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Costume and textiles

Lace from the collection

The museum has been collecting costume and textiles for 140 years. The earliest donations were lace samples. These came from Charlotte Treadwin, a lace manufacturer, and Frances Bury Palliser, a lace historian. They now form part of an important collection of British and Continental laces. This collection highlights the importance of the lace industry to Devon.

The costume collection really began with donations from Mrs. Franks in the 1920s and 1930s. Freda Wills and her sister Lady Spencer also donated items in the 1950s. There are many examples of fashionable dress from the 1700s up to the late 20th century. These include everyday wear as well as items for special occasions. There are wedding dresses, court dress and christening gowns in a wide range of styles. These items show a wide range of decorative techniques. Most of them have an Exeter or Devon connection.

The bulk of the costume collection is women's dresses and underwear from the 19th century. We have a notable collection of men's waistcoats. There is some children's wear, mainly from the 19th and early 20th centuries. We have notable collections of fans and hats. Accessories are also an important part of the collection. Items such as shoes, parasols and jewellery are well represented.

The textile collection covers domestic textiles. These include patchwork, samplers, lace and table linen. The earliest examples are Coptic textiles. There is also stump work from the 1600s. We also have examples of needlework and lace making equipment.

We have a reference collection of magazines, fashion plates and dress patterns. These include 19th century journals such as La Belle Assemblee as well as 20th century issues of Vogue.

Due to the delicate nature of costume and textiles, the collection is not on permanent display. Some pieces from the collection will be on show in the museum's new redisplayed galleries.

A wide variety of costume is on Collections Explorer