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The superlative collection of Mary Ireland

Cap with original ribbons, 1830 - 35. Mary Ireland Collection.

I wish I could have met Mary Ireland. Luckily, I know someone who did!

I have just purchased a large number of costume accessories, mostly dating to the first half of the 19th Century, a few 18th Century and some later. These all came from the costume collection of Mary Ireland.

Some are very rare, such as the cap shown left, and the spencer shown below:

Spencer of silk gauze & pink silk under-layer, 1805-08.

Mary was born in 1891, and seems to have remained a 'Victorian Lady', even throughout her adult life in the 20th Century.

Her place of birth was Warwickshire, and she spent her later years in Kent. Between these counties, she seems to have made quite a name for herself as a Fabric Designer, Stained Glass Artist, Illuminator & Writer.

Her name is vaguely linked to William Morris and I found a source that claims she was his cousin, but I am told she never talked of it. Despite this, her artistic works could be found also under the alias of 'Mary Morris'.

Cap circa 1800 -1820 - I will need to ask the Lace Mentor to confirm the date of the lace!

Mary's stained glass and fabric design was influenced by the Birmingham School, in particular, Joseph Southall and she was especially known for her religious commissions.

Mary's fabric designs often sold for around £500.00 mid 20th Century, and you can find examples of her work in top UK auction houses' 20th Century sales.

Profusely embroidered pelerine, mid 1820's to mid 30's.

Since I began examining and researching costume and textiles in history, I have been privileged to gain 'email friends' across the Western World, and have now known some for a considerable number of years. Somehow we just 'find' each other! One such friend is Rosemary Hawthorne; 'The Knicker Lady' [see Links and Research for details]. Rosemary and I break the 'email' rules and often have long telephone textile chats, through which I have learned so much about her. She was RADA trained, and went on to devote much of her working life to historic costume.

It was from Rosemary that I first heard the name of Mary Ireland, and have heard it so often over time that, when I found the wonderful collection of costume accessories belonging to Mary Ireland, I simply couldn't believe the coincidence.

Rosemary met Mary Ireland when, as a young student, she needed to gain some experience of antique clothes. Mary consequently used Rosemary, along with others of slight stature, as a model for the clothing. Rosemary's memories of Mary are compelling. Here is how she describes her:

'I told you that all Mrs. I's 'stuff' was of peerless quality - genuine 'old' and 'interesting' and well looked after. And I never saw any item - even down to the smallest hanky - that wasn't scrupulously clean. She and Diana Vreeland - the 'Tiger' who was Costume director at The Met Museum - had the same idea. 'Wash it! Clean it!' Everything was meticulously catalogued and described. Mary Ireland had a searing eye for detail. She'd look at a model dressed across the room and knew exactly how to adjust a lace shawl - or what piece of jewellery to select to make a gown look perfect. We used to wear wonderful, date accurate, antique jewellery to go with the frocks! Amazing. She was very disappointed that I did not have pierced ears so could not wear the cascading Georgian dangles. She had designed for the theatre and had a 'pitch perfect' colour sense - and, of course, was a wonderful artist and superb needlewoman. I'm lucky to have known a 'mini-apprenticeship' under her instruction. She set me a standard - and gave me the realisation about what 'dress history' was all about. The best thing of all - I saw, touched, her wonderful collection of old clothes and all 'the stuff'.

She was the teacher I needed as I started my dress and textiles 'career'. She was a clever, slightly forbidding, confident woman. No one would forget her once met. Yes, Mary was a Victorian! And, as I have told you, thought 'The Gay Nineties' was the last blast of fine, class-defined (important), exacting dress/fashion standards. In her view, anything after that was merely transient, hurly-burly, retail rubbish. She was quite a gal!'

Rosemary explained that Mary Ireland spent years cutting up antique clothing for her artwork. Then she had a moment of realisation. These fabulous clothes were far too precious to be dismantled, and worth preserving in their own right. From that point onward, she became one of the best antique clothes collectors of her time. The articles below explain the beginning of this process.

I wish I could have met Mary Ireland! Do look out for the name Mary Ireland with forthcoming pieces on offer. Some are very rare indeed! I will add to the Blog as I photograph more. In the meantime, above you see two articles that Rosemary found. One is from the famous Liberty!

'Girl with a Mask' fabric mosaic' by Mary Ireland

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