Culture vulture

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Janet Walton can't get enough wartime costumes and gubbins

Hands on history

I started going into schools with historical costumes and artefacts after one Christmas when we needed a lot of toast and I used my grandfather's old toasting fork. My small son, who's quite scientifically-minded, noticed it worked faster than the toaster, and soon I had teachers at his school saying, "We hear you've got old cooking equipment; can we put some on display?" I grew up with a grandma who lived in the past. Today's grannies don't even have old stuff.

Favourite reading

I make lots of costumes, so my bibles are Patterns of Fashion by Janet Arnold and Costume in Detail by Nancy Bradfield. Janet Arnold plots out on squared paper the flat fabric of original costumes, lots of them from the National Trust specialist collection at Berrington Hall in Herefordshire.

If she hadn't done her work, none of the costume dramas would be as they are today.

Film studies

Often I go to films twice: once for the story and once to look at the costumes. I like films set in wartime: Schindler's List, Charlotte Gray. My favourite of all time is Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. I've seen it so many times. You almost feel the ending will be happy each time you see it.

Best artefact

I love rummaging in antique shops and junk shops. I have a collection of Victorian laundry equipment that children can use: the dolly tub, the wringer, real old clothes pegs. The best thing I ever found was a man's dressing box from the 1870s that was full of old glass bottles, exactly matching the shaving equipment and combs I already had. The most interesting item from my family is an Elizabethan spoon with a horn handle about 15 inches long so you can eat without dripping food on your ruff.

Treat in store

In October I'm doing a schools' wartime event at Hughenden Manor in Buckinghamshire. I'm madly collecting wartime clothing so we can unravel jumpers and make clothes out of sewn strips. As well as cooking with rations.

Janet Walton, 48, runs Hands on History workshops and historical fashion shows in schools and old properties. For details contact: 01189 342922. For details of National Trust workshops, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

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