WHEN Glasgow’s Serena Baker won The Great British Sewing Bee earlier this month, she was following in a long line of city seamstresses at the top of their game.

Back in the late 19th century, a network of female dressmakers created beautiful garments, usually from home.

Many, like Miss Martin of Aliwal Villa in Uddingston, ran classes to help teach other women the craft.

Glasgow Times:

Rebecca Quinton, European Costumes and Textiles curator at Glasgow Museums, has been researching some of the fascinating items stored in the city’s textile collections, uncovering the intriguing stories of their makers and wearers.

In an occasional series for Times Past, we are sharing some of her Tales From the Wardrobe.

She explains: “Miss Martin’s business was typical of the period - not everyone could afford to travel into Glasgow to shop in the department stores, so outlying villages and towns would have had many dressmakers.

Glasgow Times:

“As well as making clothes, Miss Martin taught classes in the Anglo-Parisian System of Dress-Cutting, Making and Draping at her villa.

“Such scientific dress cutting systems were becoming very popular in the period as more women entered the workforce as dressmakers, but needed to learn the basic principles of dress cutting and making-up.”

Newspaper adverts placed in the Motherwell from around 1891 to 1894 state that Miss Martin was the sole agent for this technique for Hamilton, Motherwell, Bothwell and Uddingston.

Rebecca adds: “It is likely that Miss Martin was taught the system by the patentee, Mrs Hanmer Cooke of London, who first advertised lectures on her system in The Glasgow Herald on 18 January 1887 and was teaching ‘lessons in cutting till perfect’ for £1 1s in 1890, or by one of her Glasgow agents - Miss Fulton in Dennistoun, Madame Grohé in Pollokshields, or Miss Middleton in Partick.”

One of Miss Martin’s beautiful house dresses is in the Glasgow collection – a stunning multi-coloured jacquard with an interesting link to the famous Paisley pattern.

Rebecca explains: “This ‘house dress’, which is more formal than a tea gown but less formal than a typical day dress of the period, made from two imitation Kashmiri shawls, which were very popular in the 1800s. They were warm and comfortable to wear, and perfect for Scotland’s inclement weather. They were often woven in Paisley, which became a globally-significant area in the production of imitation shawls. Once the shawls passed out of fashion they could be made up into different garments such as dresses, cloaks or capes.”

In Glasgow’s Riverside Museum, a Victorian dress shop has been recreated in the Old Street.


READ MORE: The Glasgow shop famous for its 'golden spinning wheel'


Elizabeth Devine, Museum Gallery Assistant and dressmaker, says: “A visit to a dress shop then would have been an experience. The customer area would have been welcoming and luxuriously furnished, but the workroom would have been noisy, cramped and badly lit and the women poorly paid. A lot of time would have been spent hand sewing and embellishing the gowns with beads, pearls and precious stones. Clothes were made from luxurious fabrics and lasted for years, quite a comparison to the ready to wear, ‘throw away’ fashions of today.”