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Nothing lasts forever?

June 16, 2010

Something else that caught my eye in the V&A.
An embroidered skirt (or perhaps an underskirt or petticoat?) from Greece, made of “five loom widths of a mixed cotton and linen” and embroidered in black silk. The pleated top edge of the skirt is designed to be worn high under the arms, and is held up with straps:

What grabbed my attention, apart from the beautifully worked blackwork stitching, is the fact that the name of its wearer and maker has been stitched into the design, Maria Papadopoula. And the date- 1757. I think if I’d put as much love and time into a garment, I’d stitch my name and date into it too, in the same way that an artist might sign a painting. The signature and the date fascinate me- they tell me Maria knew she was creating a garment to be cherished, a family heirloom. If only she’d known that one day it would find its way into a museum!

Nowadays, apart from very special occasionwear  like wedding dresses and christening gowns, this long-term view of our clothing is not something that we really take. Even if we’re sewing our own clothes. Yes, we want our clothes to last, but our expectation of the period they will last for is probably considerably shorter than 300 years. Nowadays, by the time you’ve worked hand embellishment on a scale like this, fashion has begun to move on- silhouettes are changing, proportions are altering. Unless, of course, the garment you embellish is absolutely timeless- a blank canvas, such as this linen skirt.

(And then there’s the old impermanency/beauty contradiction: Clothing doesn’t last for ever; it deteriorates unless conserved in strictly controlled environmental conditions that only museums can achieve. But does the fact that that such beauty is impermanent mean it is even more beautiful/valuable?)

So all this is what I’m pondering today- making garments with an eye to the longterm. Definitely not the easy option for a creator, a designer, or a store. (And part of the reason I’m so admiring of artisans and stores who do bring an heirloom perspective to the everyday-  like SmockingGun over on Etsy. I am eyeing up the blouses….) 

I don’t own much actual vintage/antique clothing, but, thinking about it now, the few pieces I do have I was drawn to for their detail. They’re all basically canvasses for embellishment, and mostly by home sewers. But maybe I should get them out and take some pics?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Sid permalink
    June 16, 2010 4:07 pm

    It is a wonderful and beautiful effort, and a testimony in itself, to the love of wearing an article of clothing, a piece of art, worthy of putting her name on, sadly hidden away where only she knows about it, right up against her own skin, where only she feels it, and knows the significance of the huge amount of work and thought she put it into making it. Her women friends must have known too. Maybe they all signed their masterpieces! The hidden life of a woman! On her undergarments. But I think I understand it, only from a modern point of view, when I make something to wear, and it actually turns out to be wearable(!) and it is pretty exciting to have done it myself. A secret. On another note, about quilts, have you seen the Gee’s Bend quilts? I don’t know if they have been to your part of the world, but you can look at them on the web. Thanks for the showing the lovely blackwork.

    • glassoffashion permalink
      June 17, 2010 11:43 am

      Ah, that elusive feeling when you wear something you’ve made yourself that you’re actually pleased with! I’m much less noble than you, Sid, I’m very bad at keeping that sort of thing a secret. The slightest comment from anyone on a garment and I’m off into full “I made it!” rant, plus technical specs. (Perhaps I should sew big labels on the back of all my clothes that say “I MADE THIS”.) And thank you for directing my attention to the Gee’s Bend quilts- fabulous.

  2. Sid permalink
    June 17, 2010 3:25 pm

    Well, I don’t know about the noble part. But if I made jackets and knitted things as well as you do, I would be loud about it too! And I would listen very closely to your technical specs rant. But I am dogged about it though, and the best part is that it does work out sometimes, and that is what keeps me moving forward. It’s not all elusive!

    • glassoffashion permalink
      June 18, 2010 11:29 am

      You’re very kind- thank you- I don’t deserve those comments at all. I’m slowly training myself to get over the fact that garments I sew have to be absolutely perfect. It’s interesting looking at a lot of vintage/couture pieces in museums to see that they are beautifully made but not absolutely machine-perfect- because so much of the sewing is done by hand, and they seem much more like “living” garments because of it, if that makes any sense….

  3. Sid permalink
    June 23, 2010 3:40 pm

    I think it makes a lot of sense to me. The design, the thought , and the handwork, all the effort put into a garment just fascinates me. I never answered your poll about who we are when we vacation(!), but I am the one who usually visits a museum, or something specific. Not always-I don’t always want to be a driven nerd! But, I do want to see as much as possible, and then collapse in the chair in the warm place. Anyway, isn’t great when people have made the effort to save those beautiful garments they have cherished. Wasn’t Betty Page a porn star? I love that the store you bought that beautiful robe from is named for her!

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