I was really looking forward to this challenge, and I started early looking and asking for photographs of my family. I found pictures I would never have dreamt of – Edwardian ladies in white on South African patios, or my greatgrandmother in a beautiful Kimono at a fancy dress ball. Of course, with the pictures came the stories, too, which was great, but gave me a lot to think. Somehow looking so closely at the women on the photographs and their clothes brought them and their fates very close, too, and I realized once more, how much my family has been influenced and damaged by the Third Reich and Second World War – as probably any other german family is, of course. There was the genuine Nazi, the quite courageous intellectual and everything in between. There was flight, displacement and loss, and after the war: the disillusioned father turning to drink and violence, a daily nightmare for his family. The child dying, playing with an unexploded bomb, and how the whole village brought precious eggs and other fixings for butter cake for the funeral meal. By some, even in my parent’s generation, who were children or not yet born, when the war ended, the question of guilt is still not spoken of. But of course, all these experiences are still present in the family, one way or the other.
Back to dresses – I decided to sew something my mother’s mother owned. I am named after her, and I inherited her sewing machine, a Singer from the 1950s, which I dearly love. I feel close to her in doing needlework, as I have always seen her doing. And the dress I chose is one she wore on her honeymoon.
There is a little homemade album of this journey, taking place in 1930, to Korcula, a kroatian island.
My grandmother was eighteen when she married, much younger than my grandfather, the eloquent pastor adored by all the confirmands, and I wonder how she felt, all at once being a married woman, so much sudden intimacy, and if she had a foreboding that this marriage wouldn’t always be easy.
The pictured clothes I find quite surprising. They are much plainer and less fussy than what I have seen in illustrations, even from mail order catalogues, which are supposed to mirror what people actually wore. And some of them I find almost daring, modern anyway, like this little suit:
And this is the dress I wanted to make:
I think she is wearing the dress on the picture with the archway, too, which gives a clue to how bright the different colour blocks were. Of course I didn’t find a fabric matching these blocks, so I had to colour it myself. After making a muslin to get the position of the blocks right, I took white cotton and started painting it in greens:
I taped the stripes to get the edges as clean as possible. Working with paint is quite a different thing and was new to me – you can mix it, but it wasn’t easy to find the right shades, and I needed several attempts for this:
And this is what the finished dress looks like:
Also the skirt isn’t as wide as that of my grandmother’s dress, which is a pity. I think though, hers was of lighter fabric. Since I wanted a non-transparent material, mine is thicker, so accomodating more fabric in the waistline would have made it too bulky. All in all my dress does not match hers a hundred percent, but it gets pretty close. But anyway – I think it’s beautiful and very wearable. It suits me well, and I like to wear it in remembrance of her. What a rewarding challenge!
The Challenge: Heirlooms and Heritage
Fabric: white cotton
Pattern: my own
Notions: thread, fabric paint
How historically accurate is it? The way of colouring the fabric propably isn’t. The rest of it is, so: 90%
Hours to complete: about three weeks
First worn: several times yet – I was on holidays in Italy and it was perfect for this (well, exept for the impracticality of white clothes when travelling with children)