Sammy C.

The Blue Smocked Dress

Some significant phrases and words that have evolved as important in my life journey and came to mind as I contemplated writing this piece are…

“Practice makes perfect” – my childhood piano teacher, trying to encourage me to stick at playing.

“If you don’t use it, you will lose it” – my paternal Grandmother, in reflecting on getting older and how her hands, in particular, had become stiffer.

“Just do it” – Nike and myself, when trying to get myself motivated to do something that wasn’t going to be easy or I didn’t want to do.

‘Perseverance’ – when I gave a talk on this topic a couple of years ago to a group of women to encourage them, I realized that the message was just as important for me to hear.

I remember with fondness now this dress from my childhood. Some of the details are as clear as if it were yesterday and in others fuzzy as with the fading of memory. It is significant that I say fondness now, because it was not so when I was a child being told to wear the blue dress.

The clearest detail I have was that this dress was special. It was a dress used only for ‘good’ occasions, like important family gatherings or significant church events like Easter or Christmas. Consequently, it didn’t get worn very often. And perhaps this explains some of my reluctance to wear it, not so much because I didn’t like the dress, I’m not even sure I gave it a thought back then. I think the main reason I didn’t want to wear it had more to do with the fact I was ‘being told to’ wear it. And we were ‘going out’ and that involved more of ‘being told to do this, do that, and show them this or that’.  So there is a revelation in this memory for me and that is recognising that, for most of my life, I have been very resistant to being told to do something I didn’t want to! This is not necessarily a good thing J

The dress was also special because it had been made by someone, although I can’t remember now who. Perhaps it was one of my Grandmothers or even my Mum’s grandmother, who had been still alive when I was very small. This detail is fuzzy but the sense of significance that came with the ‘heritage’ of this dress remains clear. I can’t really even remember if the dress was made for me or whether it had been passed on to me. These details were not important to me as a child, but they are now. You see the dress is still hanging in the wardrobe at my Mum’s house, waiting for a new generation family member to wear it. My note to self must be to ask my Mum who made it, when it was made, who it was originally made for and hope that she remembers the details still. It might seem extreme to say that I ‘must’ do this, but my rationale behind such a statement is that the history of this dress is as important to me now as the dress is.

There is a beauty in this dress that goes beyond what the eye sees. What the eye sees is a blue fine lawn fabric, intricately sewn together to create a young girl’s dress. The front of the bodice has been painstakingly hand-smocked and then embellished with pink French knots to resemble tiny rosebuds. Around the waist is a matching belt that ties into a bow at the back. Just in describing it now I feel the same joy I have when I see this dress. That feeling relates to the history of its creation, the image of some member of my family lovingly crafting together this garment which has been passed down through generations and sits waiting now for a new not-yet-born member to share in the experience of wearing a piece of family history.

The process as described in this week’s poem by Tao te Ching has become as valuable to me because in the case of the blue smocked dress it has connections to family, history, belonging and understanding of self. I feel sad now knowing that the dress was so reluctantly worn by me but never worn by either of my daughters, who are the only granddaughters in our family. However I believe this sadness has to be balanced by an understanding that my appreciation of this dress has evolved alongside my journey with fabric, and using it creatively, has evolved. Not everyone has the same interests and ideals; this doesn’t render the dress a waste or useless. It stands for something to me.