European Inspiration: London

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I didn’t really know what to expect from London. I knew that there would be a lot see and do, but I was nervous about it. Nervous with both excitement and apprehension, which made me bounce around like a 4 year old at a carnival. I tried to remain nonchalant when our cab driver told us that it took him so long to pick us up because, “You know, it’s London Fashion Week.” I made a mental note to visit Hyde Park as soon as possible.

We rented a really great little apartment in Notting Hill. It was bright and clean and located near the tube, which made using public transportation a breeze. I can’t recommend using AirBnB enough if you’re planning a stay somewhere. We used it for almost all of our lodging, and it was fantastic.

Our first morning in London, we walked around our neighborhood and eventually found our way to Hyde Park. I had forgotten that Kensington Palace was located in the park, and was all too happy to see it. I have loved Queen Victoria since I was in fifth grade and had to do a book report on her. I made a crown for myself out of cardboard, aluminum foil and sequins that was amazing. Alright, you could tell it was homemade by a mile away, but I still loved it. There was something about Queen Victoria’s sadness over losing Albert that resonated with my sappy little heart.

It was so interesting to see in her apartments at the palace and look at the details of her clothes. She was much shorter than I would have guessed! The lace collar on one of her day dresses was quite beautiful, and gave me the itch to embroider again.
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The King’s Apartments were lavishly decorated in the 1700s. It had an over-the-top opulence that was incredible. Every apartment in Kensington is quite different, and reflective of the people who once lived there.

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There were several displays of costumes throughout the palace. A few of them were never-before-displayed pieces from the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. I couldn’t stop oogling the embroidery, thinking of the weeks (months?) that it would have taken to complete some of the garments.

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One of the displays showcased gowns worn by the Queen Mum, Princess Margaret and Princess Diana.

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The dress in the lower right hand corner is from the Queen Victoria exhibit.

I really enjoyed the lace on a 60s dress worn by Princess Margaret. I’ve got ideas to make something kind of similar, if only I can find the right kind of lace!Kensington4

After our tour of Kensington Palace, I had Fashion Week on my mind. I knew that the tents for the shows had to be nearby, and I could tell I was close when I started to see a lot of very tough looking guys in black suits and scowls walking around. As we approached the Prince Albert Memorial, a large section of the park was blocked off.

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It was no big deal though, just a runway show for Burberry Prorsum going on! Eeek! We couldn’t really get very close, but from up on the memorial, I could see right in the door. I wanted to try to zoom in an take a picture, but a security guard was giving me the stink eye, so we moved on.
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Now so far the weather had been lovely, so being the tourists that we were, we trusted the sunshine and left our rain jackets at the apartment. Then of course as we were walking around it start to pour. We were near the British Natural History Museum, so we popped in to get out of the storm. Did you know that the museums in London are free? It’s great! I hadn’t been expecting to spend the rest of the morning at the museum, but it was quite a treat. I found a display that showcased every kind of hummingbird, and the colors were stunning.

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A bit of walking around and we found ourselves in the main hall of the museum, built in 1881. Throughout the museum there were huge displays of ancient creatures, and on the ground floor of the main hall, there is a huge dinosaur skeleton. BritishMuseum

I try to remember to always look up in buildings such as this. If I hadn’t, I would have missed out on the beautiful aqua and red painted motifs that adorned each curved ceiling panel on the side halls. Of course, I see quilts!BritishMuseum3

The next day, we walked around our neighborhood to find a cup of coffee. I do love tea, but sometimes I really need a strong cup of coffee before my morning feels complete. Portobello Road was very close to our apartment. We got there early enough that market stalls were beginning to be set up, and shop keepers were arriving to open their stores. It made for some great people watching, and I appreciated that the street wasn’t crawling with tourists.

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We wandered back on over to where we had been the day before and I finally got to go to the Victoria and Alberta Museum. I’ve wanted to go to the V&A for at least 10 years, ever since I saw a book about their dress exhibit. It was jaw-dropping in there. We spent the entire day wandering from room to room, and we still didn’t see everything. I already have plans to go back on another future rainy afternoon.

