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Alvitr's Dress | Layer One - Polyester Punk

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

This post talks about my initiation into Embodied and the process of developing the first layer created for Alvitr's dress. Layer one is sewn from vintage fabrics using a heavily modified commercial pattern. My inspiration for this piece comes from modern ice skating dresses and my experience with competitive skating.


Content warning: While this post does not focus on sensitive topics, it does mention a medical event and discusses politicized ideas.

 

I was recruited to participate in Embodied in the summer of 2022 by Cynthia Wagner and Leanna Leslie. We met at Cynthia's studio to discuss Leanna's vision for the project just before the inaugural exhibition at Union Grove Gallery on the UAH campus.

During our chat, I discussed creating a dress inspired by my ice-skating experience. Over the next few weeks, I compiled research and explored the materials in my supply.

33 medals and two pieces of fabric trim arranged on a grid
A collection of medals.

I collected many medals during my years of competitive skating and knew they would be a component of the final dress. When I pulled the skating medals from storage, I was met with a pleasant surprise. Nested in the box were pre-cut pattern pieces for Vogue VP633. This commercial pattern reminded me of the elegant ice-dance costumes I used to love watching as a young skater. Immediately, I knew that this dress would be part of the final design.


VP633 was intended to be a holiday dress. My previous attempt to make the pattern was paused after losing hand dexterity due to a stroke. I couldn't hold a needle or sustain a pinch grip for around three years. Sewing with delicate fabric again was intimidating, but I wanted to test myself and the results of ongoing physical therapy.


I cut the top and sash from sheer metallic green and gold material. The skirt panels were cut from a winter white pleated spandex. Each fabric has traveled in my stash for over fifteen years, tucked away, waiting for the right occasion. I carefully adjusted the pattern to align with my needs for Embodied and created separate pieces that could be styled in several ways. I also found a beautiful spiked rhinestone trim to compliment the final shape of the skirt.

Layer one contained some sewing firsts for me. I had never before adapted a commercial pattern so heavily. VP633 is written as a dress designed to pull over and tie at the waist. I used the pattern pieces to create a separate top and skirt instead. I also used French seams throughout, a technique I had never attempted at this scale. Attaching metal trim was another first but I found the process intuitive and relaxing. I see more sparkles in future projects!

A woman with short hair and glasses stitches green and gold fabric by hand.
Amanda, hand stitching the collar.

Garments like this top and skirt, in the context of competitive figure skating, aid observers in objectifying the wearer. The materials sparkle in the light, drawing attention to the skater but providing no protection from the harsh conditions of open ice. The addition of spikes along the skirt's edge implies a break from social norms and the first line of defense against the violence of objectification. When examined in unison with the other components of Alvitr, this first layer reflects my understanding of the artificial protections granted to women who enforce traditional gender roles in a heteronormative and patriarchal society.

In the next installment of this series, I will write about layer two, a warm protective wrap made of hand-me-down crochet squares and faux fur. Many of the medals mentioned above were also used in layer two, providing weight and sparkle to the heaviest layer of the Alvitr. Thank you for reading about layer one! If reading about the work behind the art is your thing, please subscribe for updates about new posts.


 
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