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Alices Dress

The Family at Cindy's Wedding. Mom in the Dress




What Remains -of Alices Dress


Why do we save old things? Why did this dress sit in a closet for 40 years in my mothers house? It was moved two or three times, never with any expectation of wearing it again. Made of silk, expertly crafted by talented seamstresses in the 1960's. The neckline of the dress was heavily hand beaded with delicate silver lined glass beads/ Nothing like today's fast fashion.

This dress was made of crepe de chine and fully lined with fine cotton. The dress had a matching coat, perfect for a spring wedding. But saldy it was not preserved with modern technoloy and even the smallest of stains were magnified with decades of being kept in a plastic dress bag.

I became the owner of this dress about 15 years ago. Why did I keep it? I could never wear it, my mother was smaller than I. But I did, put it in the closet for another 15 years. Then I decided it needed a new life, a purpose, or become an aritfact the reprepsented my mother.

Beautiful, strong but damaged


Once I decided the dress and coat needed new life, I began to "cut it up". I decided to do it without guilt feelings, or any nostalgia. But, once I started cutting, I saw the beauty of the construction of the dress and the pieces, the tshapes found in the design. I decided to unsew the dress, attempt to retain the shapes found with in the design.


Working with the materials was different, I ususally use cotton in my artwork, so working with silk required a different set of deconstruction methods. I carefully unstitched every piece. The silk and cotton lining were then painted. I used a textile paint that would not change the hand of the textile. The real challenge came when I got to the beaded collar.

Do I use this dominant peice of the dress intact? Or do I take it apart.



I chose, eventually, to unpick the beads and use the seperately Anoher discovery to construction was the thread used was still strong, still intact. A beautifully made garment.


The work became a effort of understanding more than a techical level. Cutting up an item, deconstructing, what I understood to be something of value, made me think about so many things.


First, this dress and coat, is it one of the things that remains of my mother. A child of the depression, some one who grew up very poor but longed for better things, a better life. She was the first girl born to a large immigrant family. Stories I remember were about wearing the hand me downs from her brothers, wearing her grandmothers shoes. She didn't remember them fondly. She broke out of the restraints of poverty to become a model in Los Angeles, and eventually she traveled the world as a wife of an Army officer. She loved pretty things and this dress was very pretty and she was very happy wgraph is hen it was worn.

Second and most importantly was reconnecting iwth What Remains of the relationship betwen me and my mother. It was complicated like many mother duaghter relationships. My mother was complicated, I was another generation who didn't do what she thought I should. To be very clear, she did not get me!

Working this dress the remains, just let me focus on who she was and who I am and who we were as well.

Eventually, I made 5 Alices Dress. This piece used mostly silk from the dress, but a few pieces of dupioni silk from another project It is hand stitched, machine quilted and hand beaded


This photo is from the 1930's My moms is wearing pants, probably her brother pants. She was in many ways a trailblazer for the 4 sisters that came ofter her. The feature figure was "lifted" from this photo and enlarged. It was printed onto chiffon and painted with a pick wash.

So much happened with the piece, What Remians is always interestomg.

Susan Callahan February 2024

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