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All dressed up and somewhere to go

Bath's Museum of Costume has tailored a hands-on introduction to couture especially for young children, writes Sally Ballard.

Awareness about clothes usually begins in earnest in the early teens. In an ambitious cross-curricular project, Bath's Museum of Costume, the largest collection of dress and accessories outside the Victoria and Albert Museum, is trying to encourage children from the age of five to consider the finer points of couture.

Primary school visitors can look at clothes which span four centuries. Some are obviously from another era: heavily embroidered, adorned with lace and ribbons, they are intricate and gorgeous. Others are more homespun - you could imagine your mum in them - or so delicate they waft over the models in a drape of fine muslin.

You can examine texture, pattern, colour and discuss the nature of fabric and the way garments fall. You can look at fashion plates and photographs from years ago to put clothes in an historical context.

Rhian Jams, the assistant keeper of costume, explains: "My role is to help the children feel comfortable with the past and the present and their relationship with each other." To do this she uses the clothing as a visual representation of time.

"We are not aiming to teach them the whole history of costume but to give them an introduction and set them thinking. I want them to go away with a spark of interest," she says.

The museum offers three primary sessions: the Victorians, Britain since the 1930s or Looking and Learning (at clothes in general), and can include a hands-on session at the nearby Costume and Fashion Research Centre. The emphasis is on design and technology, science and history.

* The Museum of Costume, Assembly Rooms, Bennett Street, Bath BA1 2QH.Tel: 01225 477754. www.museumofcostume.co.ukOpen daily 10am-5pm. Winter pound;1.80 a head, summer pound;2.10. Additional charge for Research Centre sessions.

Primary groups limited to 30.

Teachers' pack available.

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