Crafts Council: The Red Dress is an incredible achievement. Can you pinpoint where it all began?
Kirstie Macleod: I was born in Venezuela and spent my childhood living in different countries – Nigeria, Japan, Holland, Canada and Barbados. In my formative years, I was surrounded by a variety of colours, textures, languages and foods, and felt I was the product of many cultures and personalities.
I’ve always had a fascination with bringing together different voices. All the women in my family have worked with thread – one made tapestries, one is an amazing knitter and, growing up, my mum would make all our dresses. Aged 21, I travelled to India where I became immersed in the textiles of the country. I'd often be with people with whom I couldn't communicate with words, but I could sit with them and stitch a jacket. I think that was a seed for this project.
I’ve also been obsessed by the status of women all my life – women not having a voice, not being heard, and being mistreated. All these threads came together in the Red Dress – I wanted to make a piece of work that would evolve over time and place, which would draw together as many women as possible and becomes a platform for their stories to be shared. It’s hard to believe it started as a sketch on a napkin.
Is the dress itself symbolic?
Yes, I associate it with fairy tales. These often talk about the relationship between a dress and its wearer, which can be both supportive and an a battle. Are you wearing the dress or is it wearing you?
The silhouette of this dress is intentionally strong and empowered. I’ve used military pattern cuts along the shoulders and front bodice, but I wanted it to read in a very feminine way. Every line is curved and it’s fully corseted. I think it’s got a regal presence.
When it was initially displayed, I was wearing it, sitting inside a cube in which I would live-embroider as a performance for four hours at a time. After a few years, once I incorporated more voices – especially of women from marginalised communities – I felt it should stand tall, strong, like the women. Not hunched and contained in a box.
The colour red must be an intentional choice too?
Well, the project was originally called ‘Barocco’, which in Portuguese means ‘a rough or imperfect pearl’. The idea was that it was something special but stuck inside a structure. ‘The Red Dress’ was less prone to mispronunciation. But I also chose the colour because you can’t ignore red. I wanted it to be a real statement – and have a relationship with women’s cycles, love, anger, passion. It’s a practical colour as well as it can withstand travel!