You know, one thing is to find time to participate in the HSF-challenges, the other thing is to find a matching project.
Challenge #18 was “poetry in motion – bring to life a garment inspired by a song or poem.“.
This really gave me a hard time. I know many poems but not a single one that could inspire a garment came to my mind. And the ones I could think of were all pre-raffaelite medieval-themed ones, but I really didn’t want to sew a medieval dress, I already have one and never wear it, no use for a second.
After having consulted all my (english) books containing poetry I still had no concrete garment to put my finger on, but two poems that left me with some inspiration. The first got dismissed because I couldn’t find neither a matching pattern nor had I a matching fabric (R. Aldington – In the tube). So I was left with
Those of you who know it might wonder how this might serve as an inspiration for a garment.
The poem was written in late 1915 and tells about the horrors of war the author experienced himself in Flanders after having joined the British Army in August of the same year.
In a little London-Poems-Anthology I found an excerpt of this quite long poem, part VI, the last part. It describes how a crowd of women dressed in black waits for the soldiers at Charing Cross station, not knowing that their beloved are long since dead. Though they do not know there is no hope left in their faces, who appear as dead as the ones of their dear ones.
A great crowd, all black that hardly whispers aloud.
Surely, that is a dead woman – a dead mother!
She has a dead face;
She is dressed in black;
And there is another and another and another…
And little children, all in black,
All with dead faces, waiting in all the waiting-places,
In the dark of the night.
This is Charing Cross; it is past one of the clock;
There is very little light.
There is so much pain.
This black crowd with no hopes left, waiting in the gloom of the station at night created a very clear image in my head. The poem when read aloud has a very impressive rhythm that makes it appear even more vivid to me (I experience very similar effects when reading Paul Celan’s “Die Todesfuge”, maybe some german speaking readers might know the poem).
I can clearly see all that women facing the bare tracks, waiting. They have stood there too often to expect a train and still refuse to stop coming there. They face hunger, the salary of the beloved soldier is missing, they fear to think of the coming winter. The mothers miss their sons, still virtually children. The wives fear the loss of their Sweethearts and have long ceased to answer the whining questions of their children, missing their fathers.
I imagine them dressed in long, droopy robes with no colour, shine or elegance left. Maybe some still haven’t given up hope and have bought a new suit to welcome the homecomer, some may have to work hard to survive and come straight from their masters or in simple clothes they wore to clean the house or harvest some apples.
Therefore I searched for simple patterns with only few elegant touches and no decoration, something like this, imagine it in black cotton or wool, not ironed and without these laughing faces and elegant postures. This was the picture I had in mind.
In the end I went for a pattern from “The Ladies’ Tailor” from 1915, printed in Nora Waugh’s “The cut of women’s clothes” (fig. 50, for those who own it). Because I ran out of time I only made the skirt and not the matching jacket. The skirt is very tight fitted around the waist and the hips, below the hips it is wide and ruffled. I did not copy the Waugh pattern, but constructed a broad, corset-like shaped waistband on my dress form. A little calculating and dedusting of my geometry skills helped me to construct the ruffled, slightly flared lower part of the skirt.
The waistband consists of one layer of thick upholstery cotton tabby-weave, covered with the skirt-fabric, a black cotton twill with little stretch.
It is closed with a row of star-shaped buttons in the back. Not historical, I know. But when it was nearly finished and I first wore it, it reminded me of my black, goth teen years and I remembered that I had long wanted to sew a long black all-purpose-skirt. Very unexpectedly, there it was! And because I had used these black star-buttons on so many of my goth garments it seemed to be only appropriate to use the last ones I had for this skirt.
This is also the reason why I made it slightly longer as 1915-fashion would have been. Historically correct it would end just above the ankles. But I really liked the almost floor length look when first trying it, I couldn’t help but make only a narrow hem to leave it as long as possible.
The Challenge: #18 Poetry in motion
The Poem: Ford Madox Ford – Antwerp (esp. part VI This is Charing Cross)
Fabric: black cotton twill with a little stretch, waistband doubled with heavy grey upholstery cotton
Pattern: self-drafted after “The Ladies’ Tailor” 1915 as printed in Nora Waugh’s “The cut of women’s clothes”
Notions: black thread, eight plastic buttons.
How historically accurate is it? The pattern is close to the original, cotton twill is at least possible for the time. I am sure the construction would have been done differently, with boning and stiff horse hair interlacing instead of upholstery fabric. Buttons aren’t historical at all, nor is the closure itself. A hidden row of hooks and eyes would have been more likely.
Hours to complete: The waistband needed a lot of basting stitches, the buttonholes are handsewn. And the construction of the pattern took a little time. Maybe 5h in total.
First worn: not yet/for photos
Total cost: Fabric was a gift from a friend of my mother’s, lining upholstery fabric a gift from my uncle. Buttons were 25ct each, so 2€ in total, without the thread.
See you soon, love,
Sources: All information about the author and the poem as well as the excerpts from the latter I drew from:
Adolf Barth (publ.): London Poems, Stuttgart 2001 (first publ. in 1988), pages 53f and78f