Why Barbara is hoping to see Queen’s wedding dress – 70 years after she made it

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THE Queen’s wedding dress is set to return to Scotland – more than 70 years after it was made in Fife.

Barbara Unwin, now 85, worked in secret at a textile factory in Dunfermline to produce the exquisite silk material.

Now a new museum being built in the town is asking the Royal Collection for permission to make the dress, currently in Buckingham Palace, the centrepiece of an exhibition.

Barbara made the dress in secret and did not know who it was for.
Barbara made the dress in secret and did not know who it was for.

 

Barbara and fellow worker Isa Erskine only realised they had made the material for the Queen’s dress when they were suddenly invited to the 1947 wedding.

It is believed the Queen chose the Scots factory, Winterthur Silks Ltd, to make her dress because she remembered a childhood visit there.

Barbara was just 19 when she and Isa were asked to work in secret on Saturdays when everyone else was out of the factory.

The work started in 1942, in the middle of the Second World War, and five years before the Queen’s marriage to Prince Phillip.

The pair had to follow even stricter quality control procedures than normal to ensure no damage or blemishes appeared on the delicate fabric.

Barbara, who now lives at a Bield sheltered home in Dunfermline, said she began work on the dress shortly after her own marriage to her navy captain husband – who died from cancer 24 years ago.

She said: “I have really fond memories of my time working in the factory – my highlight was getting to work on the then Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress.

“Unlike now I was a very quiet person back then – I think that’s why I was put on the job because I could be trusted to keep quiet – not that it made much difference because we hardly got told anything.

“We knew it was important because [the bosses] hung towels on the oily bits of the loom and gave me a basin of water to keep my hands clean at all times.”

Barbara at work in the Fife textiles firm.
Barbara at work in the Fife textiles firm.

 

She added: “I knew it was for a wedding dress because of the fabric which made me concentrate more as I had just got married myself the month before – but I didn’t think it’d be for the Queen.

“I didn’t know who it was for until I was handed an official invitation to the wedding.”

Barbara – a mother of two, grandmother of six and great-grandmother of five – added: “It was an absolute thrill to be one of only two workers in the factory to receive an invite to the wedding – something I will never forget for as long as I live.

“That’s why it’s so important to bring it back.

“I’ve never seen it since it was made – our seats at the wedding didn’t give a great view so I never even got the see it then.

“If it came back it’d be the first time I got to see it – and it’d just be the most special thing for me.”

Bosses at the £2.8m Dunfermline Museum and Arts Gallery being built in the town want the dress for their opening exhibition.

Lesley Botten, the display, design and activities curator, said: “We’ve been in contact with royal representatives and are trying to get a loan of the dress.

Barbara only learned who would wear the dress when she was invited to the wedding
Barbara only learned who would wear the dress when she was invited to the wedding

 

“This would be a three- or four-month display dedicated to either textiles or a royal wedding theme.

“But before it can come here officials need to make sure the museum has all the right security measures in place.”

She added: “It’s right it comes back to Dunfermline as it was made here and we still even have the original maker.

“I have a hunch as to why it was made here. The Queen and her sister Princess Margaret visited Dunfermline when they were younger with their mum Queen Mary.

“While here they had a shot on one of the first electric looms while at the factory.

“I like to think she remembered this after all those years and that’s why the factory was chosen.”

Lesley said they are still trying to get in touch with Isa or her family.

“I think she was the tender age of 26 at the time – it was her job to control the fabric as Barbara wove it.

Barbara was aged just 19 when she starting making the silk for the Queen's dress
Barbara was aged just 19 when she starting making the silk for the Queen’s dress

 

“If she is still here we’d love her to get in touch.”

Ms Unwin is no longer able to keep up with her dress-making due to arthritis but has been teaching residents at her care home to create their own masterpieces.

Sandra Brown, scheme manager at Bield’s John Connolly Court, said: “It has been great speaking to Barbara about her amazing experience making the queens wedding dress.

“She is a very independent woman and although she suffers from arthritis I thought it would be good for her to share her knowledge of crochet with some of the residents.

“She has really enjoyed teaching her skills and it’s great to see an older person with such vitality for life.”

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