The Underpinnings Museum: Remaking The Past Exhibition. Photography by Tigz Rice

Introduction

This exhibition is split into chapters, which can either be navigated chronologically page by page, or through your area of interest with a full list of links at the bottom of each page. Clicking on images will take you to their dedicated object page, where you can learn about the individual piece in detail.

All photography by Tigz Rice Studios

Object descriptions and commentary by Karolina Laskowska

Garment replicas, technical drawings and patterns by MA Pattern and Garment Technology students at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London (UAL), 2017.

In early 2017, The Underpinnings Museum teamed up with London College of Fashion’s Masters students on a number of projects. Later that year we shared ‘The Big Reveal’, a digital counterpart to the miniature physical exhibition shown at The Fashion Space Gallery’s vitrine display, and ‘Unboxing’, a series of short films examining lingerie details.

We are now delighted to share the work of the group of 6 MA Pattern & Garment Technology Students, who were set the challenge of replicating their choice of objects from the museum’s collections. Pattern cutting for outer clothing is a a very different skill set to that of structured underwear, with most of the students never having worked with women’s undergarments before.

Alongside taking the patterns from the original archival garments without any damage or deconstruction, students also had to complete a number of other tasks: researching their chosen objects, creating intricate technical diagrams, sourcing materials and components, and finally stitching garments as closely to the originals as was physically possible. This was particularly challenging when you consider that many of the chosen objects used machinery and materials that are no longer made: students had to show exceptional ingenuity and inventiveness in this project.

This exhibition displays the original objects chosen by the students alongside their reproduction, technical illustration and digitised garment pattern.

Please note that all technical drawings and patterns remain the copyright of the individual students and are used with explicit permission of London College of Fashion, UAL. Although you can save copies of the images for your personal use, the commercial use of these is strictly forbidden. 

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Reproduction Aertex & Elastic Bust Bodice by Yang Mu, 2017, UK. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.
Reproduction Satin Cathedral Bra With Celluloid Boning By Rita Ro, by Macarena Prada Leis. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.
Reproduction ‘High Line’ CC41 Cotton Bra By Kestos, by Alberto Atalla. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.
Reproduction ‘Floating Action’ Spiral Stitch Bra By Exquisite Form, by Yanwen Chen. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.
Reproduction Embroidered Nylon Tulle 'Merry Widow' By Warner, by Mark Heah. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.
Reproduction Overwire ‘Bow’ Longline Bra By Bali, by Xiangte Chen. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.
Reproduction Cotton Sun Top By St. Michael, by Mengque Wang. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.

Contemporary underwear design is heavily influenced by industrialisation (with an overwhelming focus on fast production and easy construction: consider the overwhelming popularity of the moulded cup t-shirt bra). Sadly this means that creativity and ingenuity in patterning and construction often fall by the wayside. Many of these techniques are on the verge of being lost forever, as they don’t fit the harsh time and cost constraints of the modern garment industry.

This makes extant historical garments all the more valuable as a resource for contemporary designers, makers and garment technicians. Lingerie remains one of the most technically challenging areas in the wider arena of fashion, requiring incredible accuracy and attention to detail. Even a brief glance to underwear history reveals complexities that are almost unimaginable in today’s fast paced industry: elaborate metal structures, tiny stitches both machine and hand created, and even defunct components, techniques and fabrics. Underwear history offers a phenomenal wealth of inspiration to contemporary makers, whether for creative design or pure craftsmanship.

Each of the objects that the students selected in this project offered unique challenges. The process of taking a pattern from a piece of historical clothing is more complex than from a modern one. There must be exceptional care taken with handling the garment, and it’s not possible to pierce it with pins. Students only had access to their selected objects for a few hours each week and had to use this time efficiently: stringently measuring each seam and detail on the original garments, drafting and refining patterns and making detailed technical drawings. Each of their final replicas was preceded by multiple toiles: a mock up of a garment that acts as a tool to test patterns and refine the construction techniques.

Many of the original objects used materials and sewing machinery that either aren’t made any more, or weren’t feasibly accessible to the students. A certain amount of creative license was required, with students experimenting with textile manipulation and even metalwork to create their garments.

An exact replica of any historical garment is often impossible for these reasons, but each student still succeeded in capturing the essence of their choice from the museum’s archive.

