Wednesday, 28 March 2018

The Song Of The Skirt

It is 1943, and Mies Boussevain, a Dutchwoman is arrested by the Germans. She and her family have been sheltering persecuted people in their cellar as part of the work of the Dutch Resistance. Many of her family are executed immediately, but Mies and her niece are sent to the concentration camp at Vught. Seven other women share the filthy cell - but then something miraculous happens- they are sent a bag of laundry. And in the bottom of the bag of clothing, Mies finds a tiny patchwork scarf.
Someone has courageously stitched this for Mies to find. It contains a scrap of her first blue silk ballgown, patches from her children's clothes, other fabrics she recognises. It is full of memories of home, and happier times. She drapes this colourful scrap across the old mirror hanging on the wall- and tells her cellmates the stories which the fabrics represent. The women gain strength and support from one another. When they are transferred to the larger camp at Ravensbruck, the scarf is lost - but Mies survives, and the memory of the scarf, and the hope it inspired remains...
...After Holland was liberated, in May 1945, Mies' health was ruined, but her spirit was unbroken. She was insistent that the reconstruction of her nation should include opportunities for women to be healed from the traumas of the war years. 
She designed a simple skirt, to be made of authentic old scraps - transforming memories of the War Years into something new and beautiful. The concept of the 'Feestrok' - National Celebration Skirt was born. Mies created a garment that represented 'unity in diversity' (eenheid in veelheid); 'new from old' (nieuw uit oud); 'building from the broken' (opbouw uit afbraak) and 'one garment makes unity' (één dracht maakt eendracht). The skirt or feestrok was thus intended to reflect the diversity, unity and rebuilding of the Netherlands after the war.
There were strict rules - the hem had to be made of plain fabric triangles on which significant words could be stitched- started with 5 Mei 1945 [Liberation Day] Skirts could then be registered and each given a unique identification number. It is estimated that more than 4000 were made.
Women wrote to Mies, and said that working on their skirts had given them hope for the future, helped them move on. The crazy patchwork, the special dates [weddings, birthdays etc] made each skirt very personal.

Women gathered to show their skirts, celebrating their liberated country.

In September 1948, for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Wilhelmina, 1500 women gathered in The Hague to march past her Majesty and sang The Song Of The Skirt.

What an amazing story! Seventy years on, not many skirts remain, although there are some in the Amsterdam Resistance Museum and the Leiden Textile Research Centre.

What an amazing story of courage and hope. 


Weave into your skirt your own life's design,
Women and girls from village and town.
Symbol of women's aims, long may it shine:
Wear it with joy, like a flower's leaf-crown.

Marrying disparate colours and lines,
Form with your skirts the bonds that unite,
As part of history's momentous designs
With art and hand fashion shapes that delight. 

Let their prints match the times into which you were born,
In your flag let the Now and the Then find a place.
May Present and Past, both cheerfully worn,
Fill family, skirt, and your life with their grace.


  1. Oh WHAT a beautiful story!!!

  2. What a wonderful story! I make the majority of my quilts with scrap fabric from other projects (mostly clothes my mother used to sew for us) and each quilt is a scrapbook of memories.

  3. Your blog is a treasure, every day something interesting and uplifting.


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