Does anyone else love medieval tapestries? They never cease to amaze me. I like knowing that the colors that we see today are muted from fading over time. Can you image how bright and colorful this would have been, hanging on a castle wall?V&A-tapestry

The V&A covers every kind of art possible. They have statues and paintings, and also entire building facades and tile floors. This tile reminded me of my Hexagon Illusions quilt, which I need to get back to making!

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The stitching on the embroidery pieces was some of the best I’ve ever seen. I look at something like this and I think back to the supplies that would have been available to the woman who stitched it. Not even considering the needle and thread quality that she may have had to battle against, what about not having anything but daylight and candle light to see by? My eyes aren’t that old, but even I wanted a magnifying glass to see the details on this saint’s robe.

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And talk about old! This tunic was from between 670-870. How did something made out of linen and wool survive for so long?V&A-tunic

The clothing exhibit, which is what I was saving for last that day, was exceptional. Of course, there were lots of people milling about so I didn’t feel like I could hold up the viewing line by pushing my face against the glass and saying “WILL YOU LOOK AT THIS?!”, but know that in my heart, I wanted to.
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Ahh… any exhibit that lets me see the innards of a garment gets an A+ in my book. The boning on this jacket? Yeah, it was actual whalebone, and the lining was silk. If only they would let me touch it/try it on/put it in my purse and walk away.

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Now what’s your guess as to how tall this dress was? It’s certainly not something that anyone can fit into. It’s only 10″ tall! It was made by an unknown designer out of wool, probably to emulate a Dior design. It reminded me of a designer that I interned with in college. She would make everything on a miniature dress form, to save time and money before trying out the dress on a larger scale.

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Later in the evening we went to Liberty of London, which I personally wasn’t impressed with. I wasn’t expecting it to be filled with high-fashion names and incredibly expensive goods. Yes, the building was beautiful and their displays were fun to comb thru, but I didn’t understand why everyone had insisted that I go there. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a big shopper, but I don’t think I’d bother going back.

We hit the big tourist areas the next morning. The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Westminster and Buckingham Palace were all on our list. Granted, we didn’t actually tour any of them, but we saw them from the outside. Neither one of use felt like being herded along on a tour with 60 other people. Hmmm… I think I’m turning into a crabby old hermit. London-TowerBridge

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The next morning we hopped on (actually we almost missed it) a train for our next stop…. Paris!Macaroons

  • Sandra

    Thank you so much for sharing this Amy. I would so love to go to the Victoria & Albert Museum. Did you get to look at their quilts?

    • You’re welcome! I did not get to see the quilts. I don’t think I even came close to wherever they were hanging, which is pretty sad. I guess I’ll just have to go back! 😉

  • Sarah Colebrook

    oh boy, I love all the things you took time to post on here… Thank you, and I would love to have been to the Victoria & Albert Museum… It’s the ultimate Romance story in history… 🙂

    • I’m so happy to share, Sarah! If you ever have the chance to go, you must. And I agree- Victoria and Albert’s relationship is quite swoon-worthy. 😉

  • Betty Maruichi

    Wow! Thank you for sharing. Pictures of the clothing exhibit is amazing. Thank you very much.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed them! The clothing exhibit was quite amazing. I only wish I’d take more photos!

  • Kimberly Gomez

    This post and your pictures are phenomenal. I’m a beginner sewer but I’m also an image consultant and fashion stylist, so being there during Fashion Week is beyond exciting. Just happening upon Burberry’s (one of my favs from LFW) show is so extraordinary. Even though I live in the current and future trend fashion world, I love historical fashion, so your pictures from the museum are lovely to take time drinking in the details. And knowing, not even in a million years would I ever even imagine being able to create something as beautiful as those garments.

    Thank you for your pictures and thoughts. I really enjoyed them.

    • Thank you so much, Kimberly! I was beyond thrilled when I learned it was Fashion Week in London. We actually ended up following fashion week onto Paris, and I saw some of the most incredible outfits (and famous models) there.
      Historical fashion is one of my loves too. I could pour over details of gowns from the 1800s for days.
      I hope to put up my posts from Paris and Germany soon. There are many more garment detail shots to come! 🙂