Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dresses and Dancing

When I was a young 13 year old I decided I wanted to sew a dress. The material I chose was from a car blanket, leopard motif. I had no pattern and it was hand sewn. I'd even made a little vest that completed the ensemble. It truly was a thing of grooviness! Later in at the age of  27 I made my wedding dress. The top was crocheted by my mother-in-law and I sewed the very full panel skirt on my grandmother's Singer tredle sewing machine. It's worked like a charm. I ran out of money to purchase more material and so I used white cotton sheets to make the remaining panels to finish the wedding outfit. I always loved the idea of appropriating and recycling material.

When I moved to the North West Territories, I again made a dress. This time it was made from unbleached cotton recycled flour sacks I purchased at the local Hudson's Bay Store.  It was two squares sewn together with crocheted edging. I wore it in the Summer months and it was like wearing no clothes at all. I still have it to this day and dyed it purple. It is now only worn as a night dress in the Summer relegated to the confines of my house. My dress making did not stop here, however I was not to make any more dresses until I discovered Mediterranean dance.

I have always had an ongoing relationship with the hand stitched, the crocheted, the knitted, the weaved and I could go on and on. I grew up in a family were making things by hand was a tradition as a skill, a craft and an art, that was considered very important and subsequently was passed on through the generations. As well I have had an ongoing love affair with dance. Some how for me there is a correlation between the dress and the dance.

My relationship with the dress was always very prominent all through my life really, until the constraints of being an artist no longer would allow, for fear of paint getting on my dresses. I am very grateful to have grown up with a mother and a grandmother who had a  fashion sense, as it was something I always took great pleasure in. I do believe my own involvement with wearing dresses was much more prevalent before the invasion of fat cells which hid  my "womanly figure". There is much body politic going on with this, however mainly happened in my mind and this had been the case for many years. Shredding the dress mentally, in the sense of not getting caught up with all  the social constraints it imbues, regarding ideal beauty,  is a freeing thing and I believe feminists have been attempting to do this, myself included.

As a belly dancer  I learned to embrace my body as it is, fat and all which was extremely liberating and simultaneously I could celebrate all that the dress embodies about the feminine, the tactile experience of beautiful fabrics against the skin, flowing, like satin, silk, organza and velvet to name a few. The decorative aspects of making my own costume satiated my need to hand sew, crochet etc. I felt like a million bucks! I was to never  look at Frenchie's, Value Village or the Sally Ann,  the same way ever again.

Looking at the new book, Portrait In A Velvet Dress,  about Frida Kahlo's wardrobe of costumes, blouses and dresses was so exciting, and how I long to see these in person. She may have indeed used these clothes to cover her body flaws and injuries but I prefer to believe she was embracing her body as it was, celebrating her femininity  through her costumes and in particular her dresses, adornments and she loved to dance as frequently as possible in her beautiful dresses.


Indigene said...

I love Frida Kahlo's wardrobe! Thanks for writing about this book, since I didn't know about it. :)

Unknown said...

Indigene I love her wardrobe too! You're welcome I just saw the book myself . Our Art History instructor just purchased it and passed it around in class. I was riveted by the pictures of her clothes etc! It a must have! Thank you for your comment!