The Red Dress project started 14 years ago as an idea conceived by British embroiderer Kirstie Macleod. An idea to showcase the skills of traditional and contemporary embroidery artisans from around the globe. Initially the purpose of the project was to connect women through embroidery without any bias or indeed borders, the project grew and over the fourteen years of its creation has become so much more, encouraging conversation about communities, traditions, culture and an opportunity for so many to express their voice with the thread of embroidery at the very heart.
The finished garment is constructed out of 87 pieces of burgundy silk dupion, the garment has been worked on by 367 women/girls, 11 men/boys and 2 non-binary artists from 51 countries. The Red Dress has been exhibited in various galleries and museums worldwide, including Gallery Maeght in Paris, Art Dubai, Museo Des Arte Popular in Mexico City, the National Library of Kosovo, National Waterfront Museum in Wales, Fashion and Textile Museum, London, an event at the Royal Academy in London, and the Premio Valcellina Textiles award in Maniago, Italy where it won first prize in 2015.
Hand and Lock were honoured to have participated in this epic and inspiring project back in 2009. Drawing upon our own heritage we looked into our archive to revisit traditional English floral motifs on a Cornely machine, adding elements of our British history and refined skill.
"The silhouette of this dress is intentionally strong and empowered. I've used military pattern cuts along the shoulders and front bodice, but I wanted it to read in a very feminine way. Every line is curved and it's fully corseted. I think it's got a regal presence."
At the heart of The Red Dress project was the belief that the red dress could be a canvas for a unique story. Participants were encouraged to share their personal experiences and perspectives through embroidery, stitching symbols, words, and images that represented their journey or the journeys of the women they wished to honour. Each part of the red dress became a patchwork of emotions, narrating tales of strength, resilience, vulnerability, and triumph. The power of the project lay in the diversity of stories it held, acknowledging the multitude of experiences that shape the lives of women around the world.
Macleod said “The silhouette of this dress is intentionally strong and empowered. I’ve used military pattern cuts along the shoulders and front bodice, but I wanted it to read in a very feminine way. Every line is curved and it’s fully corseted. I think it’s got a regal presence.”
The Red Dress will be travelling to many different galleries, museums, and event spaces around the world with a view to visit all the countries that took part in this wonderful project. The end result is both impressive in appearance and in its storytelling and captures the essence of how a needle and thread can connect communities and cultures.