Wednesday 4 April 2012

Historical Interpretation

Today, a sneak preview of one of the activities lately occupying much of my time.  Last year I was asked to be a part of an exhibition this spring at Harbourfront Centre on the occasion of the bicentennial of the War of 1812.  The premise of the exhibition fits perfectly with the current vein of my work as I've been recently exploring through the lens of natural dyes how our deeper past can shape the future.  I've always been fascinated by my own family's history, which is rooted in its immigration to Canada between 200 and 400 years ago.  The War of 1812 in particular is an important part in that story, as several of my ancestors can trace their settlement in southern Ontario to the period following the war.

I've been pondering the blurred lines between historical fact and fiction, how in the present we interpret the past, romanticize and embellish it; it is these narratives that bring the past alive.  With that in mind I decided to construct a costume for an especially legendary figure of the War of 1812, Laura Secord. The pieces I've been working on are based on garment patterns intended for historical interpretation and reenactment from Sense & Sensibility patterns.  In the process of sewing every stitch by hand of these regency era garments, I've learned just how laborious clothes-making was before the sewing machine.  No wonder clothing had so much more value historically.  I realised also that while the regency period was a period of relative freedom in women's dress, women still had to contend with layers of petticoats and undergarments that restricted their activities.

I've spent much time constructing undergarments, and now I've moved on to the outerwear, a dress and red coat. The piece above, the dress, has been printed with iron paste in imagery of plants of the roadsides of southern Ontario - purple loosestrife, goldenrod and Queen Anne's Lace. The rust colour will change once I've dyed the dress in a bath of oak gall, to the colour you see below.

1812-2012:  A Contemporary Perspective opens Friday April 20th, with a public reception beginning at 6 pm, at Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queen's Quay West, Toronto. 

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