I climbed up the karaka tree
Into a nest all made of leaves
But soft as feathers.
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.
Little Brother came up the patch, wheeling his barrow.
I made my dress into wings and kept very quiet.
For a moment he looked quite startled;
Then he said: “Pooh, you’re not a bird; I can see
But the daisies didn’t really matter,
And Little Brother didn’t really matter;
I felt just like a bird.
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:
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.