Costume Society Ambassadors, Costume Society, Reviews  |  April 18, 2018

‘A Stitch in Time’ Exhibition at Ham House, Richmond

By Jade Bailey-Dowling

Louis XIV once said, ‘Fashion is the mirror of history’.

Amber Butchart quotes the famous Sun King in BBC Four’s recently broadcasted, and hugely popular, ‘A Stitch in Time’. The program saw fashion historian Butchart, alongside Tudor Tailor Ninya Mikhalia and her team of experts, take inspiration from works of art to investigate and recreate historic costume using only authentic methods; from sewing and embroidery techniques, to the natural dying of fabrics.

Whilst it was fascinating to see these recreated garments on the television and the processes used to create them, historical fashion and costume fans now have the chance to view all six garments at Ham House in Richmond. The ‘A Stitch in Time’ exhibition, which opened in February and runs until 29th April, positions all six costumes throughout the ground floor of the property alongside detailed information about both the painting that inspired the design, and the garments themselves.

Each ensemble combines the skills of Ninya, assisted by costumiers Harriet Waterhouse and Hannah Marples, and demonstrates how portraiture and painting can be a pivotal source for scholars researching historical costume. This is largely due to the scarcity of surviving garments from these earlier periods. Similarly, unlike surviving garments, which are usually only one piece of a garment, or even only a fragment of fabric, paintings can demonstrate how clothing was worn. [1] ‘A Stitch in Time’ gave a new perspective to the experience of costume as it showcased Amber Butchart wearing the recreations, how the garments hung from the body and moved when they were worn and gave an impression of the feel and weight of these amazing ensembles.

Perhaps the most enlightening part of this exhibition is the suit recreated from the painting of King Charles II being presented with a Pineapple by Thomas Stewart. The suit is situated alongside the original painting hung in Ham House’s Marble Dining Room. Other costumes on display that were featured in the series are a Chemise à la Reine inspired by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun’s infamous portrait of Marie Antoinette, a vibrant Emerald dress depicted in the Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, a leather suit based upon The Hedge Cutter painting discovered at Broughton Castle, a dress in the image of Dido Elizabeth Belle from a painting of Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Belle once attributed to Johann Zoffany, and the Jupon of the Black Prince taken from the effigy at Canterbury Cathedral. [2]

According to Amber, clothes are the ultimate form of visual communication. As fashion historians, we consider clothing to be an important part of material culture that can support ideas about individuals and the society they lived in. Clothing can be used in tandem with painting, architecture and literature in an attempt to understand the past. This exhibition brings together elements of sartorial recreations, portraiture and architecture, in the form of the sumptuous setting of Ham House, giving visitors a unique experience of history in an innovative and engaging manner.


[1] In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion. Anne Reynolds. p23

  • Chemise a la Reine, inspired by Marie Antoinette en Chemise, Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, 1783, The Hessusche Hausstiftung, Kronerg.
  • Jacket, Breeches and Blouse, inspired by Charles II, Thomas Stewart, 1675-80, Ham House
  • Leather jacket and trousers, based upon The Hedge-cutter, unknown artist, c. 1760, Broughton Castle
  • Dress and shawl, based upon Dido Elizabeth Belle, unknown artist, possibly Johann Zoffany, 1779, Scone Palace
  • Embroidered Jupon, taken from The Black Prince’s Effigy, c1322, Canterbury Cathedral
  • Dress with fur cuffs and collar, inspired by The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck, 1434, the National Gallery