Old royal curtains from Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle have been upcycled and transformed into luxury kimonos at the suggestion of the King.
Vast swathes of rich fabrics, which are believed to have dressed the windows in family and private rooms during the late Queen’s reign, were lying unused in storage after being collected during clear-outs over the decades.
Now, the delft blue floral, vintage rose and teal, and rich damask burnt orange drapery has been repurposed into high-end, hand-made patchwork kimonos through an initiative by Charles’s King’s Foundation, ready to be auctioned off for the charity.
The King came up with the idea and students from the foundation’s batch production skills course went on to use the grand fabrics as part of a training programme designed to sharpen their techniques at repeating a selection of hand-crafted garments.
He put the foundation in touch with curtain storerooms at Windsor Great Park, where out-of-use royal materials are kept and repairs undertaken.
In early 2022, the students at Dumfries House – the headquarters of the charity – in East Ayrshire were sent a range of 30 different patterns as part of a bulk 50-metre delivery with the goal of repurposing them into a modern fashion collection fit for retail.
Jacqueline Farrell, the foundation’s education director, told the PA news agency the students were surprised to be handling the historic royal cloth.
Ms Farrell said: “It was like Christmas morning getting those bundles through and opening them all up, and rummaging to see what we’d got.
“I think once they got over the shock of being asked to cut up some royal curtains, the real challenge was in the design.
“How do you take these fabrics and make something contemporary-looking, and something that people will want to wear nowadays?”
The armfuls of material spanned more than 40 years of royal curtain design throughout Elizabeth II’s reign, dating as far back as the 1950s and up to the 1990s, with much of it inspired by nature with floral or large leaf patterns, and a number of pieces from the 1980s including some denim.
A kimono design – in two styles – was chosen because of its inclusive one-size fits all shape, its versatility and its sustainable geometric near-zero-waste pattern.
Ms Farrell said the curtains most likely originally came from the royal family’s private sitting rooms.
“Some of (the rooms) would have certainly been fairly grand in themselves but I would imagine (they were used in) more of the family rooms – the private rooms.”
She added: “Everything is inspired by nature. You see that in the timeline.
“There’s not a lot of geometrics and nothing hugely pictorial – there’s no corgis or children’s fabrics. It’s certainly more sophisticated.”
Up for auction will be four delft blue floral kimono coats – three medium and one large; one vintage rose and duck egg short kimono; one damask burnt orange and teal short kimono; and one bold denim blue and yellow damask short kimono (all one size).
Each one took between eight to 10 hours to tailor by hand.
Ms Farrell said she hoped the initiative might inspire others around the country to reuse their old curtains for garments or other craft pieces.
“It’s not just about making a collection to be sold,” she said.
“We hope this project will show what can be done with vintage materials in terms of repurposing and upcycling.
“Maybe other people will start to think about using curtains in a new way.”
Asked whether Charles’ idea echoed the Sound of Music in which when Maria makes play clothes for the Von Trapp children out of curtains, Ms Farrell laughed and agreed: “Yes, modern-day Sound of Music.”
While samples of the donated fabric have already been preserved, archived and catalogued for historic record and other parts of the curtains repurposed as cushions or moved to other royal residences as has been the custom at the Palace, the batch that remained was used for the foundation’s project.
Any leftover bits from the cutting process were saved to be used for applique sewing classes in the foundation’s project in schools and some of the remaining material will be used in other initiatives.
The King set up the King’s Foundation, previously known as the Prince’s Foundation, as a vehicle to train the next generation of skilled craftspeople – including in fashion and textiles – in heritage techniques essential to many traditional UK industries.
Ms Farrell said: “He has always been keen that people of all ages carry on the handskills that are so valuable to luxury fashion.
“He’s regularly complimented on his enduring fashion style and the fact that he will wear clothes and make sure that they last a very long time.
“He obviously gets clothes repaired and preserved so he can continue to wear them.”
A spokesman for the King’s Foundation said: “It was very much the King’s idea to use the curtains.
“He found out about the material and said ‘Right, this can definitely be put to good use’.”
The online auction, which also includes other collectibles and experiences including dinner in The Garden Room at Highgrove Gardens and stays at Dumfries House Lodge, opens on Sunday and runs until 11.59pm on Friday December 8 via https://uk.givergy.com/KingsFoundationAuction
There are no set guide price for the kimonos and money raised will go to the foundation to support its future textiles programme, which marks its 10th anniversary next year.
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