Reused, recycled, reborn: New exhibition at Killerton explores how circular fashion from the past can inspire what we wear today 

‘Thirsty for Fashion’ a new exhibition at Killerton house just outside Exeter, will showcase over 50 items from the National Trust’s largest fashion collection, highlighting pieces that demonstrate the techniques used to repair, remodel, reuse and rewear clothing from the 18th century to the present day.   

The exhibition, running from 11 February to 5 November, will also feature some of the ways contemporary designers and makers are rethinking our approach to fashion as our collective understanding of the environmental impact of the fashion industry grows.   

Highlights from the historical element of the exhibition include a child’s dress made of precious silk brocade, recycled from an adult’s silk gown in about 1750; a darning sampler of 1814; a sumptuous silk wedding gown of about 1840 remodelled to rewear in the 1940s and an embroidered parachute silk nightdress made in 1944 when clothing and material were rationed.   

Other items include two patchwork quilts made from recycled fabrics and repairs to continue the life of a pair of mid-18th century leather stays.  

Also on show will be vintage films from the 1940s and ‘50s with advice on how to ‘make do and mend’ and photographs of National Trust staff, volunteers and members of the public who give personal reflections some of the oldest and most special items of clothing in their wardrobes.  

Shelley Tobin, National Trust Costume Curator at Killerton comments, “Recycling and reusing clothing is not a new idea, but something that has been commonplace throughout history. This exhibition asks the question – can we learn lessons from these past practices and reapply forgotten skills to looking after our clothes and make them more sustainable? The items exhibited show that we only need look to history to discover ways to ensure that the clothing we buy, make and wear is durable, ethical and avoids waste.”  

She continues “But as well as looking to the past we’ll also be looking to the future and the exhibition will also feature twelve works by six contemporary designers and makers. Their exhibits show just some of the ways that designers today are refashioning surplus stock to produce new clothing with no waste going to landfill.”  

Flora Collingwood, one of the contemporary designers featuring in the exhibition is passionate about extending the life of knitwear and creative visible mending. She adds: “By making a feature of visible repairs, we can celebrate the life the garment has had, and make the process of mending more creative and fun. It becomes a statement to be worn with pride.   

“Seeing historical and contemporary examples of repair and reuse together in this exhibition is a wonderful way to get excited for a future where we all care for, and reimagine, the things we already own. ”  

Shelley Tobin concludes, “As well as the beautiful items of clothing and films on display, there will be plenty of activities to try including an upcycling challenge where visitors of all ages can mix and match different parts of deconstructed items of clothing parts to create a new garment.  Prepare to be inspired!”  

‘Thirsty for Fashion’ will run on the first floor of Killerton House from 11 February to 5 November 2023. The exhibition is free but normal admission applies for non National Trust members. Killerton is open daily.   

Visitors can contact the office at Killerton by email 01392 881345 or for more information visit    

The Exeter Daily | News