bite your nails...
its life, the Pearl dress has had to put up with a lot. Up until
it came to the T-Room, it has been a working costume. It would have
been made in 1989 ready for filming "Pearls of Wisdom".
Since it was a key costume, Raymond Childe (costume designer) would
have made it stronger than many of the other costumes in the show.
As such, it has a linen lining in the bodice to protect the delicate
silk from which it is made. He also gave it strength in its sleeves
by adding gussets under the arms. These allow the arms to be raised
without putting strain on the seam in the armscye (the whole in
the bodice where the sleeve is sewn into).
costume worked hard during its two years as Tabatha's main costume,
and was used in 22 episodes - even more than Tallulah's Velvet dress,
which appeared in only 17. This makes it the most regularly used
costume of them all. During this time, it would have undergone a
lot of wear and tear during filming, including having the seam opened
along the right sleeve so that Tabatha could get at the pearl in
the piranha tank in "Pearls". This of course would then
have had to be re-sewn, further weakening the silk. The strain sometimes
shows on the dress, and one of the jewels can be seen hanging off
the belt in "Cedric Sackbutt's Search for a Song", and
also one of the pearls on the neckline fails to hang correctly throughout
"Rings of Olympus" , probably because it had fallen off
at some stage and had to be reapplied in a hurry.
from all this normal wear (not to mention the evils of underarm
deodorant where silk is concerned), it would have had to have undergone
numerous washes and pressing.
few years later, Thames Television lost its franchise. The bulk
of the wardrobe department was sold off to a lady called Mary Hill.
She parted with some of her costumes, and the Pearl Dress was bought
by a fancy dress shop in Ascot, along with other costumes from the
series. This would have been really tough, since it was hired out
to the general public. People would have partied in it, smoked,
drank, sweated and worn yet more roll on deodorant. Presumably it
would have been cleaned after every time out. When it was not being
worn, it would have been hanging in a crowded rail with no proper
air circulation. This and the sweat and general ground-in dirt that
it would have absorbed would encourage the growth of mildew.
don't know how long it would have been in this shop, but it could
have been as long as ten years, since I rescued it in 2001.
it arrived, it had the following damage:
The skirt hemline had been badly scuffed to the point of being torn
and threadbare. It was also full of dried grass tangled in all the
Some of the glue on the neckline and belt holding the cording on
had failed and the cording was coming off in places.
The fabric of the sleeves had been torn under the arms, leaving
great fraying holes.
The armscye seams had been opened and the gussets folded back and
stitched onto themselves, probably to prevent further tearing under
the arms to prolong her life as a hire costume.
The large pearl on the belt streamer had gone missing, as had a
large oval ruby and a large topaz. Some of the netting on some of
the leaves had also gone missing.
The left sleeve netting had a large cigarette burn in it.
The tiara was missing a leaf and the central pearl drop.
Back when I first bought the dress, I had no experience of sewing
at all, aside from attaching buttons. There was only limited work
that I could do at this point as a result of my lack of skill. I
managed to find some matching pearl beads and jewels, so I set about
replacing anything missing. I have not been able to replace the
missing tiara leaf, however. I also invisibly stitched on the cording
so that it won't break free again.
My friend's father worked as a tailor, so he was able to overlock
the hemline to prevent damage without losing any of the original
fabric. He also managed to reinstate the gussets under the arms,
but he said that there was nothing he could do about the ripped
I managed to find some of the original pattern
net for the dress and bought a job lot of 20m for running repairs.
I set to replacing the few bits of net that were missing from the
belt. I felt as though I should do something about the sleeves (i.e.
replace them), but I didn't have any of the right coloured silk,
and every time I sent off for samples of what looked like it could
be the right shade, they never were. I had learned to sew by this
many years of searching, I finally decided to risk the fabric swatches
from the Pearl Dress design sketch. I removed them from teh sketch
and took them to Birmingham. I searched through the rag market,
the indoor market, the outdoor market, Barry's Fabric Warehouse,
and then went onto the Fancy Silk Store near the Bullring. There,
hidden away at the bottom of a huge pile of rolls was a, yellowish
orange roll with a tiny bit of fabric left on it. Fed up with my
long search, I pulled it out, and it shone a lustrous, orangey red.
I thought it might be close to the original, but it seemed to have
far too much yellow in it. I took out the swatch and compared it.
It was AN EXACT MATCH!!!!!
was the last roll of this colour in the shop, and there was only
1.5 metres left on it. Just enough to replace the sleeves if need
be. Looking at the fabric glowing a magnificent firey orange, I
was quite sad to think how tired looking the same silk in the costume
had become over the years.
now I had everything I needed apart from professional advice. It
was my initial aim to replace the sleeves, but I consulted an expert
in the field, who trades in original movie props, costumes and memorabilia,
and he advised me that restoring anything was always a touchy issue,
since it could devalue the item. A costume should really only be
restored if it is likely to deteriorate. Then, it is advisable only
to carry out work that is sympathetic, and try not to replace anything
original if possible.
am not interested in the value of the costume, since I am never
going to part with it, and the holes in the armscye would only get
worse with time. I decided to carry on with the restoration and
document everything that has been done.
anyone throws their hands up in horror or gets angry with me, please
note that I feel as though I have a great responsibility both to
the costume as a piece of art, to myself as the owner, but most
of all to all the T. Bag fans everywhere who grew up watching this
costume on screen. This weighed heavily on my mind before I decided
to proceed. With the advice of the expert whom I had contacted,
I decided only to replace parts as a last resort and to keep anything
that was replaced in T. Bag's purse with the dress.