Chapter 1: Aertex & Elastic Bust Bodice c. 1900s

Aertex and elastic bust bodice, c. 1900s The Underpinnings Museum shot by Tigz Rice Studios 2017

Aertex & Elastic Bust Bodice

Date:  c. 1900s

Origin: Great Britain

Fabric: Aertex

Brand: Unknown

This bust bodice is a highly unusual garment, representing a pre-cursor to the modern bra. At the time, it would have represented a number of impressive technological innovations, including cellular fabric, adjustable shoulder straps and elastic panelling.

Stretch panels in clothing were extremely innovative at this time and offered an unprecedented amount of fit flexibility. Likewise, the buttons at the shoulders represented a level of adjustability in an area where it did not become standard until the 1960s. The tabs at the bottom of the garment were likely designed to button onto underwear worn on the lower half of the garment to keep the underpinnings smooth and in place during wear.

Cellular fabrics, like Aertex – which was invented in the UK in 1888 – ensured that underwear was warm in the winter, as pockets of air were trapped in the holes (or ‘cells’), yet also breathable in the summer. This was often marketed as being healthy underwear, or being ‘clothed with air’.

This garment would have offered support and lift at a time where women relied on rigid and structure corsetry for their bust support. Such a piece would likely have been part of the ‘Rational Dress Reform’, which criticised corsetry for how it restricted women.

The garment is entirely machine stitched, with neat and small stitches throughout. The front panels are constructed of airtex, with two darts over the bust that have been taped over with cotton twill channels. It fastens at the front with a row of cotton rouleaux loops and shell buttons, stitched into cotton twill plackets. Cotton twill panels extend from the front bust panels down to points with two vertically placed button holes.

The sides of the garment comprise of three horizontal rows of elastic strips. The centre back of the garment is also made of aertex, leading to a centre back cotton twill panel of eyelets encased in channels with flat steel boning, with cotton corset-style lacing fastening the centre back. The shoulders of the garment feature shell buttons and a row of cotton twill button holes. Raw edges are taped with cotton twill tape and machine stitched.

Reproduction Aertex & Elastic Bust Bodice by Yang Mu. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice
Left: Yang Mu's reproduction Right: Original garment

The original bust bodice was created from very early forms of aertex and elastic. Neither of these fabrics are still manufactured today in equivalent qualities. Early elastics can prove particularly challenging in garment reproductions: before the 1930s, most commercially available elastics were made from a latex core wrapped in a textile outer, which was prone to quickly perishing and losing its stretch.

Yang Mu overcame these material challenges by using a heavy cotton tulle with a similar drape and handle to the original aertex, and by smocking a light cotton tape with single cord elastic for the garment side panels.

This bodice has a number of fine stitch details, most notably the narrow twill binding, underbust tabs with button hole stitches, pointed twill seam taping at the bustline, adjustable shoulder straps and centre front button closures. Immense care and patience was required to accurately reproduce these. The reproduction sits perhaps a little more stiffly on the mannequin than the original, but that is only to be expected with the difference in the age of the materials, and the fact that the reproduction is unworn. Most archival garments are well worn when they reach the collection, and recreating this kind of wear and tear just isn’t feasible.

Reproduction Aertex & Elastic Bust Bodice by Yang Mu, 2017, UK. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.

Reproduction Aertex & Elastic Bust Bodice by Yang Mu

Date: 2017

Origin: United Kingdom

Fabric: Cotton

Made by Yang Mu, MA Pattern & Garment Technology, London College of Fashion

Reproduction Aertex & Elastic Bust Bodice by Yang Mu, 2017, UK. The Underpinnings Museum.
Reproduction Aertex & Elastic Bust Bodice by Yang Mu, 2017, UK. The Underpinnings Museum.

Technical illustration and garment pattern by Yang Mu, MA Pattern & Garment Technology, London College of Fashion, UAL.

The pattern is not shown to scale.

Pattern Suggestions

The original bust bodice may be over a century old, but the shape can be easily converted into a contemporary looking garment with the right fabrication and minor pattern alterations: remove the underbust tabs and use a lightweight lace to create a delicate crop top with cage elastic sides, or extend the underbust tabs into full length suspenders for an unusual basque style.

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