I spent much of last week making a dress. The best thing? I didn’t even need a sewing machine. The worst? I can never wear it, and I really want to!
Kate and I are working on the follow-up to Vasilisa the Wise, and I’m in the wonderful phase of dreaming up new illustrations. I couldn’t resist throwing myself into the most complicated one I’ve thought up so far. It requires a dress, embroidered all over with blue roses.
My first task was to visit my mum. My parents live in her family home, which has been passed down through several generations, through the maternal line. I grew up in that house, as did my mother (and her sister) and her mother before her. It was knocked down and rebuilt into its current incarnation in 1946 after my grandparents were married – so my grandmother grew up in the old house, but the ‘new’ one reused the old window and door frames. We all went to the same primary school, walked the path down to the shops, and looked out over the same valley of lights at night.
So, with all that history, I knew I’d find a treasure trove of lace and embroidered linens. I needed roses, so we pulled great piles of linen out of the hallway cupboard. I sorted through them and found 20 or so pieces that would work for what I needed. Aren’t they lovely?
The stories behind many of them are lost to time, but they are a lovely connection to my family’s history.
When I brought them home, I photographed them all, in their entirely and in detail.
Then into Photoshop we go… I started by isolating the design and removing the background, which is more complicated than it looks, especially when working on pieces with a deep fabric weave. Several of them required a steady hand, as I drew around the stitched design. Once they were selected out and put against a clean white background, I converted them to black and white, and changed to colour balance to turn them all a different shade of blue.
There was a lot of lace too. I photographed those on a black background, darkened the exposure and dialled up the blue.
As I went, I placed each one onto a silhouetted photograph one of my own dresses. To make it clearer, I recorded a screen cast of some of the process. This is taken from a few sessions of the digital process, sped up by 20,000%! If only I worked this fast.
It took me two full days to get this far. The illustration is far from finished, but just making the dress feels like a good achievement. The dress itself may change a little for the final illustration, but here it is for now: several generations of everyday history rewoven into a new life.