Centuries-old christening robe on show at Dundee’s V&A museum

Ayrshire christening robe that will go on display in Dundee's V&A museum
Ayrshire christening robe that will go on display in Dundee's V&A museum
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It is a surviving symbol of a once-thriving industry needlework industry in the west coast of Scotland.

Now a 180-year-old christening robe is set to be given pride of place in Dundee’s new V&A design museum in recognition of the skills of the female embroiders whose work was sent around the world from Ayrshire.

Christening robe of white muslin from the 1840s

Christening robe of white muslin from the 1840s

The garment, which had been lying in storage for more than half a century, has been restored to its former glory after being vacuumed, given a bath and then dried out with hairdryers by expert conservators.

The robe, which features an intricate hand-embroidered trailing stems bearing flowers and leaves, is said to be a fine example of the distinctive Ayrshire needlework which usually featured nature-inspired designs.

The women at the heart of the Ayrshire needlework industry were employed by merchants to work from home to produce high-quality work which would then be sent around the world.

Linda Fairlie, a museums officer in Ayrshire, who helped select the 1840s christening robe from the V&A’s collections in London with colleague Bruce Morgan, said: “We chose the three that best represented Ayrshire needlework and then came back for a second visit because it was quite tricky to decide between them.

“The thing that’s most distinctive about Ayrshire needlework is that the designs all derive from nature, and we chose the robe with the most aspects of this.

“There are very few gowns that can be tied back to the maker and we don’t know who would have made this christening robe.

“People would often work on a particular section of a garment, like the bodice, sleeves or wings, so it’s quite possible this robe was made by several different women.”

The christening robe is the latest object to be confirmed for the Scottish design galleries which are being created at Dundee’s V&A ahead of the waterfront museum’s opening in September.

More than 250 exhibits of furniture, fashion, textiles, ceramics, glass and metalwork will be deployed to chart more than 500 years of Scottish design heritage.

Elizabeth-Anne Haldane, senior textile conservator at the V&A, said: “The robe was in very good structural condition but over the years had become yellowed, as the cotton aged.

“It was really improved by being washed and the fine white cotton now looks as clean, fresh and crease-free as it would originally have been intended to be for a baby’s christening.”

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