How to know that a man lives off passion? When he has light in his eyes. When he’s introverted at heart but becomes outgoing because of it. Dorota Markowska-Bochenek has very light eyes and a beautiful hobby: she reconstructs dresses from 19thcentury – makes them for herself. When talking with her, we’re fully convinced that she’s glowing with satisfaction.
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Rzeczy Piekne: You’ve got an interesting passion, you reconstruct clothes… Have you always felt that it’s what fascinates you or did it come down on you suddenly, like a revelation?
Dorota Markowska-Bochenek: No, it’s been evolving. It’s not like I’ve always been interested in clothes.
Do you remember from your childhood if you were dressing up, trying your mom’s shoes on, etc.?
DM-B: Of course, who hasn’t done that? (laugh) It was normal! But it came from fairy tales, I wanted to be a princess, like every little girl does. Then history books came into the picture.
What was so fascinating about them?
DM-B: How people used to live back then.
Were you asking your parents, grandma or grandpa?
DM-B: I was, my grandpa used to tell a lot of stories from the past. It wasn’t the clothes that fascinated me, but how people used to live, think, their customs and daily life. Then I started looking for all kinds of diaries, guides, old books about good manners. There was this one special book that turned the world upside down for me: ‘W salonie I w kuchni’ [eng. In the living room and the kitchen] by ElzbietaKowecka.
Could you say that it ‘opened your eyes’, made you interested in the 19th century?
DM-B: Yes, it’s a great book because it describes daily home life in the 19th century. I also read about the 18th and 17th century but the 19th one is especially close to my heart.
Do you remember any other important impulses that have lead you to this moment?
DM-B: This important – I don’t think so. It was the one that pushed me. Then sewing came into my life – I graduated from clothing technical college.
So the technical skill is a must.
DM-B: Yes! We had a class of technical drawing, modern fashion illustration. A part of that was history of clothing, but we only scratched the surface of the subject.
You’re a co-founder of StowarzyszenieRekonstrukcjiHistorycznej I Kostiumingu KRYNOLINA [eng. historical reconstruction and costuming association CRINOLINE]. Was that the start for your historical clothing reproduction?
DM-B: In a way, yes. My first historical dress was based on crinoline. The first time I wore it was during a Scottish Ball event. Cracow [pl. Kraków] hosts a costume ball every year, it’s organized by the Irish and Scottish dance ensemble Comhlan.
I was very proud of it, even if I’m not anymore (laugh). I didn’t know how to sew at that time, I had no technical knowledge, I mean I had, but in the modern field. So I made that crinoline using modern sewing techniques, only after, when I started digging into old books about sewing, did I learn that some things used to be sewn differently than today.
Things like what?
DM-B: For example arm stiches used to be placed differently, not on the top of the arm but moved to the back. The modern sleeve is straight, slightly narrowed, but it used to be arch-shaped. There was a different way of ruffling a dress, those teeny-tiny pleats, one on top of the other, you had to pick up those tiny folds with a small needle, then you sewed a ribbon on to a belt. It completely changes the fit on the waist, makes a dress stick out more.
So you can look at a dress as an overall, but also in detail.
DM-B: The inside, how is it made, is always more important for a dressmaker.
How is it made – because the whole look depends on it?
DM-B: Not only that. You can learn the whole story of a dress and the women who used to wear it from looking at the inside of it. You can see that a dress was narrowed or widened, that there was a wedge added, or there was not enough material because fabrics used to be smaller back then, not like today, 1,40 m wide. This is the most amazing part, how people managed at that time…
So it’s a lot of joy, discovering those historical clothes.
DM-B: Exactly, those dresses have souls, someone wore them at one point.
Are you in any other reconstruction association?
DM-B: I’m in the Chorągwi Rycerska Księstwa Siewierskiego [eng. knight banner of Siewierski principality] association, which sounds rather medieval, but there’s a section ‘Moda I mundur’ [eng. fashion and military uniform], where we present different eras as well.
The 19th century grabbed your attention more than other eras, there was a lot of amazingstyle ideas for dresses at that time. Is that why you like it so much, because it’s so full of challenges?
