Happy Friday + 100 Dresses

Happy Friday! Last week, I received a lovely request from a reader to feature a post about one of my previous art shows and of course I happily agreed. It was actually a joint show with my mother and happened way back in 2009…I dug through the archives and found some images, but let me start from the beginning. It’s a little long, but I think it’s an interesting story and hope you’ll like it too – plus it’s about sewing!

My mother had almost given up on grandchildren. I had been with M for many, many years without any signs of marriage or babies and my biological clock was ticking away loudly and was near expiration. There were joyous whoops of disbelief when M finally popped the question (a rather funny story that I’ll have to share with you one day). Seven months later, a Buddhist priest married us (neither one of us is Buddhist; another entertaining story) and a year after that we had K. My mom had waited a long time to be a grandma.

My mom has always been a prolific creator. She paints, she knits, she cooks, she gardens. But what she really started doing those early days of K’s infant-hood was sew. As a new grandmother, she was positively smitten and obsessed with baby K. I began receiving ginormous boxes filled with handmade baby dresses from Los Angeles. The dresses were adorable, artistic, and often ridiculously lacy and covered with beads. She had no concept of choking hazards, but we worked with that. They were suffused with love and what made them even cooler was that all the dresses were sewn out of recycled fabrics, refashioned from yard sale finds.

However, we were living in a tiny apartment at the time and I was having trouble finding closet space for all these glorious garments. K was outgrowing them within minutes, and soon, the number sky-rocketed to over 300. Yes, 300 dresses. I was starting to panic, because in my heart of hearts I am a minimalist and I was starting to feel buried under mountains of miniature party dresses. Eventually, I started to offer the dresses to friends who had daughters. Perhaps “begged friends to please please please for the love of all things holy take some dresses” better describes the situation. They were so beautifully made, I just didn’t have the heart to donate them to Goodwill.

It so happened that one of my dearest friends — upon whom I unloaded a large number of dresses — was working at an art gallery. I remember walking around Greenlake together, strollering our daughters, and she said to me, “You know, those dresses are like pieces of art…you should have a show”. I kind of nodded, but didn’t think much of it since I wasn’t quite sure how I would pull that off. My friend went to the gallery owner and lo! the ownerย loved the idea.

My mom and I decided to select 100 of the best dresses and “100 Dresses: haute couture meets toddler wear” was launched. We also wanted the proceeds to go to a good cause and chose the local Food Bank and Boys and Girls Club. (M has asked me to please stop giving away funds from art shows to charities; “We aren’t rockstars, Honey,” he keeps telling me). We set the whole thing up to be an auction, which was so much fun. Over 100 people came to the opening night to start bidding and K got her 15 minutes of fame on the local news. We had one of our favorites framed but didn’t include it in the auction (shown above – it’s made out of an amazing dupioni silk), so I guess it was technically 101 dresses…and that’s two-year-old K below, the girl who started the craziness.

I curated and coordinated all aspects of the show with the owner and her friend who is a stylist. It was amazing (especially working with a stylist! I wanted to become one!), but it was grueling work putting a show like that together – so many complex components! But when those 100 dresses went up on the wall after hours of steaming and planning configurations late into the wee hours of the night before the show, we all gasped. It was breathtaking. Trust me, these photos don’t do them justice.

The auction lasted a month and we generated $5,000, which went above and beyond our expectations. My mom couldn’t believe that people would pay money for dresses made out of salvaged fabric that she whipped out for her itty bitty grandchild. Every single dress sold. Oh, my mom and I also displayed some paintings, but really, it was all about the dresses. The gallery was called Gather, and it was a fantastic space and I really enjoyed working with the owner, Jen. Unfortunately, they closed a few months after our show — it was the recession after all.

My mom is an artist with a capital A. She is fiercely unique and has taught me by example to be my own person no matter what. She was recycling and re-purposing decades before it became trendy and mainstream and has always incorporated elements of sustainability into her art. You can see some of her art here. Nowadays she knits things for K since I do a lot of sewing, but she’s prolific as ever…

And that is the story of 100 Dresses! As part of the show, I made this poster with all 100 Dresses and each one has a Japanese name. Unfortunately, my original file got corrupted (tragic! It took me forever to digitally cut out all those dresses), so I took a photo but it’s a bit hard to see all the details. The piece-de-resistance are the two kimonos that have zippers in the back. Genius!


Thanks for the request, Karina! Hope you made it through the story, and have a fabulous weekend, everyone!

26 thoughts on “Happy Friday + 100 Dresses

  1. I really wish I could have seen this exhibit. How loved your little girl must feel. Now, I have something to shoot for as a grandmother!

  2. What an amazing story, thanks for sharing it. Your mom sounds like a fascinating and wonderful person! 300 dresses. WOW. K is one lucky little girl!

    1. Yep, my mom is one-of-a-kind and quite possibly the most industrious person I know. K is the beneficiary of all her creations and K loves it.

  3. amazing story!!!! I love it, it would nice to see each piece in detail. This is a great idea for people like us who makes clothes for our kids. Thanks for sharing!!! have a nice weekend!

  4. Thanks for the amazing story.
    The dresses are divine. Your little K is such a lucky duck.
    Your mother is an inspiration… What dedication and LOVE!!
    The curated show looked amazing! The colors look so rich and vibrant.
    What happened to the other 200 dresses??
    ๐Ÿ™‚ Time for another show perhaps.

    1. Happy to have the chance to re-live that exciting show, Karina! As for the other 200 dresses…I ended up giving the bulk of them to friends and also donated a bunch to K’s preschool’s dress-up box. As you can imagine, they were a huge hit. I did save a few of my favorites, which are packed away in our basement. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. WOW… that’s ah-mazing. K’s is no doubt one lucky gal, but YOU as well! Your mom is so00 talented and pioneer in refashion and repurposing. I wish I could’ve seen the exhibit…

    1. It’s true, I’ve been pretty lucky in the mom department. It’s always made me sound way cooler than I am to be able to say that my mom is an artist :-).

    1. That’s exactly what we ended up doing when we were setting up the exhibit! I was literally engulfed in the dresses!

  6. You’re an amazing artist/sewist, but also such a great storyteller! More please! I love reading your back stories with beautiful pictures to accompany them. This is such a fantastic story – seriously, 300 dresses?! I wish I could see the dresses on the poster in up-close detail – the thumbnail images alone have me amazed. Your mom clearly channelled much creative energy and talent into these works of art. The apple, as they say, didn’t fall far from the tree:)

    1. Aw, thanks Lucinda -I’m blushing! I’m definitely working on getting better detail shots of the dresses ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. So incredible! I don’t know how you parted with all of those dresses–the beauty in each dress is truly inspiring. Your mom is amazing and so are you.

    1. Thanks so much Irene! If space hadn’t been an issue, I’m sure I would have kept way more of the dresses ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. It was definitely a surreal experience, Jen – so amazing. Getting detail shots is definitely on my to-do list!

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