Red Dress Project

The Red Dress Project originally conceived by British artist Kirstie Macleod, provides a creative artistic platform using embroidery to tell personal stories of women around the world who are marginalised and live in poverty. Lorna J Carter, student of BA Textile Design attended the event at The Shell, Parkside and was able to meet Kirstie, founder of the project and talk about the Red Dress.

Over the last 13 years, pieces of the Red Dress travelled the globe being continuously embroidered. The red dress is made of 84 pieces of burgundy silk dupion and the garment has been worked on by 346 women and 7 men from 47 countries, with all 136 commissioned artisans paid for their work, as well as receiving a portion of all ongoing exhibition fees.

Arriving early to ensure I had a good seat; I was fortunate in being able to chat with Kirstie while she unpacked the gown from its steel box.  Having only seen photographs on social media and her website, I was enthralled to watch Kirstie arrange the voluminous petticoats, the crinoline style skirt and the boned, fitted bodice, onto a plain, black mannequin.  Kirstie later told the audience that she did not like the dress displayed on a human except for very special occasions since one would be drawn to the person, rather than the dress.  She told us that she felt the feminine structure emphasised  feminine power, strength, vulnerability, unity, love, identity  and identity by culture.

The Red Dress has been the centre piece of a huge project for the past 13 years, involving 353 artisans, refugees and migrants as well as bespoke embroiders and community groups. It has taken over her life and she describes being able to “feel their grief.”

Hearing about the power of storytelling and other people’s life events was thought-provoking.  There is definitely a connection between people who have never met, who might not understand one another, but who achieve a commonality by stitching in this way.  Some of the stories were sad, moving and even harrowing and Kirstie has learned to distance herself from the inevitable emotions and take care of her own mental health by having monthly counselling sessions.

I believe that this was a very special event, many of us were in awe at the sheer size of the project and I know that I really appreciate the opportunity to meet up with other students and staff from the different disciplines and swap ideas and thoughts.  Many of us stayed on to sit and contemplate The Red Dress, discussing the stitching and taking photographs. Each time one looked at the dress it was possible to see something different, or something previously unnoticed.

There is a great deal of information to process; I was also able to interview Kirstie for my dissertation and I was very moved by some of the stories as there were similar stories from the people with whom I have worked, also using craft and the art making and therefore it affected me emotionally too, and emphasised the importance of taking care of one’s own health and well-being and nurturing one’s creative soul. 

I should like to think that this has inspired my journey, late in life though it is!

Lorna J Carter
BA Textile Design

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