Memory Dress Project

Memory Dress
'The Textile Tradition Then and Now'

American Museum, Bath.
I revisited the American Museum in Bath at the invitation of Deidre McSharry to study the textiles with a view to making a piece of work in response to the collection. However hard I tried to keep an open mind, my attention and imagination was continually drawn back to the patchwork quilts, particularly the worn faded quilts, that described the amount care, love and time put into them and those that particularly evoked memories of the past that seemed to be embodied in its very fabric.

I was curious to know about the documentation of the lives of women who made the quilts. Memory is an inevitable outcome of the women's patchwork, a theme fundamental to my own work. I would use my own scraps of fabrics, letters diaries and drawings to make the dress. This could describe and follow the journey of my life. I enjoying collecting all the different pieces I needed for this purpose.

As I started to collage the surface of the dress the piece was telling a story. I tore up maps, letters, tickets, envelopes. I cut up fabric, old clothes and a pillowcase, at the outset arranging delicate childlike colours and textures around the top at the breast, allowing the shapes and the patterns to suggest themselves becoming darker towards the base of the piece.


When the dress was completely covered I considered the concepts behind the work and the aesthetics of the piece. Having read Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lilian Schlissel, and other books around the subject, I tried to keep in mind the experience of the pioneer women who traveled across America, how the dress I was making should reflect this, but it became difficult to reflect this when the work was so much around me.

At this stage the dress was a very rigid cone shape. I laid it on the floor and ripped out the inner layers of the white fabric that formed the structure of the piece. I was left with a delicate shell of fabrics. The holes that had formed became places for family photos to peep through, partly obscured. I formed pockets of net which were filled with all the detritus of ones life: shells, feathers, odd ends of jewellery, a lock of hair, postage stamps and tickets, old and foreign coins, all the odd things we gather over time. With all these things the dress the dress began to mean much more to me and I could begin to relate to the lives of the pioneer women. I imagined them and their children on their journeys keeping these kinds of mementos.

I imagine that I will keep keep adding to the dress over time, maybe stitching as well as collaging ideas onto the surface. This process of arranging 'things' or patterning has a curious rhythm to it and these reflect the rhythm and pattern of time and 'Time' is the theme here.