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Portraits and figure paintings are invaluable evidence of dressmaking styles, materials and techniques over the centuries. From the Middle Ages, painters have enjoyed depicting rich and elaborate materials, as evidence of their own skill and of the wealth of their patrons. The Three Wise Men are usually shown in heavily decorated costumes; Renaissance princes, rich merchants and their wives show off their wealth; in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, ladies are often shown at work on their embroidery and needlework.

Nineteenth- and twentieth-century painters of home life have also shown women at their sewing machines, making or repairing clothes and fabrics for the home. Recently feminist artists have reclaimed the creative, co-operative and self-fulfilling aspects of the textile arts.