THE RED DRESS with inspiring Kirstie Macleod
I have been following The Red Dress on social media for many years now. Last November, several days before my birthday, I noticed that Kirstie Macleod was taking The Red Dress to Wells and it would be available for the public to see during the morning. What an amazing way to spend my birthday, The Red Dress in the morning followed by lunch at one of my favourite restaurants. We met up with another stitch friend, Christine and her husband and all of us were spellbound by The Red Dress, the story and of course Kirstie herself. It was on that day I decided it would be truly wonderful to share The Red Dress with members of the Textile & Stitch Around Marlborough. Thanks to emails between Christine and Kirstie we were able to make this happen and on Monday 3 October 2022 The Red Dress came to Lockeridge.
I was particularly fascinated by the way Kirstie brought an aluminium trunk out of her car and after 15 minutes of unpacking, The Red Dress was beautifully displayed for everyone to see. We had positioned it so members and their guests could easily walk around and enjoy seeing the wonderful individual embroideries at close range. While chatting Kirstie mentioned that about 100 new pieces of embroidery had been added since I saw The Red Dress last November but she now felt The Red Dress was complete.
After everyone had had time to enjoy The Red Dress Kirstie started her presentation by explaining that, because of her father’s work, she travelled the world as a child. Members of her family had been inspiration to her, teaching her to knit and sew and it was whilst living in Africa that an Indian lady had taught her to embroider. Kirstie then went on to take a BA in Textile Design at Bristol and a MA in Visual Language & Performance. Whilst travelling in Southern India Kirstie spent many hours with local ladies learning their embroidery skills.
Before hearing about The Red Dress in detail, it was interesting to hear about other work Kirstie had done. In 2008 she was commissioned to produce a dress for Emelan. It was 16 metres in diameter and as a result of this project, she was given funding by the British Council Dubai and that was the start of The Red Dress project. In 2015 Kirstie was asked to create a dress for the opera Phaedra. The brief stated the dress had to be 15 ft tall and to degrade over 15 minutes. There were three dress rehearsals and two performances!
The Red Dress began it’s life being sketched on a napkin. Originally the intention was for it to provide an artistic platform for women around the world to tell their personal stories through embroidery but over the 13 years the project has encouraged self-expression and an opportunity for voices to be heard.
To date 353 embroiderers, mainly women, and 7 men from 47 countries have been involved. Kirstie explained that to start with she would stitch the dress sitting in a cube to remind people of women’s oppression and persecution but as time went on she came out of the cube to promote a more positive atmosphere. Kirstie had not visited all the countries involved with the project and explained that she would post off pieces of the silk to people who she had been able to contact and ask them to produce an embroidery using their own threads.
Some of the embroideries were commissioned but a lot were done by volunteers. The artisans now receive a percentage of income generated by the charity from sales, exhibitions and talks and Kirstie explained that they would use this money to improve their lives, their homes or to buy animals.
In her presentation Kirstie showed us a wonderful selection of photos of ladies from a variety of countries stitching their embroideries and mentioned her visits to Kosovo, Rwanda, the Congo and Australia. More recently The Red Dress had been to Poland where a group of Ukrainian ladies sang as they stitched and last week Kirstie returned from a visit to Egypt where she worked with Bedouin ladies before a visit to Cairo.
As a textile and stitch group we were particularly interested to hear about the construction of the dress. In 2009 Kirstie went to Paris to buy the burgundy silk dupion. 50 meters of fabric were originally purchased, but over the years much was removed from the skirt (so the embroidery could be viewed better) Kirstie estimates there is now 20m within the 86 panels that make up The Red Dress. The bodice is constructed with corset bones and the closure is with small buttons held in place by fabric loops. At one time Kirstie would let anybody touch the dress but nowadays she works with a conservator and consequently has to be more careful.
At the end of the presentation Kirstie kindly answered a number of questions including what plans she had for her future and the future of the dress. As the project has taken over her life, Kirstie is keen to draw on her experience to create her own work and mentioned the trauma and abuse she had heard from ladies in certain countries. As far as The Red Dress is concerned, it is planned for it to visit all the countries which were involved with the project and this could possibly take about 10 years. After that, Kirstie hoped it would go into a museum but that is for future plans.
I would like to pass on my grateful thanks to Kirstie Macleod for visiting us with The Red Dress and for her inspiring presentation. I know everyone will enjoy following The Red Dress in the months and years to come.
Report by Ros
Photos by Ros and Lindsay (thanks Lindsay for the videos!)
The Red Dress website: https://reddressembroidery.com/
Etsy link for purchasing The Red Dress catalogue: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/1250167126/the-red-dress-catalogue?click_key=982d4fc1da6a94aed3d7d4631c65c38efb2e6450%3A1250167126&click_sum=cee7b80a&ref=shop_home_active_1&crt=1
YouTube – short resume of project by Kirsty Macleod (2.22 mins) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uT_1a_mFnSY
YouTube talk by Kirsty Macleod (1 hr) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzTZL11ig_c
Kirstie Macleod’s own website: https://www.kirstiemacleod.co.uk/