The Alyssa Diaries No. 8: Weaving in and out of Bedlam

The term bedlam came about from a psychiatric hospital in London called Bethlem Royal Hospital. It means uproar and confusion.

Bethlem Hospital was notorious for its malicious treatment of patients, hence the derivative of the word, bedlam. The history of the hospital is spilled with horrific tales of violent madness, cruel neglect, and dreadful conditions. Even during the 18th century, outsiders could enter the ward costing a penny (free every first Tuesday) for a taste of the “freak show;” bringing sticks to provoke the patients.

Madhouse is probably the first thing to come to mind.

Bedlam came into play when Sara made a reference to it. And no, bedlam, is nothing close to describe the collection. But it does describe the insanity caused by a few garments in the collection. They are complex in construction and can drive one to the “madhouse” sewing them together.

Each garment consists of a couple dozen pattern pieces of varying sizes and shapes. Figuring out which pieces sew over and under and in a particular direction causes mass chaos. This reputation for confusion has earned these garments the bedlam nicknames.

The following is a painting by William Hogarth. This painting is the last in the series picturing a man who landed himself in Bethlem Royal Hospital as a result of his self-indulgence. It also demonstrates the disturbing scene of the grotesquely amused visitors interacting with patients.


Here is a draft of one of the bedlam pieces next to a scan of a wood carving from the Arts & Crafts Movement.


Here is a scan of a wood carving and a pattern draft for a collar. The result is a 3-D fabric swatch. It demonstrates the design process from the “arts and crafts” inspiration to patterns to a sample in fabric to the final product.

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