A friend and I went to the Betty Smithers collection in Stoke on Trent on Monday. It’s held at Staffordshire University and was donated by Betty specifically to be handled and studied without white gloves. It’s a very well used resource, with parts of the collection going out to schools and other venues frequently, as well as students and practioners visiting to study it. It does comprise of clothing, hats, shoes and so on but other collections have been added to it and it is all graced with Betty Smithers’ name. So you can view a range of objects too. Betty was a well known collector, teacher and historian, and the range of garments was very interesting, from her Victorian wedding dress, bought in 1948 I think the curator said, for thirty bob in a second hand shop, to items from the 1940s to the 2000s.
We didn’t have long there due to trains , but it focused the mind, and we were able to use all of the small space as we were the only people there, apart from the very helpful curator.
I concentrated on pattern and surface, and my friend, a milliner amongst other clever things, on hats. Many photos were taken, and the idea is to interpret aspects of the collection as a piece of work for an exhibition at the university next year.
I loved this fabric used to make a 50s dress, and also this gorgeous waistcoat front, which I think is probably 18th Century. The work in it is amazing. I have no idea how my response to the collection will evolve at the moment, it’s ticking over in my brain’s nether regions. Abstract, 3 D, or even a book…
The waistcoat front, heavily embroidered with metallic thread.
The skirt of the 50s dress.