Speak, Memory, about a dress

On the road from World’s End to the harbor, we drove through Hingham center slowly enough that I could look at store windows as we passed. In one, I saw a dress that turned my head. The image of it hovered in my imagination as we walked through the farmer’s market, bought homemade cider donuts, and sat on the strip of sand, ate donuts, and looked out at the boats and one swimmer.

I wanted the dress that I was remembering.

In my mind, I saw dark wool knit more charcoal than black, trumpet sleeves wrist length, and the only ornament a double row of appliquéd rings the color of coffee ice cream on the bell of each sleeve.

my dress, from memory

I told Grace and Jimmy about the dress and said I wanted to stop and look at it again on our way back to the highway.

It’s funny how memory works: when we got back to the store and I was standing on the sidewalk and taking pictures of the dress, I could see how my version of the dress was both like and unlike the original. Already, my imagination had refashioned the dress into what I wanted it to be.

  • Mine was a wool knit, and through the window I could see the original was crepe (maybe wool, more likely rayon).
  • The sleeves on mine were long and clean-finished; on the original they were elbow length and scalloped.
  • My sleeve ornaments were circles and appliqued; the original design had daisy shapes, embroidered in clusters of long stitches.
  • My dress was cut from four pieces: a front, a back, and two sleeves. The original was more pieced than that, with a skirt attached to a bodice.

original dress, in the shop window

I liked my imagined version better, the sleeves and the fabric especially, and I didn’t even go into the store to find out the price of the original.

When I got home, I drew a picture of my imagined dress. There is a gap between my beautiful idea and the reality of the drawing. I’m not sure this really conveys the drape of the fabric or the shape of the sleeves; I know I haven’t managed to show the contrast the appliqués make on the dark background of the sleeve. I also imagine the bell of the sleeve to have more fluid weight.

And yet it was such a relief to have drawn the picture, like it was one step toward being real. The idea existed and would not disappear.

I showed my drawing to Grace, who had heard my description of it. She gave me some feedback on the color: “Oh, I picture it more as an auburn, not dark gray.” She tried to approximate the color she was imagining by layering pencil color on top of pencil color. “Well, you see what I mean,” she said.

The idea expands. I say to Grace, “I might have to make this dress, to see how it turns out.”

original dress, sleeve detail

5 thoughts on “Speak, Memory, about a dress

  1. I like your version much better, too! And what’s amazing is that you actually have the skills to *make* that dress…for most people today, sadly, it could only ever exist on paper, unless they could afford to hire a seamstress.

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