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Dressmaking, Maps and Silk Handkerchiefs

On Saturday The Mercerie hosted the first of our dressmaking workshops in Norwich, with the very brilliant Pat Hodger, and a lovely group of ‘makers’.

In preparation I had decided to brush up on my own sewing skills and bought one and a half meters of cotton, printed with images of a London street map, to make my own A Line skirt. I unfolded and smoothed out the fabric on the kitchen table and spent some time studying it, identifying railway stations, tube lines and tracing routes I haven’t walked for many years.

This train of thought led me to consider the fabrics historical precedents, in particular the silk scarves and handkerchiefs that have depicted maps of London in the past. I pictured the maps on silk squares stuffed into the pockets of Victorian gentlefolk, and 1950’s scarves that were the jolly souvenirs of forgotten day trips and weekends away. I remembered seeing a head scarf, printed in 1941, with a map detailing the buildings destroyed in the blitz, and the  ‘escape maps’ printed onto salvaged parachute silk that were handed out to bomber pilots in the second World War.

I laid the skirt pattern pieces on the fabric and began to cut my way through alleyways, footpaths, dual carriage ways and green spaces. I parted the River Thames, sliced through Smithfields market and snipped my way through Bloomsbury terminating train lines and dividing whole communities as I went.

As the skirt took shape Piccadilly Circus was folded into a box pleat, the London Eye was stitched up and Television Centre was zipped together with 20 inches of plastic teeth.

Finally, when the skirt was finished I inspected my newly cut and sewn version of London – where East meets West in mismatched seams, points of departure go nowhere and all the routes lead off the map

So I tried it on, and when I stepped into it – it was the perfect fit.


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