Fashion & Textiles at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston 

Harris Museum & Art Gallery

Home to Lancashire's finest collection of dress and textiles, housed in a fabulous Grade I listed building, right in the heart of Preston. 

Harris Museum & Art Gallery

The Harris is housed in a grand building in the classical style, designed by local architect James Hibbert. It overlooks the Flag Market - Preston's main public forum.

The Harris first opened to the public in the 1890s. And it is named in honour of Edmund Harris (1804-77), a local solicitor who left a huge sum of money to Preston to establish a museum and library.

Taking a look inside ...
At the Harris Museum & Art Gallery you'll find everything from local archaeology to contemporary art. Here we take a closer look at the museum's collection of fashion and textiles.
A closer look at clothes
The Harris has an amazing collection of clothes dating from the 1700s to the modern day - many with fascinating stories to tell. 

Some garments have had several different lives

This child's dress is made from a recycled woollen paisley shawl. The shawl was worn by the donor's grandmother in the 1850s. It was then made into this dress in 1902, and donated to the Harris in 1945.

Shalwar kameez

This hand-tailored shalwar kameez was worn by a donor from Preston, but purchased in Pakistan in the 1990s.

It is decorated with gold thread work known as 'zardozi' from the Persian words 'zar' meaning gold and 'dozi' meaning to sew.


One of the best things about exploring historic clothes is getting the chance to look at things close up.

This dress from the mid-1830s has huge 'gigot' or 'leg of mutton' sleeves. The pleating over the shoulder is incredibly finely done.

Finishing touches
Along with garments, you'll find fashion accessories ranging from bustles to boaters, and pendants to platforms in our stores. 

Wire bustle

Historic examples of underwear give a fascinating insight into how fashionable body shapes have changed over time.

This wire bustle helped give women of the late 1800s the curvaceous look considered so attractive at the time. Today it looks like an intriguing sculpture in its own right.


This fine 'boater' style of hat has a conservative shape, with its flat top and brim, but a good dose of flair in the the green velvet trim and oyster-coloured feather.

Platform shoes

These shoes were worn by the donor for nights out in Preston and Blackpool.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell famously fell over in a pair of Westwood platforms in 1993, but Lancashire girls are clearly made of stronger stuff as the donor wore these shoes for dancing.


Examples of jewellery in the collection include this bracelet which is part of a larger set featuring belts and hair slides - all purchased in the Gujarat region of India.

A closer look at textiles
There are fabulous fabrics everywhere at the Harris: from patchwork to printing, sleeve bands to samplers. 

Bands of embroidery

The Harris has a strong collection of embroidery from around the world, such as these sleeve bands from China.

In traditional Chinese dress women's jackets often have wide sleeves decorated with detachable bands of embroidery. With arms folded in front of the body these examples of needlework skill are displayed to great effect.


Ranging from banded alphabet samplers to those featuring stern religious verse, the Harris has over 160 samplers in its collection.

This hugely expressive example illustrates the biblical story of Jonah and the Whale. It freeze frames the very moment Jonah is being dangled over the side of the boat, about to be thrown into the stormy sea, and swallowed whole by a curly-tailed, jagged-toothed whale. Margaret Mather who stitched this example has certainly injected the scene with drama.


Darning is a practical type of needlework which imitates woven fabric. It is used for mending holes.

In this sampler holes have been cut and mended to create a reference work of darning techniques. Different coloured threads have been used to illustrate a range of different weaves. The result is an attractive set of geometric patterns.


This large-scale quilt was made in 1997 to mark the 50th anniversary of the independence of India from Britain. The word 'azadi' means freedom in Urdu.

Preston's Asian Well Women's group met every week for 6 months to create this quilt working with artist Lynn Setterington. Each woman took a square to work up at home or in the gallery. These individual efforts were then brought together to create the whole. The names of those involved in making the quilt are embroidered around the border.

Uniquely Preston
Some of the most distinctive features of the Harris collection includes fancy dress, cotton frocks, South Asian fabrics and printed fashion plates. 

The Textile Manufactures of India

In 1866 Preston was given a set of 700 South Asian textile samples in 18 volumes called The Textile Manufactures of India.

These volumes were compiled by John Forbes Watson who worked at the India Museum in London.

In 2012 the Harris worked with young people from Preston to digitise these volumes. All 700 fabrics can be explored online at at - do take a look to see more of this wonderful collection.

Preston Guild

Clothes made to celebrate the Preston Guild are another unique feature of the Harris collection.

These include party clothes, civic regalia and lots of fancy dress like this 'Red Rose of Lancashire' dress worn by Valerie Simpson aged 11 to a Preston Guild fancy dress ball in 1922.

Preston Guild is a civic celebration which takes place in the city every 20 years (the next one is in 2032 - put it in your diary).

The Guild

In addition to clothes the Harris cares for a large collection of textiles commemorating the Guild.

This cheerful scarf was made to mark the 1952 Preston Guild - which was an especially joyous occasion. The Guild had been due to take place in 1942 but the war years made such an event impossible. When Preston finally celebrated its Guild in 1952 the town was really ready to party.


You can't talk about the Harris and Preston without talking about Horrockses Fashions.

Horrockses was the biggest name in cotton in the 1800s and 1900s - not just in Lancashire but around the world.

After the Second World War the company started a line of readymade frocks in fabulous printed cottons. This evening gown is one of over 40 Horrockses Fashions dresses in the collection.

Horrockses design archive

Along with Horrockses Fashions dresses, the Harris also cares for the company's design archive - including 12 bound volumes like the one illustrated here - used to showcase the firm's latest productions to potential buyers.

Each page includes a sample of fabric, a pencil sketch of the dress, and a black and white photograph showing the garment delightfully styled.

Visit us in Preston

The Harris is currently in the process of cataloguing all the fashion plates in its collection - we have over 2,000.

They range in date from the late 1700s to early 1900s and include all the major periodicals of the time. We hope to make these images available digitally in the future - so watch this space.

Nothing beats seeing things 'in the flesh', however; so if you are ever in Preston, with time to spare - then do visit us at the Harris. We look forward to welcoming you.

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Photography copyright of Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston.

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