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My Source Of Inspiration In Lockdown

May 8, 2021
by the gentle author

Fiona Atkins, curator of Town House Gallery in Fournier St, reveals a personal inspiration that she discovered during lockdown

In common with many, I found this last lockdown the hardest. It was winter and London was grim. Unlike the first lockdown, I knew it was going to last a long while. I am lucky enough to have a garden and, if you had asked me what was the one thing that sustained me, I would have said that was it.

Yet one day towards the end of March, when I found myself in a low mood triggered by news of variants and further waves of infection, I came across a photo of an old Afghan bridal dress while browsing online, struggling to lift my mood. Our last family event before Coronavirus loomed on the horizon was my daughter’s wedding and this dress, with its wonderfully bright pink and swirly skirt, instantly brought back the joy of that day which seemed so very distant then.

I must confess I know little about Afghan wedding customs or traditions, but my mother and grandmother were good seamstresses who taught me when I was a child and I have started sewing again during this last year.

When I examined the dress, I grew fascinated by the volume and quality of work involved in the panel on the reverse and by the evidence of the several ‘hands’ involved in making the garment, and – by contrast – the roughness of some of the stitching and the patching used here and there. I could see the passage of time in the making and re-making of this dress.

As I came across more of these old Afghan wedding clothes, for men as well as women, my despondent mood was displaced by the excitement of discovering these exuberant creations with their wonderful embroidered panels, braids and silk fabrics. I ended up buying them all and they are now on display in the gallery at Town House in Fournier St, as my special source of consolation in lockdown.

Drawing inspiration from this experience, the theme for this summer’s Open Exhibition is ‘one thing that helped me through lockdown.’ I wanted to strike as positive a note as possible as we leave restrictions in June.

Submission is open for another week until next Sunday 16th May and Fiona Atkins’ collection of Afghan dresses is on display in the gallery until the end of May.

You may also like to take a look at 

Richard & Cosmo Wise’s Collection

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Lesley Russell permalink
    May 8, 2021

    MA lovely post – and a reminder of two wonderful Christmases spent in The Town House. How lucky are we to have those memories. Thank you Fiona for sharing it with us and best wishes for the future.

  2. Carolyn Hooper permalink
    May 8, 2021


    Thank-you, gentle author

  3. Jill Wilson permalink
    May 8, 2021

    Those dresses look fantastic! I will definitely come and see them in the gallery to inspect and appreciate all the fabulous decorative details.

    During the first lockdown I took the opportunity to do a lot of decorative work myself and had a lovely time making ‘get well bells’ using up all my odds and ends of fabric, braids and sequins.

    And in the winter lockdown I made over one hundred gingerbread men decorations which are all different, and the perfect thing to do while listening to the radio or catching up with back episodes of things like Desert Island Discs and Soul Music (hurrah for the Internet!)

    However the main thing that has got me through the lockdowns and given me something to talk to my 91 year old Mum about has been my new cat who I rescued from the RSPCA last summer.!

  4. Peter Hart permalink
    May 8, 2021

    Beautiful colours. Thank you.

  5. May 8, 2021

    Once again Gentle Author you have brought some brightness to a wet and gloomy day; well done to the curator – how I’d love to see them if/when I can travel down to Spitalfields again. Thank you so much for all your daily offerings – they are stimulating and the variety exciting.
    Maureen Dew

  6. May 8, 2021

    It’s a lovely idea to share with & inspire others. Such beautiful fabrics & needlework. What histories each garment must have.
    Thank you for this post.

  7. Linda Granfield permalink
    May 8, 2021

    WOW! I hope Ms. Atkins wears a modern version of one of these dresses to the opening!

    Question: There is so much raw edge work in these dresses. Do you think the ‘finer’ worked parts are moved to each generation’s new wedding dress and the rest is made of what they have about?

    Maybe these are ‘one-wear’ garments in the way our white wedding gowns are today?

    I can see why you found joy in these items–thanks for spreading that joy!

  8. May 8, 2021

    GA, you always provide the perfect/kindred images and stories. As soon as the vibrant textile came on-screen, I jumped in my chair. As a mixed-media artist, I have been creating non-stop in my studio since last February. It has been my way of keeping focus and remaining optimistic during the lockdown. I normally use people/characters in my work, but recently I created a series of totem animals (owl, fox, bear, and my wonderful cat Satch…….). I enjoy research, as an intrinsic part of any project, and my explorations lead me to discover Native American beliefs about animal symbolism, etc. Back to the textiles!? — As I thought of how to bring
    “more” to this series of frontal images of animals, I chose to add images of amulets and talismans to affirm the ceremonial aspect of the creatures. A wide/wild edging of FABRICS became the crowning touch. Lucky for me, an art colleague haunts the Good Will stores of Seattle Washington, searching for fascinating discarded fragments and bits of ethnic cloth and garments. I get regular cartons-of-stuff from her — an incredible bounty of odd bits and bobs. Those shreds, combined with sari ribbon, painted cheesecloth, strands and fibers, and old documents were applied as a wide border, and then stitched.

    Thank you SO much for the vivid images of these garments today. I was filled with appreciation for the visual lushness and humanity of them. I hope that each person will find their own unique way of enduring and thriving throughout this strange time — and continue to share their stories and awakenings.

    Stay safe all.

  9. Saba permalink
    May 8, 2021

    I just photographed the last one of these garments as a guide to use in knitting a sweater, so thank you for fresh inspiration.

  10. Ann V permalink
    May 8, 2021

    Thank you so much for sharing, what beautiful garments. I too love textiles and fabrics of all kinds and have spent the lockdowns ‘slow stitching’ and making quilts while listening to Classic fm. It has helped to keep me busy.

  11. Pamela Traves permalink
    May 9, 2021

    What Beautiful Dresses and Rugs! I Love Them, Thank You!!????????

  12. Suzy permalink
    May 9, 2021

    Beautiful Post, beautiful dress. I now want to go search Vinted for Afghan garb! ??

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