Learning from past to create a better future

The history of home-made clothes and the emergence of fast fashion is explored in Armidale Folk Museum’s most recent display.

Showcasing objects form the museum’s collection, the display explores what we can learn from our past to create a more sustainable future, Museum Team Leader Hayley Ward said.

For most of the 19th century and early 20th century, women had few choices other than to sew at home. The sewing machine was invented in 1846 but it was not until the 1850s that manufacturers produced lighter domestic versions.

The mid-19th Century invention of paper patterns also revolutionised fashion.

Home sewing reached its high point in 1958, before a steep decline in the 1970s as more women entered the workforce and had less leisure time. By the 1980s, commercial clothing production had migrated to countries with lower labour costs and fewer environmental controls.

The cost of sewing a garment at home in 1985 was higher than purchasing one ready-made in a store. Fast fashion had arrived.

“The display is not just a wonderful exploration of fashion history, it’s also a reminder about how clothes are made today and the environmental impact of fast fashion on future generations.”

“On display until the end of August, it also features a fantastic little gimmick and a rare curiosity – the Moldacot sewing machine.”

Produced in 1887, it was hyped as the world’s smallest lockstitch sewing machine but was actually a great example of a retail scam that went very wrong.

“Our display tells the whole story,” she said.

“Visitors can also see an example of an early paper pattern from 1905, depicting the story of the invention and development of mass produced dressmaking patterns.

“In contrast, a beautiful baby’s silk dress made with tiny stitches exemplifies the effort and love of hand sewing.”

Armidale Folk Museum is open daily 11am to 2pm. Corner of Rusden and Faulkner Streets, Armidale. Phone 6770 3638.

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