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In the tailor’s workshop: an exhibition

Refashioning the Renaissance project is based in Aalto University, housing the schools for science and technology, business, and art, design and architecture. This multidisciplinary environment enables our project to engage with different areas of research and find new perspectives for our research, but it also means that most of the people in Aalto are not familiar with historical research.

Exhibition at the Väre FE lobby.

We came up with the idea of an exhibition, as a way to showcase our project to our colleagues and Aalto students, who necessarily do not know about our time period or about the research we do in the project, and also to kick off the experimental hands-on phase of our project. As reconstructions and hands-on experiments are important research methods for us, we wanted ‘making’ to be in the heart of the exhibition. Sixteenth-century tailors and their craft seemed like a natural choice, especially since it opened up a dialogue with contemporary fashion studies taught in Aalto.

The “Tailor’s workshop” exhibition on 7 January–8 February in Väre FE lobby recreated a sixteenth-century tailor’s workshop, modelled after early modern images, such as a fresco of drapers in Castello di Issogne, Italy. Different tools and materials used by early modern tailors were laid on the two tables, and finished garments are hanging on a rack. Many of the early modern tailor’s tools are same as the ones still used today—like scissors, thread, needles, and thimbles—whereas others are specific to the time period and not used anymore, like pinking tools that were used to cut fashionable slashes in fabric.

Recreating this workshop helped us to communicate a vital material aspect of our research; how does it feel to us these tools, such a sew with a bronze or iron needle instead of industrially made high carbon steel needle. It also helped us to discuss how historical and modern techniques differ and correlate. For example, laser cutting fabric can be seen as a modern take of the renaissance technique of slashing fabric.

As a ‘stage’ for our project, the exhibition allowed us to talk about our project and activities, and disseminate information about 16th-century fashion, clothing and tailoring practices. As part of the exhibition, we also organised a lunch talk event, where we invited people to talk about early modern fashion and tailoring practices with our researchers. Some came to visit Aalto specifically to take part of this event, and it was wonderful to see how many people were interested in our project, and how these centuries-old tools and techniques combined with modern research methods resonated with them.

Sophie Pitman and Michele Robinson presenting the exhibition.

Piia Lempiäinen demonstrating how a 16th century doublet was attached to breeches.