The Margaret Bing Collection
Margaret Elizabeth Dernocour Bing (1931-1982) was a very talented artist with an aptitude for needlework. She was born in Broadstairs, Kent and lived there most of her life. Margaret studied at the Sidney Cooper School of Art in Canterbury just after the Second World War earning three diplomas; in Dressmaking (First Class), Ladies’ & Children’s Tailoring (Second Class) and Hand Embroidery (First Class). Her school reports often commented that she was a slow worker, but no one doubted the excellence of her work. Indeed, in 1948 she was awarded second prize by the Merchant Taylors’ Company (one of the Great Twelve Livery Companies of the City of London) winning the princely sum of £1.
Margaret never married. She worked for many years at St Mary’s Home for Children, an Anglican church orphanage on the Kent coast, where she was employed along with two other ladies to sew church banners and perhaps other church linen such as altar cloths.
With her few friends she visited numerous exhibitions and museums in London and the South East of England, especially the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. She was particularly interested in historical and costume history. She was drawn to the Victorian era and also to national costumes from across the world. She kept meticulous notes on her work. Her research, which was all pre-internet, was detailed and exact and she spent many hours investigating her subject and sourcing materials before she started sewing. The family had always kept Bedlington terriers and she loved these dogs. Her future appliqué work was likely to have focused on this breed as there are many notes and sketches on this theme. Margaret was also very interested in Nepal and the Himalayas and owned a complete set of mountaineering gear, although she never travelled beyond Britain.
Returning to Margaret’s love of historical costume, she created 56 appliqué panels detailing historical men and women’s dress (two of which are shown right), but these were only 2D representations.
However, Margaret found a new avenue for her creativity in the late 1960s and early 1970s when her brother Peter, who had worked for Minic became a developer for Pedigree dolls after the company moved to Canterbury. She asked Peter if he could bring her home any unwanted Sindy dolls. Peter was employed in Research & Development (R&D) where they often worked on Sindy dolls, usually from a box of a dozen dolls obtained from the warehouse. These were used for experiments or modification, or for testing joints when the dolls were not good enough for assembly. Every so often R&D would have a clear out and would dump the rest of the unused dolls in a skip. So, when his department had a clear out, he would ask permission to take home a couple of dolls for Margaret. She also picked up dolls from jumble sales and she wouldn’t have paid very much for them. She never altered these dolls except for trimming their hair to match the costume she made.
As Susan Brewer notes in her book “British Dolls of the 1960s”, more people started to travel abroad in the 1960s (primarily to European destinations to begin with), and they would often bring back a national costume doll as a souvenir or to give as gifts. In turn, the UK also began to see a rise in tourism. Unlike Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales; England lacked a female national costume, but what it did have in abundance was a wealth of historical costumes to draw upon to create female costume dolls. As Susan Brewer says, tourists were particularly fond of these historical characters especially Henry VIII and his six wives, Elizabeth I, and Nell Gwyn. There can be no doubt that some British costume doll collectors liked them too.
Recognising the business opportunity, the UK market also sold ‘foreign’ costume dolls such as Codeg’s “National Beauties” (sic) and the Linda Fashion Doll national costume series. There were also historical costume dolls such as those marketed in the Quality Collector’s doll series. And of course, there were those who produced both national and historical costume dolls such as Rexard and Peggy Nisbet. So, it was relatively easy to amass a nice costume doll collection to suit all pockets through a combination of purchases and/or gifts from home and abroad.
‘Grown-up’ costume doll collecting grew in popularity and was quite an acceptable way to maintain an interest in dollies as women grew up and had to leave ‘childish things’ behind them. After all what could be more grown up than an interest in geography and history? These collections are often seen today on auction sites such as eBay, and as they were kept as display dolls they are often in very good condition. Above right is the first doll Annie bought, her French costume doll, purchased in Carolles, Normandy in 1973 on a Schools Abroad trip.
A natural outcome of this trend was people started making costume dolls themselves. Most Sindy collectors are aware of the Patons 1960s National Costume Series of knitting patterns designed for Sindy and Patch sized dolls.
And, who can forget the 1973 Golden Hands craft magazine’s article on needlework patterns for Historical, National and Theatrical costumes worn in the photographs by beautiful Trendys and a Gauntlet (shown below).
So Margaret set about creating 3D representations of the costumes she was most interested in. Whilst she tapped into this current trend, she cannot really be viewed as a doll collector. Her interest was primarily artistic.
She meticulously researched her doll’s costumes and made all the patterns herself. She considered specific or unique aspects of each fashion and similarly to the commercial Peggy Nisbet dolls, sourced appropriate scaled-down fabrics. She had a large chest of drawers and no piece of fabric was ever discarded. Every scrap of material was stored away in case it might be useful.
All of her work was noted down in a large A4 1966 diary detailing her studies and including her fabric swatches, some costings and measurements. She also noted down any interesting facts regarding that costume.
In all, she created 26 costume dolls, and she categorised them as follows:
- European Costume
- Eastern Costume
- Historic (the Queens)