Alexandra Smith

SECTION OF DRESS: Traditional English flowers

Honouring the memory of her late grandparents with a beautiful spray of tiny flowers.

Granny was born to a wealthy family of Manchester industrialists who owned a furniture department store in the town centre, so she had never learnt a profession, but knew how to embroider elaborately and was a champion knitter.

I grew up in Switzerland, but when I was little I often used to spend the summers with her in England, where she lived alone on a widower’s pension. She decided to teach me how to embroider so as to give me something to do. I first stitched bookmarks on coarse fibres, then, when she was satisfied, she showed me more complicated stitches, and finally allowed me to work on a masterpiece — a tablecloth — which had been started years ago by my grandfather, who I had never met.

She had loved my Granddad very much, but had lost him in 1954, when my father was 9 years old, to rheumatic fever, and she never married again. For some time before his death he had been ill at home and she had looked after him. To pass the time and I suppose to take his mind off his illness, she had taught him how to embroider and he had begun to make the tablecloth that I was now allowed to continue. It had a beautiful array of flowers: lilly-of-the valley, forget-me-nots, violets, pansies, clover — all strewn across the linen in a very loose swirling pattern. A beautiful piece. My grandfather never finished it, though he worked on it until he died.

I loved working on it. I loved the musty smell of the off-white linen and the original old anchor cotton threads I worked with. It felt like stepping back in time, as if somehow, I could still know my grandfather. I imagined him lying in his bed, loving my grandmother, sewing such a dainty piece with his big manly hands.

During the time I used to spend with her (I must have been around ten years old) I was completely absorbed in the work. What strikes me now is that Granny never herself worked on the tablecloth. She was hit by a car a year later and died, tragically, at the age of 70. I think the tablecloth is somewhere in my parent’s attic, still unfinished. If ever I find the time I should like to finish it, though I don’t have a table to put it on and its style doesn’t really fit into this time. Life is so busy.

For the Red Dress I stitched a few flowers, with some of the few stitches I remember. I think I made a cross between a violet and a forget-me-not, and in the background I intended to stitch some catkins. I am sure Granny would be pleased to know that some of this story ended up on the dress, though I feel rather out of practice.

To contact Alexandra for commissions please write to:


A huge thank you to all who have given their time, energy, enthusiasm, advice, experience and financial support to the Red Dress project over the years.

In addition to the institutions below, funding has been gratefully received from a number of private donations and 441 individuals around the world via 2 Crowdfunding campaigns in 2020 and 2022.

The Red Dress is one of the most power pieces of clothing I have ever seen
Angelica Colleluci, Head of Design & Productions at Ozwald Boateng
The Red Dress in its final incarnation, a magnificent, regal robe, symbolises the empowerment of women through the creation of something beautiful, something which began with bowed heads and tired fingers but also with faith and joy, an openness and willingness to be a part of something which they could not see at that time but in which they could believe had meaning and worth connecting with other women around the world
Lady Alison Myners, Chair of the Royal Academy Trust 2020
The Red Dress is in some respects similar to Mail Art, the populist artistic movement centred on sending small scale works through the postal service. It initially developed out of the Fluxus movement in the 1950s and 60s – but on a larger scale – the journey of the work is part of its identity, process, and in fact function. A signifier of the temporal and physical nature of the process inherent in the creation of the piece. The surface of the dress layered with embroidery slowly transforming into a specific topographical map – completely particular to the work’s journey – and reflective of the burgeoning sculptural landscape of the object
Paul Black, Artlyst 2015
It’s her (Kirstie’s) red silk Dupion bodice and voluminous skirt created for the Red Dress that fully demonstrates her commitment to embroidery and the immense respect for the international community of makers
Denna Jones. Embroidery Magazine 2010
I can't remember when they embroidered that piece of silk (2018?) but I feel that something has changed since. The fact that they could embroider what they wanted and that it is appreciated has given them some strength, some confidence that I didn’t feel so strongly before. Last year, I sent them a drawing and asked them to “interpretate" it the way they wanted; again it came back with a lot of emotions, another beautiful story. Thank you for giving them this opportunity
Nicole Esselan, Founder of Kisany Africa (supporting artisans in DR CONGO and RWANDA)
This is both an extraordinary work of collective art and profound and eloquent social commentary. It is also an example of how potent the Attire language is capable of becoming
Attires Mind (Fashion Blogger) 2020
follow @thereddress