DM-B: Not really. Before I started sewing I had been doing embroidery and lacemaking, that’s what had interested me the most.
Looking at your current experience, do you still get those moments that are technically problematic for you, trying to come up with a solution that’s true to the art?
DM-B: I stop and wonder on every one of the dresses.
How do you prepare for those reconstructions, do you gather information about the historical clothing from books about particular era, look at engravings? What do you pay attention to?
DM-B: To details.
When you start working on a dress, do you sketch it out first?
DM-B: No, I have it in my head, because sometimes the original idea can change during the sewing process and I decide I want to do it in a different way. The dress is in a constant evolvingphase for me.
Do you try to be as precise as possible while recreating clothes, for example base them on some portrait, or do you interpret them, adding something of your own that makes the dress special?
DM-B: I always have to come up with something. Every historical dress has something that I like, so when I’m sewing it’s a mix of everything. Just changing the color makes it totally different.
Which step of making a dress is the hardest?
DM-B: I guess cutting out a good pattern. That’s why I make a trial one first, from another fabric like old sheets, so I can try it out, adjust it. Only when I’m sure that everything’s perfect, do I start cutting the final piece. If it’s the first time with a style, I always start with a draft.
Which 19th century’s style do you like the most: crinoline, empire?
DM-B: I like the natural form the most, a really short period of time between the first and the second bustle, when the ‘rump’ disappeared, and the empire, of course, because most events are organized in this kind of style.
What should people think about clothes from the past, do you think they were hard to wear, were they really that problematic for women?
DM-B: If they had been problematic women wouldn’t have worn them!
There’s a saying that beauty is never without pain, can you disprove it? Is it not true?
DM-B: What is that pain, though? If a woman is used to wearing corsets since childhood then she won’t realize she can do without them.
You reconstruct undergarments as well – petticoats and corsets. Do you wear them under the dresses you made?
DM-B: Yes, the undergarments are the most important, they give a shape to the whole, a dress doesn’t look good without them, and you can tell instantly which girl wears a corset or a modern bra – the dress has completely different shape.
What kind of situation gives you a thrill? Maybe some kind of pattern?
DM-B: Yes!When I get my hands on some old magazine with a pattern, it’s amazing! The oldest I have is from 1906!
What’s your dream dress?
DM-B: I have a dream dress, it’s a white empire-style dress, embroidered à la Mathilde. I come back to it every once in a while and embroider it.
And your favorite fabric?
DM-B: I love velvet! Velvet is interesting, but you have to use loads of it because every piece of clothing must be cut in the direction ofthe fiber.
I think that what you’re doing – the historical reconstruction – is some kind of a time-machine. Has it always been in your life, this kind of travelling back in time?
DM-B: It has. It started with travelling around various museums, mansions, exploring interiors.
How many of the reconstruction events are you able to attend in a year?
DM-B: There’s plenty. I travelled a lot during last year, a bit less this year; I want to rest, but even if it seems that I don’t have any plans, my calendar is already packed till November(laugh)!
Tell me, despite the exhaustion, does it bring you joy?
DM-B: It’s a huge joy for me, I relax like that, even if I sew a dress at the last minute, the night before a party sometimes. But then the time-machine launches! I am with people who share my passion, and who I can’t meet on a daily basis because everyone lives in different parts of Poland. Those are really very deep friendships.
It’s important to have something of your own in life, based on relationships with other people. You could say that’s how happiness looks like.
DM-B: Yes, the sense of belonging to some group of people. I’m an extremely introverted person, a home-bird, I don’t like travelling but I still am.
If a man is fulfilled, appreciated, accepted and feels safe, then it positively reflects on his look, he wants to live, do something creative…
Greatly impressed by your passion and joy of life, we want to thank you for the meeting!
Interview from June, 2019.
Interviewer: Agnieszka Kwiatkowska / Rzeczy Piękne
Photos: Bartosz Cygan © Rzeczy Piękne
Translator: Dagny Zawierucha
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