice panels and the sleeves of the dress, as can be seen from the photographs The sleeves are made of a number of elements and are very decorative, made of a variety of different fabrics, including a puffed woven jacquard section on the upper arm with decorative trim, and a pale blue and black striped velvet lower sleeve with lacing to the lower sleeve and ‘cuff’ area.

Some of the silk of the original costume had begun to perish, so I worked to remove the pieces which were affected and used them to create the pattern pieces for the new replacement sections. It gives me great pleasure to give old costumes a new lease of life in this way, and, although it takes many hours, it’s very rewarding.

17th Century Dress

17th Century Dress

This dress is much less obviously that of a rich person than the Tudor dress, and was created for the character of Dorine, a servant and companion to one of the leading female characters in Moliere’s ‘Tartuffe’, produced at the Royal Exchange in 1995.

The dress is in two sections, a bodice and a separate skirt. The bodice and the skirt are both made of a neutral-coloured ribbed tweed-like fabric with floral-patterned cotton tapestry panels and sleeves to the bodice and the same fabric used for the overskirt. The shaped bodice has elbow-length sleeves with a fine cotton ‘waterfall’ style ‘cuff’ or trim, and it has a finely pleated neck ruffle. It’s clearly an outfit to be worn by the servant of a well-to-do family in the time of King Louis XIV of France.