What to do with this dress? It has languished out of sight firstly in the freezer for a week or two to deal with any remnant clothes moths and then in a box of ‘promising projects’ in my workroom for over a year.
Since receiving the Black Beaded Dress’s story however, I can no longer avoid attempting to unravel the secrets hidden within the fabric. I haul out the dress and hope for inspiration. As I lift it from its nesting place, rather a lot of beads fall from the dress and ping across the wooden floor of the lounge. Dozens of other beads are caught in the bottom of the plastic bag the dress has been stored in; most of them then fall through a small hole in the corner, and I am on my hands and knees scooping the beads up along with other detritus from the floor. Bag repaired, beads corralled, I sit back to await inspiration.
I reflect that my maternal grandmother was purportedly a stitcher of beads, taking in the dresses of wealthy women and ruining her eyes sewing the tiny sparkling glass pieces intricately across rich fabrics. I have patience for many intensive sewing methods but not, I suspect, for beading. There is a deadline for my response to this piece and the dress’s story urges me to “pass it on, to let it go out into the world, and shine again…” This pressure to create knocks any thoughts from my head leaving my mind as blank as the first page in a new sketchbook - pristine, perfect and utterly incorruptible. Too scared to sully the metaphorical blank page of the dress, I attempt to analyse my thinking - or rather the lack thereof – and turn to writing.
I could denude the dress entirely of beads, foretelling the ultimate fate of the dress, but that doesn’t seem to be the right tack. I could sew on the fallen beads in an attempt to repair the wear and restore the dress to its former glory, returning us to its heyday. But that precludes the starting point of the inherited story, and besides, I cringe at the thought of threading all those beads onto a needle.
I examine the dress again. On closer inspection it is obviously handmade and the beading even extends to the inside of the dress at the hem and the facing of the zip seams. I struggle to place the era the dress would have been made in – the 1970’s perhaps? None of this brings me any closer to unlocking the hidden stories. Perhaps I’m thinking too hard and need to distract myself with something else to allow the thoughts and feelings to percolate through my still blank mind.
On a further study, I suddenly settle on the idea of highlighting the areas where the beads have fallen off by creating heart shaped blank spaces further embellished with silver stitched words from the story. The blank spaces creating an absence, the missing desire hankered for in the story, the words counterpointing that loss. Creative crisis solved, I head off to gardening, shopping, baking and stringing onions. I mentioned the project to my partner over some joint apple juicing. He says: “Is there an image other than a heart that you could use? It feels like there needs to be a counter-narrative”. That’s what you get for asking a media studies lecturer. He’s right of course. What I’m actually doing is avoiding really engaging with the story and admitting to how it makes me feel. Memories of years of lonely romantic longings and heart breaking assignations bubble up when I read the story; times I would prefer not to remember. I recall those same thrills of being with the latest object of my desire, dressing up in some fabulous frock to be irresistible. I also recall the crushing betrayals when they choose someone else. Why was it never obvious that pursuing a certain type of person will always lead to heartbreak, whilst simultaneously failing to see the gentle soul who is right in front of you?
So how to communicate my part in this? And where does that leave all of us – the storyteller, the dress and me? Is the storyteller now happy - perhaps with the gentle soul of her tale? I no longer haunt social settings hoping to meet my soul mate. Does that mean we have both found our happy ever afters? And what of the dress? Destined to be handed from one sorrowful heart to another? I may have solved my problem superficially of what to do with the dress to meet my deadline, but I’m not sure I’ve plumbed the depths of what the dress has to say to me yet.