Meridith Towne’s job has seen her take on many personas.
She’s been a cheery land army girl, a wealthy 1920’s socialite, a determined Suffragette – and even a Viking!
“My official job title is costume historian and dressmaker – I made it up,” she laughs.
“It basically covers the idea of researching and creating costumes for museums, and sharing my passion for antique costumes.”
Meridith is a familiar face at historic sites, libraries and social groups across the country, offering lively informative presentations on women’s history told through fashion, enhanced with an extensive visual display of original costume from her own private collection.
As a historic dressmaker, she helps museums and historical properties to increase footfall and income by creating costumes to complement exhibitions, enhancing visitor experience with dress-up rails and boxes, to be used by staff and to facilitate learning within their education programme, which makes the whole property unique and attractive to visitors.
It’s a job she adores, but one without a clear path, though she can trace the roots back to her own family.
“My passion for sewing and historical costumes started with the joint gifts of a plastic needle and a ball of wool from my grandma,” recalls the 30-year-old.
“Both my mum and grandma were very crafty, and my grandma taught me to sew from a very young age. Add a love of dress-up and paper dolls, plus a visit to practically every historical site in Britain, and a future costume historian and dressmaker was born!”
Meridith chose to combine her love of history with her love of costume by studying archaeology at Durham University, which allowed her to study Oriental, Greek and Roman costume, and the archaeology of textile manufacture and sewing implements.
“Along the way, I also picked up skills in embroidery, sprang and weaving – you never know when they will come in useful!”
After a brief stint as a Viking at The Jorvik Viking Centre in York, where she learned to tablet weave and create authentic Viking costumes, she enrolled at The Northern College of Costume in York to study and construct historical costume for the stage. A whirlwind tour of England followed which included a bridal alteration company, The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, Cosprop in London and Opera North in Leeds before finally returning to York to make, research and collect her true passion - historical clothing.
“I take great enjoyment in being a member of The History Wardrobe team,” she says.
“When I’m not busy creating costumes for museums, or unique dresses for weddings and parties, I'm working with venues like the Royal Armouries in Leeds helping them to maintain their costumes.
“I even managed to squeeze in a television appearance last year on BBC’s The Great British Sewing Bee, talking about sewing bees in the Second World War.”
It is during talks like these that Meridith gets to bring her passion to life, dressing up in outfits and uncovering people from socialites to suffragettes, presenting them and their history through their historic outfits.
“It began when I started collecting costumes,” she explains.
“My passion is homemade garments, the working class clothing that everyone of a period would have worn, not that elusive Chanel dress.
“The talks began from there, and I began tailoring them to themes depending on whatever was happening at that moment. When the Tour de France was going on, I did a talk on Victoria female cyclists, stood onstage in a woollen cycling suit!
"Last year I did one on the Suffragettes. I end up visiting heritage sites all over the country, at WI groups, and luncheon clubs doing these talks. It's a surreal job, getting to stand up there in a gorgeous 1920's evening gown and speak about this wonderful era in history and fashion.”
And having recently moved to Harley in Rotherham, Meridith is keen to let groups, organisations and clubs across the region know that she's here.
“I’m also keen to let young people know that there are options outside of leaving school and going straight into university, or a job. Within creative industries like these, there’s a huge concern that people are not being caught and told there are other options. I certainly didn’t have a direct path into my job, but I wouldn't change it for the world.”
Meridith already has two local events booked in throughout 2019, and is currently taking bookings for more. She will be at Seven Hills WI on October 17, talking about ‘Make Do and Mend.’
On November 6 she will be at The Forge WI talking on the subject of ‘The Christmas Stocking: a happy history of ho-ho-hoisery!’
Visit meridithtowne.co.uk for details.