Today is the Queen's 90th birthday. In her honour we took a look through our archives... The English Coronation ceremony dates back to the 8th century and for the last 900 years it has taken place at Westminster Abbey. Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on 2nd June 1953 in a day of great pomp and ceremony, not least the elaborate gowns and robes worn by the sovereign. The Princess Elizabeth chose couturier Norman Hartnell, who first made clothes for Queen Mary, to design the Coronation Dress which took eight months of research, design and workmanship to make. Hartnell sketched out eight possible designs. It’s thought that the style chosen harked back to the dress worn by Queen Alexandra at the coronation of Edward VII in 1902 and iconic embroidery. At the Queen’s request the dress was satin, like her wedding dress, and a fitted bodice with short sleeves, square-cut neckline and full skirt flaring to a slight train. But most significant were the embroidered floral emblems of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Nations strategically laid out in three tiers of overlapping panels framed by ribbed embroidered bands of gold crystals against a lattice-work design. The embroidery, executed in seed pearls, crystals, coloured silks, gold and silver thread, was undertaken by the Royal School of Needlework and took 3,500 hours between March and May 1953. The emblems depicted were the English Tudor Rose; the Welsh leek; the Irish shamrock; the Scottish thistle; the Canadian maple leaf; Australian wattle; New Zealand silver fern; South African portea; lotus flowers for India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and for Pakistan’s wheat, cotton and jute. Hartnell himself added an additional shamrock on the left side of the skirt for good luck. The dress was made up at the workroom at 26 Bruton Street under the supervision of Hartnell’s ‘first hand’ Madame Isabelle. Hartnell also designed the plain white linen robe ‘the Colobium Sindonis’. The Coronation Dress took on a greater significance in the 1953 coronation because the Queen did not wear a surcoat which in the past had hidden the dress beneath. The fabrics for the Robes of Parliament and Robes of Estate were specially woven by Warners & Sons following a tradition established by Edward VII in 1902 who specified British silk – this company were one of the few remaining firms continuing the Spitalfields tradition. The silk used to make the purple velvet of the Queen Elizabeth’s Robe of Estate, worn on departure from the Abbey, was sourced from Lady Hart Dykes silk farm at Lullingston, Kent – as it was for George VI’s Robe in 1937. The velvet cloth was dyed at Warners, New Mills in Braintree and was woven by two weavers, Lily Lee and Hilda Calver, who were specially called out of retirement for the task. The two lengths of 18 yards, 21 inches wide were made at a rate of 6”-9” per day and the women were made honorary members of the Worshipful Company of Weavers for their efforts. The Robe, embroidered with a border of wheat ears and olive branches symbolising peace and plenty, and the Queen’s crowned cipher, centred in the train were embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework and made up by Ede and Ravenscroft in Chancery Lane. This is an extract from Clare Lewis' article 'With Due Ceremony' in the Souvenir issue of Selvedge. Subscribe today and receive a copy of the issue for free.