Hand sewn dress
|Theme(s)||Arts and crafts|
|Collection||Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL) Object Collection|
Worn in Oxfordshire in the early twentieth century, this dress was hand sewn from cotton and printed with floral designs. The time it was created was an important turning point for British influence in the global cotton trade. Having previously exploited the colonies for cotton growth, such as America and then India, Britain’s role in cotton manufacture declined due to a lack of exports during the First World War. It is likely that the thread used to create this dress was made in Britain, but throughout the twentieth century, cotton mills closed rapidly across the English industrial heartlands.
Today, cotton has both environmental benefits and downsides. Unlike polyester, it naturally degrades and does not release microplastics into the ecosystem. However, its production consumes huge quantities of water, and intensive cotton farming is leading to soil degradation around the world.
Although sewing machines became more affordable towards the end of the nineteenth century, many families would have continued hand sewing, particularly those who did so as a pastime, not a profession.