Copyright © Natalie LeBlanc 2020 all rights reserved.
My Dress Story
My mother was a tailoress in Scotland before moving to Canada at the age of seventeen. Throughout her lifetime, she made a significant amount of my clothing — from my baptism gown to my prom dress and numerous school clothes and halloween costumes in between. Having taught me how to sew at a young age, my mother planted a seed. As a result, I have collected and saved all of the pieces of fabric from my life and I am in the process making a dress with them. My life dress.
The process of selecting, cutting, arranging and sewing the fabric for my dress (re)connected me with my past. Each piece of fabric that I touched, felt, and studied became channels to a memory and to a story. Each piece evoked a different emotion; from happiness to sadness, fear and excitement, to nostalgia and even embarrassment. Evoking things that were forgotten, they also provoked new thoughts about who I was, who am, and who I am becoming.
In talking about clothing, and dresses in particular, women not only reveal personal anecdotes, they reveal personal stories about their lives that bring forth ideas pertaining to the body, identity and culture. Sandra Weber and Claudia Mitchell (2004) propose a methodology called “dress stories” (p. 4) in which clothing can act an entry point for autobiography and inquiry. Their methodology is intriguing because it not only concerns itself with the dress as a visual object, it emphasizes “the wearer’s view,” which is a perspective that particularizes “dresses-in-use,” “dresses embodied” and “dresses worn” (Weber & Mitchell, 2004, p. 5).
I found myself thinking about everyone who had come into my life in some way and to the relationships that I have had. Not only of my mother, but other family members that include my brothers, my father, my past and current friends and boyfriends, schoolmates, teachers, coaches and co-workers. I soon found myself thinking about the role that structure played in the formation of these relationships (schools I had attended, churches I belonged to; extra-curricular activities I had taken part in, and sports that I practiced which included gymnastics, highland dancing, swimming, diving, painting, and piano to name a few). In constructing my dress, I was reflecting on much more than the garments of clothing; I was reflecting on the relations and the contexts for which I wore them in. I was becoming aware of all of the contexts that had helped shape who I was: the beliefs I held/hold and to the virtues I consider important. The process of re-constructing my fabric opened up a site for which I was able to gain understanding about the person I was, am, and want to become — in relation to the people and to the cultural and societal factors that have also helped shape me throughout my life.
The choices that I have made and will continue to make are embodied in this dress. Not only in the fabric, but in the structure. My mother did not simply teach me how to sew — her love, strength, as well as her honesty and sense of humour are instilled in who I am. I chose to make a corset because it is not only a garment that is worn very close to the body, it both shapes and supports it.
The structure of the dress is a curricular signifier for who I am — a palimpsest of the memories, thoughts, and emotions that are a part of me. I had a mother who loved me very much. Who taught me what she knew about her craft so that I too, could go on to do something great with that knowledge. During the process of making my dress, I have (re)connected with my past and with my present while acknowledging the person for which I have the potential to become. As such, my dress will forever be incomplete. I will continue to add pieces of fabric from my future experiences and from my family’s future experiences. It will continue to grow as I continue to grow. It will change as I change.
Weber, S. & Mitchell, C. (Eds.) (2004). Not Just Any Dress: Narratives of Memory, Body, and Identity. New York, NY: Peter Lang.
For more information about this work, see:
LeBlanc, N., Davidson, S. F., Ryu, J., & Irwin, R. L. (2015). Becoming through A/r/tography, Autobiography and Stories in Motion. The International Journal of Education through Art. Special Issue on Education Through Art: Practice-based Research in Art and Design, 11(3), 355-374.