When I was little, I was dressed in my brother’s cast-offs. That was fine, I was his constant shadow. Eventually though I discovered other influences and went a little clothes-mad. Some I bought; some I stole from my mother; some I made myself; some I created from vintage clothes with some rough scissor-chopping and lots of big bad stitching—going out pinned together if necessary.
There have been particular favourites for particular eras: vintage dresses I danced in until they fell apart, many an over-the-top outfit eventually falling out of favour; but there is only one favourite. A most gorgeous orange velvet corduroy dress that shines out above all others—including even my wedding dress!
In the 1980s Hyper Hyper magically appeared in London’s Kensington High Street. Kensington Market had for years been home to creators of all clothes gothic or punk, hippy or vintage; a place to wander and wonder, to meet friends and chat. Hyper Hyper was full of new young designers, totally individual and original. It was open late on Thursdays, and to go there was to walk in deep carpet and be inspired.
One day there was this wee orange dress blasting out demanding attention in Pam Hogg’s shop. It was the softest, most orange piece of stuff you can imagine. It was quite a lot of money. It was worth it but I didn’t earn very much. It became quite a regular trip for me, to go and visit my orange dress. Eventually, and with the designer’s encouragement and amusement, I plucked up courage to try it on. It fitted beautifully. But I still couldn’t justify spending that much on one little dress.
It went in the sale. It was reduced further. It was almost do-able. Should I wait another week? Would it be reduced further? Would someone else grab it? No-one else bought it. It was reduced further. I paid more than a week’s wages for it. I felt a million dollars when I wore it. I’ve never owned anything that fitted like that dress.
A few years ago I was skinny enough to wear it again (the only good thing to have come out of a horrible time) and I went out dancing, got drunk and ate a kebab sitting on the pavement in it, as if I were young again. The dress survived unharmed. It is a perfect piece of design, and cut. It would have been worth every penny had I bought it at first sight.
Gone With The Wind is nowadays recognised for being the problematic film it always has been, but sadly it does contain my dream outfit, which is the dress made from the green velvet drapes of Tara complete with the gold fringe from the curtain tassels. I love that outfit.
Designed by Walter Plunkett, it is beautiful and big and ridiculous and not without humour. This image is of his intricate watercolor design for that curtain dress. It could almost have been designed by Vivienne Westwood. It is recycled and repurposed.
I would love to make a version, just to wear, for everyday dress, nothing special. Carol Burnett nailed it with her “what this old thing? I ran it up out of some curtains” sketch. That version was designed by Bob Mackie—no wonder it was so good! Most of my dream outfits are from movies. A lot of them involve ostrich feathers and sequins and incredible internal support!
In the 1980s I worked for the British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes. Staff were given extremely generous discounts on the clothes: especially the daywear. At one point everything was denim. It was young and funky and punky. I had a dress, pale blue denim, with bleached and printed overlaid designs. ‘Jewelled Denim’ is an ad from Vogue: the actual lost dress was sleeveless but this gives a good idea of the style.
I wore the dress a lot. I had a boyfriend who was from Sheffield. I left my suitcase on the late-night coach from London, the dress never to be seen again. I just hope whoever ended up with it loved wearing it as much as I did.
After a lifetime of bad stitching, despite clever mother and grandmothers trying to show me the right way, I finally seem to be improving. Mostly inspired by folk tales, my textile art is illustrative, narrative, and figurative. All very bad words according to my Fine Art Foundation tutor. Not quite as bad as embroidery, however, which she made me expunge from my uni application. Perhaps she had foresight as to what I was ultimately going to do with it.
Having failed an art school interview in spectacular style aged 16—I had an argument over why I was learning shorthand and typing if I wanted to be an artist—I duly went to work using the hated shorthand and typing. I had very interesting jobs working for and with some amazing people, including Dame Zandra Rhodes (pre-Damehood), and The Guardian’s women’s page. In 2000 I was disabled out of work, and found myself on arts access courses as a sort of physio. Funny how life works.
I fell in love with glass, and studied neither illustration or textiles. After accidentally co-creating the Profanity Embroidery Group (PEG) ten years ago, textiles and embroidery finally moved back to centre stage and stayed there.
A child of South London (as south as you can go and still be London) I moved north of the river, then ran away to the seaside. Twenty years in proper jobs, twenty years freelance. I love where I live and the sense of community and feeling that if we all pull together, anything is possible. I cannot imagine PEG happening anywhere else.
Much of the material I use is preloved, a little worn and frayed around the edges. Much like me.