December 19, 2023

Clare Daněk

When asked about ‘Your favourite piece of clothing or textile object?’ ‘Your dream outfit or textile object?’ ‘A piece of clothing or textile object that haunts you?’, it occurred to me that one item answered all three questions.

A Pink Dress, Set Aside

October 2013, ten years ago this year, I was making a dress. I’ve made lots of dresses, but never so fancy, never so pink. Silk dupion, pink as pink could be, not cerise, not candy floss, just—pink. I wasn’t looking for pink fabric when I found it—I thought I’d probably marry in blue. 

The pink called out though, from a line of other rolls of cloth in a cheap and cheerful East Lancashire fabric emporium, where the racks were stacked to the old chapel ceiling full of upholstery fabric and sheeting fabric and polycottons and voiles and suiting and you name it we’ve probably got it, mind your back there love, coming through. We’d done that rapid skim round with a practised eye, my mum and I, seasoned fabric shoppers both of us, and only spotted the silks as we were about to leave. I reached for a peacock blue but the pink sang out, and continued to sing as we unfurled it and held it to the light. Eight pounds a metre for pure silk? Couldn’t argue at that price. The pink it was. I spent the next couple of months making the dress.

It wasn’t a traditional wedding dress—knee length, sleeveless, with a boat neck, layers of netting to puff out the skirt, and pockets. My wedding dress had pockets. The pattern was a Vogue one, from their ‘Designer’ range, Tom and Linda Smith, I think. The model on the packet’s front had bright hair in a sharp bob, and she exuded energy. I took that as a good sign. I remember that the cutting out took hours: the silk, and the netting, and the interlayers that helped to keep the form. Satin bias binding. An invisible zip right down the back. The whole thing lined to just below the waist. The time I spent tracking down silk thread in the exact same shade as that pink, and paler thread for the netting layers. Machine-sewing so carefully, a watchful eye for my old machine with its occasional propensity to burp out a mouthful of thread. Hand-stitching the hem, each stitch as neat as the last and the next. 
My husband did see the fabric, but I managed to conceal the manufacturing, so he only saw the finished article properly for the first time on the day we married in 2013 up in Torridon, in north-west Scotland: him in a kilt and me in my dress—and my duffel coat, you know, just to be on the safe side. 

Another strip of silk tied together with a strip of Murray tartan in a handfasting ceremony, toasted with raspberry gin. The ceremony held on a spit of land sticking out into the sea loch, with the celebrant’s greyhound, smart in a tweed coat and leaning against me throughout. I wore the dress one more time, for a wedding party back at home, this time with a hoodie over the top, and I remember, during one of those flickering moments when the last few folk are clinging to the coat-tails of the night, how I picked at a slub in the skirt then instantly regretted the tiny hole that formed.

We’d have been married ten years this October. The dress is hanging in my wardrobe in one of those black suit protectors, zipped up, safe from harm. My husband died unexpectedly in October 2021, and it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to consider other black bags, containing cargo more precious than these cut and stitched bits of cloth that are shaped and formed and worn to mark a moment. I unzipped the dress from its bag just now and caught a late-lingering hint of the perfume I wore back then. Lifted the skirt and wondered why I’d not made French seams. Checked the pockets, hoping for I don’t know what. Found nothing. Zipped the bag back up, hung it in the wardrobe, let it rest.

Clare Daněk is a textile artist, cultural worker, and researcher, with a particular interest in everyday creativity. She is currently researching how people learn craft skills in open-access community making spaces, studying at the University of Leeds, UK. Alongside this she maintains a creative practice predominantly focusing on the minutiae of everyday life.