Sewing as a woman.

Preparing to sew my first garment I find I’m getting ready to join in a long queue of skilled artisans. I’m researching fabrics, techniques and tutorials while I wait for my patterns to arrive. There is so much knowledge! So much eye for details. So many skilled hands. From this place all over the world. From my time all the way back in time to the first time someone covered themselves up.

There is so much more to discover than the clothes I know from my life thus far. I’ve never looked beyond cheap clothes form the stores (that never fit perfect) or ridiculous clothes on the fashion runways. Now I find there is a world of women who know how to fit a piece of cloth to the human form.

My personal line is going from my mother in the ’70s who made expressive garments to my grandmother in the ’30s who sewed spiritual dresses for her dance performances in colonial clubs in the East Indies, accompanied on the piano by the love of her life whom she met on the voyage getting there.

To the centuries of farm women before her who knew their measurements and made everything from scratch while abiding and expressing social messages in their Dutch traditional clothes. They knew how to make cloth from a sheep, from a plant or from leather. It was as common and great a skill as was making fire from a tinder box. Just because modern people haven’t been exposed to it doesn’t mean we don’t have a knack for it.

Dutch traditional dress from various regions, all different, all hand made:

Each region had their own silhouette, their own colours, their own customs. Their own head attire. This is just a very small selection.

There’s remarkable thing about the traditional clothes you see above. There are clothes from about 8 different towns and there’s a lot of black to be seen. The reason there is so much black is that black was added to a costume to indicate sorrow or grief. There are various rules for this: how long you had to wear black, how subdued the overall colours had to be. All depending on who died and how close related you were to them.

As these traditional ways of dressing were dying out only the elder people were still wearing it, with lots of reasons to wear black. Their spouse might have died. Or an adult child. That’s why the memory that still remains in our culture of these dresses is that they are often black or dark coloured. But they are not.

In truth they were brightly coloured and very elaborate. Colour indicated richness. (although dark coloured woolen skirts are very practical in use)

Young girls in Marken dress from around 1910, via wikipedia. The girl in the back is grieving for a distant relative, her sleeves have more dark in them and her hat and bodice darker/more subdued too.

Traditional dress from Spakenburg, photograph by Guus Herbschleb. The flowery fabric occurs in a lot of traditional dress, it echoos the rich fabrics that were brought in from the East Indies back in the 17th century. That was called ‘the Golden century’. Rembrandt, tulips and trading spices and slavery…

dress from Hindeloopen, by

I’m looking forward to have non-black dresses. Black may be safe for a lot of people, it is bit too hard for me. It makes me look stern. Cold. Besides, I don’t need the safety.

lets end with a print by Paul Berthon, 1872-1909 (artist); L. Prang & Co. (publisher)

you know tulips aren’t original from Holland, yeah?


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