20th Century, Historical Sew Fortnightly

A dress for when I was a bird

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com

I climbed up the karaka tree
Into a nest all made of leaves
But soft as feathers.

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com
I made up a song that went on singing all by itself
And hadn’t any words, but got sad at the end.

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com
There were daisies in the grass under the tree.
I said just to try them:
“I’ll bite off your heads and give them to my little
children to eat.”

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com

But they didn’t believe I was a bird;
They stayed quite open.
The sky was like a blue nest with white feathers
And the sun was the mother bird keeping it warm.
That’s what my song said: though it hadn’t any words.

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com

Little Brother came up the patch, wheeling his barrow.
I made my dress into wings and kept very quiet.

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com
Then when he was quite near I said: “Sweet, sweet!”

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com
For a moment he looked quite startled;
Then he said: “Pooh, you’re not a bird; I can see
your legs.”
A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com
But the daisies didn’t really matter,
And Little Brother didn’t really matter;
I felt just like a bird.

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com
With the Historical Sew Fortnightly ‘Poetry in Motion’ challenge coming up, I wasn’t sure what to make.  It was the one challenge of the year where I didn’t have a plan ahead of time.  But I was very much deep in Katherine Mansfield, and Mansfield has always been one of my favourite poets.

So I dug through Mansfield’s poems, looking for inspiration.  I was instantly attracted to ‘In the Rangitaki Valley‘, with its imagery of yellow broom flowers (of course!), but coming just after the yellow challenge, and with a bunch of yellow UFOs, none of which were appropriate to the poem, I decided it wasn’t the right moment.

Instead I read through another of my favourites: ‘When I was a bird‘, and instantly saw a dress in the poem.  Not only a dress, but one I’ve already made: the Vionnet Chiton-inspired dress.  It’s got wings, and, when making it from kimono fabric, the mon become little floral daisies.  And it’s very Mansfield-y: ca. 1920, avant garde, loose and free.

I may have already made more than one Chiton dress, but I can never have too many, and I didn’t have a black one that fit me (because the one in my closet shrunk.  Uh-huh. Yes it did.)

So I unpicked another kimono, and whipped up a dress in an afternoon.  A model wore it for the Mansfield talk (and looked fabulous!), but I wanted a photoshoot inspired by the poem.  So on Saturday Mr D and I headed out into the sunshine.

I couldn’t think of anywhere there was a climbable karaka tree (they tend to have thick trunks that shoot straight up with no branches from some time), and in any case it was Mr D’s turn to pick the location for our walk, and he chose the Massey Memorial and surrounds.

As it turned out, the Massey Memorial was an inspired choice.  The broom was in full bloom, scenting the air and covering the hillsides in yellow, so I got to have a ‘breast high in the blossoms I stand’ moment after all:

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com

 

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com

 

The Challenge: #18 Poetry in Motion

The Poem: Katherine Mansfield’s ‘When I was a bird’

Fabric: 1 vintage silk kimono, unpicked

Pattern: My own, inspired by a Vionnet original.

Year: ca. 1920

Notions: cotton thread.

How historically accurate is it?: Practically perfect in every way.  Except that Vionnet’s original would have been entirely handsewn, because it was couture.

Hours to complete: 3

First worn: For ‘Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield’, Sat 4 Oct

Total cost: $5 for the kimono.

7 Comments

  1. That’s so beautiful, all of it. I have nothing else to say about it.
    And guess what, I’ve found out some of her stories were actually translated into Czech! Although after reading this, I would much prefer it if I could get my hand on an English-language copy. 🙂

  2. The dress is lovely, the landscape is beautiful, and you can’t beat getting real vintage silk to reuse for $5! Wonderfully done.

  3. These photos are just stunning, and so is the dress. I love the way you used the mon to represent the daisies, and you’re right; it is perfect for Katherine Mansfield.

    I am very, very impressed with your Vionnet chiton pattern.

    • Thank you! I was really happy with how it came together, and still love this pattern. And am so ticked you are impressed!

  4. Deanna says

    The poem and photos are beautiful. You always look so at home outdoors.

    I want to find more of Katherine Mansfield’s work now.

    Also, you look as if you’re in a Pre-Raphaelite painting in the first photo. (I mean that as a compliment, I know they aren’t to everyone’s taste.)

    • Thank you! I feel at home outdoors too – just as long as there is a nice bath and a proper kitchen not too far away! 😉

      Do read more Mansfield – she’s an amazing author.

      And thank you very much! I’m not the biggest Pre-Raphaelite fan, but I can still see how beautiful they are, and that’s actually exactly what the first photo made me think of – a Pre-Raphaelite painting, or a photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron (only without the creepy dead eyes that all her photos seem to have!)

  5. Elise says

    Yay! My favorite Dreamstress Dress!

    I find poetry so hard to read–funny, because I do have a graduate degree in literature. Any tips of how to read poetry and enjoy it?

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