Historical costumier Ninya Mikhaila and fashion historian Amber Butchart tackle some of the most iconic historical costumes in history in the BBC documentary series A Stitch in Time, which recently aired in the U.K. Assisted by Harriet Waterhouse and Hanna Marples, Ninya demonstrates the process of recreating the clothing of the past, while Amber visits collections and speaks with experts who discuss both the broad and the nuanced aspects of historical clothing in art.
Rather than simply show someone dressed in period costume, talking about the clothing, Amber and Ninya show what’s really interesting to costume history nerds like myself — the research process that goes along with the making process, and finally, the finished product.
I think this series comes closest to documenting what historical costumers do in a very accurate manner. It starts with a work of art, then the context surrounding the history of that art object is studied and discussed, then the object is analyzed for construction details (often having to fill in obscure bits and pieces with educated guesses and conjecture based on experimentation and comparison with other contemporaneous art objects), then the fabric is chosen, cut, assembled, and at the end of it all, you have a living, breathing garment that tells a specific story about its place and time.
It’s also really gratifying to see Ninya Mikhaila’s work brought to the forefront. In my mind, she’s always been the historical costumer’s costumer. Watching her career take shape over the last 20 years, I’ve even been lucky enough to get to know her as a person as well as a fellow historical costumer. Getting to live vicariously through her work with Kentwell Hall, the Prince’s Trust, Hampton Court Palace, the development and publication of The Tudor Tailor and establishing her own publishing company, and now with a documentary series featuring her directly working out how a historical costumer does what she does fills me with glee.
This series is a must-watch for any historical costumer, or anyone interested in the process of being a historical costumer. At this point in time, only the first episode is available on YouTube, and the full series is only available for streaming in the U.K., but I suggest you invest in a VPN and sign up for the BBC’s streaming service no matter where you are in the world.
Have you seen A Stitch in Time?