In 2009, British artist Kirstie Macleod sat in a London café, and on the back of a napkin, she sketched a garment that would travel the world. Now, nearly fifteen years later, this project with humble beginnings has become a global embroidery phenomenon: the Red Dress.
Macleod originally conceived the Red Dress as an opportunity for women and girls from around the world to share their stories through embroidery. From 2009 to 2023, the Red Dress journeyed the globe, undergoing continuous stitching. Constructed of 87 pieces of burgundy silk dupion, the garment was worked on by 380 individuals from 51 countries, mostly female, and many of whom were vulnerable and living in poverty. Initially, the project aimed to generate a dialogue of identity through stitchwork in order to unite people and eradicate borders. However, since its inception, the gown has become a platform for self-expression, a vehicle for agency, and a way to amplify marginalized voices.
Over its 14 years in development, people of all backgrounds and skill levels contributed to the Red Dress, from established professionals to first-time embroiderers. All were encouraged to express their own identities while reflecting their respective cultures and traditions. Some used specific styles of embroidery practiced for hundreds of years within their family or community, while others conveyed powerful life events. Many embroiderers were commissioned by Macleod, meaning they were invited to participate and thus compensated for their contributions. The remaining handwork was added by willing participants at various international exhibitions and events. Today, over a million stitches later, the 15-pound Red Dress is weighted as much by the individual stories and collective voices waiting to be heard as by the threads and beads that adorn it.
This presentation marks the Red Dress’s final stop on its US tour. Fuller Craft Museum would like to thank to Denise DeMore, Peter Keohan, and the Mayflower Sampler Guild for making this exhibition possible. We would like to extend special appreciation to Kirstie Macleod for sharing the Red Dress—and her brilliant vision of unity through craft—with our audiences.
This exhibition is funded by Denise DeMore and Peter Keohan and the Mayflower Sampler Guild.
Red Dress worn by UK artisan Freya Lusher. Photo by Sophia Schorr-kon.
Embroidery group in Aguacatenango, Mexico; dress worn by Vanessa Aguilar Juarez, 2021. Photo by Kirstie Macleod.