Seamstresses working around the clock to finish 300 costumes to bring Beamish Museum into a new decade

Land Girl uniforms and 1940s dresses are on order at Beamish as its busy team of designers prepare costumes for the outdoor museum's new venture.

Costume designer Gillian Wolf at Beamish
Costume designer Gillian Wolf at Beamish

Seamstresses at Beamish Museum are working around the clock to create 300 new outfits for their foray into the 1940s.

War-time Land Girl uniforms, tea dresses and farm dungarees have seen nimble-fingered designers are being made by designers normally more used to bustles, corsets and historic bonnets.

The County Durham museum’s costume staff, who have previously worked for top model Kate Moss and fashion brand Jaeger, make thousands of outfits from different historical periods every year.

However this is the first-time they have created costumes for staff from the Second World War period as the open-air museum prepares for its new war-time farm exhibit and air-raid shelter.

Gillian Wolf, 40, from Stanley, who has worked as a costume designer for Beamish for 17 years, said: “We’ve looked at old photographs of the Consett Land Girls for ideas and used Weldon’s patterns which come with no instructions because it was assumed back then everybody knew how to sew.

“The only thing we’ve struggled with is authentic wellies and finding very plain black ones with no logos on and footwear in general as it’s the first time hem lines have been high enough to have ankles on show!”

Each new outfit will be tailored specifically for individual members of staff set to work at the museum’s Home Farm site, which will swap from its current use as a Victorian style farm in the New Year.

Ladies in the Women’s Land Army - who became known as Land Girls - were posted at the museum’s Pockerley Old Hall when it was a working farm so the costume team have had many archive photos to work from.

Gillian said: “They could be a Land Girl working on the fields with cords and dungarees but on a Sunday they would need a dress as that would be their day off. They need everything for rural life.

“The farmer’s wife would also need a dress for when she’s in the kitchen. The fabrics we’ve got to use this time have been so nice and it’s been an enjoyable change.

“We’re really looking at 1935 outfits for inspiration because people didn’t throw clothes away plus fashions were a bit slower to change up here.”

Thousands of costumes have previously been made for the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian areas of the museum since it opened in 1970.

The team is made up of five members of staff as well as volunteers who have joined the department from a variety of backgrounds - from former fashion designers, machinists to former needlework teachers.

Maureen Gemski, 58, from Crook, who previously worked as a machinist for Topshop on the Kate Moss collection, said: “Despite previously working on modern designs, the structure of dress making is the same. I love making period cloths and the new ones are so glamorous, wearable and feminine.

“It’s our hobby. We make clothes seven and a half hours a day then we’re back at home making our own outfits to wear to work.”


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer