Every Dress Tells (or Sometimes Reads) a Story

by Erin on April 23, 2007

lion dress

Robin sent me this adorable dress, which is being listed (by fandon) on eBay and ends TODAY so scoot scoot if you want it.

Here's the full dress:

lion dress

I was actually thinking about dresses and stories yesterday, because Friday I was at the GEL conference and heard Ira Glass talk about what good stories do, and how they do it. And of course, whenever I hear anything I particularly like, I think "how does this apply to dresses?"

And then I realized: stories are why I sew. Personal sewing gives a garment an inescapable story, with an inherent narrative that pulls you along to the next bit: where I found the fabric and the pattern, and how long they waited to be made; how difficult or easy it was to put together and what halfassed compromises I made with my original vision; how it turned out, and so on. (Compare this with "I saw it at the Gap and bought it.") Every dress I make is an opportunity to recount a story, as well, and being (mostly) Irish and an aspiring raconteuse, I rarely turn down an opportunity to tell a story … especially ones that are (as so many dress stories are) stories of triumphing over adversity, however small that adversity is.

Sewing's not the only way to give a garment a story, of course. Think about your favorite clothes: don't they have stories? The clothes you bought on vacation, or received from a friend or inherited from a relative, the clothes you wore on a special day or with a special person … I heard a great story about a jacket this past weekend from Henning Rübsam (I heard this story because I exclaimed over how beautiful his jacket was). He saw a gorgeous jacket in a shop, a beautiful one that not only fit him perfectly physically, but fit him spiritually as well. It was far, far, far too expensive, so he regretfully left it behind. He went into the same shop a year later, and it was still there … and, even on sale, far, far too expensive, still. A long while after that … he found it waiting for him at Century 21, finally at a price he could afford, and now it is his, and he's been wearing it, and its story, ever since.

I can see why maybe some people don't want all their clothes to have stories—it'd be exhausting to be overwhelmed with associations each time you pulled on a pair of socks—but I think, in general, garments with a narrative of their own are preferable to garments without.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Miss Kitty April 23, 2007 at 11:11 am

Ohhhhh! That is the CUTEST dress for those of us who love reading. Attention, librarians, professors, and teachers of all sorts!Love the reading lion. Reminds of Between the Lions on public TV. :-)


Summerset April 23, 2007 at 12:09 pm

Absolutely! That’s part of reason I blog!


Veronica April 23, 2007 at 12:25 pm

Ohmigod! It WANT that! Lions!! With books and glasses!!


Thoughts on Life and Millinery. April 23, 2007 at 12:55 pm

Storytelling is the seasoning of life. If I ever go for a Phd it will be in storytelling. There is a university in Tennessee that offers the degree, and a storytelling event each year that lasts an entire week!I took storytelling in my Masters program, along with nurses and teachers. It isn’t just fairy tales, it is telling (and gathering) life stories that makes storytelling such an interesting subject. And a dress? Almost always a story with a dress. Ditto a hat!


Nadia April 23, 2007 at 2:39 pm

Maybe the life of an English student is inherently overrun with themes and narratives because my socks do have narratives and names. I guess that’s what happens from pan-crafting: knit socks, sewn dress, crocheted shawl…You know what you need? Dress a Day fabric, of course!


Jen April 23, 2007 at 2:43 pm

That is so cute, and perfect for a teacher, Sunday-school teacher, or librarian or even a pediatrictian. Darling!Your thoughts about dress-sewing are interesting, too. It gives the garments more depth, and I think it shows even in the way they’re worn.


Zoltar Panaflex April 23, 2007 at 4:40 pm

I kept thinking I was a freak who not only wrote long, but thought long as well. Everything I’ve got has a backstory. I saw some delicious fabric at the store the other day. The lighting was just DISMAL. I aim to go back tomorrow with my digital, the cell photo pictures were just awful.Cream color smooth cotton with scattered letters across it, darker cream with 50’s fashionable women on it. Multi color cotton with endless measuring tapes printed on it.And who do you think I thought of? You betcha.


CandlebyNight April 23, 2007 at 7:14 pm

Thought I’d post some links to my blog with a story of great sewing trials and challenges and triumph!http://www.xanga.com/Jude1_22/572988229/the-dread-bishop.htmlAndhttp://www.xanga.com/Jude1_22/576841024/bishop-revisited-and-plans-for-the-next-project.htmlLove reading your blog.


becky f. April 23, 2007 at 7:36 pm

Nadia said what I was going to say.I don’t make socks, but I love to have fun-socks, which means I get a lot as presents. (Sometimes I think my socks are like little prayers — so-and-so bought me these in this year when she went to wherever; I hope she’s doing well.)Stories are my favorite thing.


Anonymous April 23, 2007 at 7:45 pm

“Think about your favorite clothes: don’t they have stories?” Oh so true! I’m reminded of this charming little book my sister gave me years ago: “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” by Ilene Beckerman. It’s kind of a pictorial autobiography, in which memorable clothes evoke the events of the author’s life, and vice-versa. An entire life’s narrative told through clothes– charming!


AmeliaB April 23, 2007 at 8:31 pm

The lion reminds me of him.~Amelia


Anonymous April 23, 2007 at 8:36 pm

Nicely said, and it’s hard to imagine a more likely audience to charm with thoughts on the great great beauty of process and craft. Ok, maybe like ship-in-a-bottle bloggers would’ve gotten it too, among others. (and probably tell good stories to boot)


Hannatu April 24, 2007 at 2:19 am

As a devoted dress-wearer, I am really enjoying your blog. I live in a Muslim country so wear dresses for modesty reasons. But even if I didn’t have to, I’d wear dresses…mainly because I look horrible in pants! And indeed, I have lots of clothes I wear that have an interesting story behind them!


Tipper April 24, 2007 at 6:06 am

Part of what I love about knitting is that I can take it with me anywhere, and the finished product reminds me of where it has been.


Anonymous April 24, 2007 at 12:32 pm

Check out the kids book Leo the Late Bloomer. Is it him?Clothes always have stories for me. That’s why it’s hard to get rid of them when they are past their prime.


Margo April 24, 2007 at 1:30 pm

I ADORE stories! In fact, on Sunday, I’m going to be reading stories aloud to adults. The event was crafted for children, but I said, who’s going to read to the adults? And bingo, I am! We never outgrow our love of stories and hearing stories.Erin, I like how you put sewing clothes in terms of the story of overcoming adversity. Being a practical person, I am cursing over the simple skirt I’m working on, wondering if it’s worth it because skirts and dresses are popping up everywhere in stores. So yes, I’m going to persevere to have The Story of the Skirt. ahhhhh – I love this blog!


Josie April 24, 2007 at 1:58 pm

“I can see why maybe some people don’t want all their clothes to have storiesit’d be exhausting to be overwhelmed with associations each time you pulled on a pair of socks”As someone who knits all her own socks, I can tell you that I’m going to be a bit sad when summer comes and I won’t get to wear my hand-knits for a while. Maybe that means its time for me to learn to sew! Once upon a time, people made all their own clothes, and it seems like that would make them appreciate and look after their clothes better, not just because it was harder to come by new ones, but because they valued their own (or the maker’s) time and effort. For me, it seems a bit…empty, or too easy, to pull on a pair of store-bought socks that were made by the thousands. It’s somehow humanizing to wear things that were made by hand, one at a time.


JuliaR April 24, 2007 at 2:31 pm

Since I have a degree in art history, I call it my clothes’ provenance. Nobody gets that either. But you would.


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