Sew this is Christmas

Father Christmas and his elves will be all dressed up for the festive season at one of the region’s leading visitor attractions thanks to a massive team effort from a dedicated costume team.

The Costume Project at the Ironbridge Gorge Museums has created around 50 pieces of individually-designed and hand-made costume for this year’s festive celebrations in a three-month race against the clock.

Senior Costume Interpreter Alison Phillips said a massive team effort involving staff and volunteers had seen the creation of new costumes for Father Christmas, his elves, staff working at the new ice rink and others involved in the Christmas season at Blists Hill Victorian Town and the Trust’s other sites.

Alison said more costumes were needed this year because more performers were working outside as a result of the Covid pandemic.

“We have an army of volunteers working from home and it is such a large team effort. For example, the saddler has made Father Christmas’s leather belt and some of the buttons have been made at Enginuity on the laser cutter.  I have four retired volunteers who work with me and everybody has played their part.

“I worked out that in total we have stitched on 750 buttons alone, all by hand.  We have had to make four complete male Victorian costumes for staff working at the new ice rink, all of which have been designed from scratch.

“We’ve also created new costumes for the elves and Father Christmas himself. There are no historic parameters for Victorian Costumes in a grotto so you cannot copy what they did, but they certainly have to have a strong flavour of the period about them. All the costumes are based on historical accuracy, but we are given some artistic licence.

“We were working on some doublets for a museum in Worcester and I thought the design would be perfect for the elves costumes. I try to source the materials from local businesses where possible.”

Alison said because more of the performers would be spending longer working outside this year as a result of Covid restrictions, extra cloaks, coats, capes, shawls, scarves and warm clothing had also been required.

“We started work in September and it has been wonderful that so many people have been able to contribute.”

The Costume Project usually works creating bespoke, authentic costumes for museums and attractions around the country, including the Fashion Museum in Bath, SS Great Britain in Bristol and Tower Bridge in London

Alison, who has been with the Trust for 24 years, previously worked in its wardrobe department before helping launch the Costume Project 16 years ago.