“Fashions in Miniature: Laetitia Powell’s Dolls and Material Life-Writing” – Dr Serena Dyer – Digital Materialities

Posted on December 14, 2020

14 December 2020 - 17 h 30 min - 18 h 30 min

Dolls may be mute and their eyes glassy and lifeless, but the tiny stitches used to construct them hold a myriad of stories about their makers, owners and users. Between the age of thirteen in 1754 and her death at the age of sixty in 1801, Laetitia Powell carefully dressed at least twelve dolls which, together, tell her personal and material story. Begun in childhood, but continued throughout adulthood, these dolls acted as a sartorial biography. Notes tacked to the hems of the dolls’ petticoats reveal the date they were stitched and proffer a description of each doll’s outfit. These snippets of information reveal that these garments were not generic specimens or imaginative fancies. Instead, they were often miniature versions of Powell’s own garments. This life-narrative through fashion, layered with the development and improvement of Powell’s own skill as a maker, can be read across the twelve dolls.  Through these dolls, this paper suggests, the dynamics of making and buying dress were intricately entwined with biography. Dolls could be conduits for a wealth of personal and sartorial information.

Dr Serena Dyer is Lecturer in History of Design and Material Culture at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. She has edited, with Chloe Wigston Smith, Material Literacy in Eighteenth-Century Britain: A Nation of Makers (Bloomsbury, 2020) and is author of Material Lives: Women Makers and Consumer Culture in the 18th Century (Bloomsbury, 2021).