On a Dream Coming True

For a few weeks I have been nursing exciting news. I will be holding an exhibition of my work during the South African National Arts Festival. Because of these uncertain COVID times and the possibility of Festival plans having to be cancelled, I decided to hold my breath and keep my counsel until it became official.

This week the National Arts Festival released the programme for the Makhanda Live! section of the Festival and I breathed out. Then I made an advertisement and posted it on social media.

The town in which I live has for decades been the home of the annual National Arts Festival. Makhanda (formerly Grahammstown) has an art school that serves the local government high schools and, during Festival time, becomes the vibrant venue for exhibitions by local artists. I have long dreamt about exhibiting my work at the Carinus Art Centre and am thrilled that this year it will come to pass.

The tagline for this year’s Festival is BEYOND 11 DAYS OF AMAZING and it is being billed as a hybrid festival of the arts, anchored in our home of Makhanda, accessible online and coming to you in cities across South Africa. You can see the programme for the online and physical festivals on the National Arts Festival website by clicking here.

dolls’ clothes

In April I wrote about how I refashioned the traditional dresses on three dolls from a collection. I decided it would be nice to display a series of these folk costumes at my exhibition. There is no shortage of dolls or stamps to make more collages, but time is a most precious commodity at the moment (27 days to go, as I write this). I have been beavering away and have repurposed the costumes for the British Royal Guard, Italy, Scotland, and Switzerland. I will not repeat the details of the method I used. Instead, here are sets of photographs of the process of making each of the collages.

The Royal Guard

Stitching over those epauletes and medals was a bit of a challenge, even though they are made of painted cardboard and plastic. I had to stitch very slowly in order for the needle to miss landing in the middle of a medal! The hats were very bulky so I cut away the back part of the furry helmets. The chin straps had been glued onto the faces of the dolls and disintegrated when I tried to dislodge them. Luckily I have a stash of gold metallic thread and chain-stitched smarter chin straps straight onto the cloth.


I can’t help feeling a little sorry for the undressed dolls! This Italian couple’s clothes were rather difficult to stitch down because of the bulkiness caused by the tied sashes and the woman’s layers of petticoat and decorated apron. I ended up removing the petticoat (which was made of thick paper) to decrease the bulkiness.


This Scottish lass’s kilt is made of a thin fabric (not wool) and it was easy to iron it nice and flat before stitching it down. Her kilt was glued onto her waist and so the pleats had to be handstitched into place. Getting that cross-over shawl to lie neatly over the blouse was also took some tricky hand stitching.


This Swiss costume was also bulky around the waist area, where the blouse, skirt, apron and waistcoat needed to be stitched through simultaneously. I have a useful tool which came in a goody bag at the National Quilt Festival — it is a wooden pointed stick with a knob at the other end. I use this to keep the bulky edges in place as I stitch down a section (hence the photograph above, as an illustration). The laced section over the waistcoat is, in fact, made of plastic and had been added to the outside of the dress. Having learnt my lesson with Royal soldiers, I did not try to stitch this down by machine but hand-stitched it on at the end of the process.

Undressing the dolls and then refashioning the costumes into a one dimensional form is the most fiddly part of the process. I realised that the European folk dolls are probably made in the same factory — it’s obvious from the way the clothes are put onto the dolls and the type of fabrics used. These souvenirs are mass produced, using the quickest methods possible. Sometimes the clothes are glued straight onto the dolls and where there is stitching it is very rough and minimal. This makes me feel better in that I have not destroyed precious artefacts of folk history!

There are now seven collages of folk costumes sitting on my pinboard. (The sizes vary between 33 x 25 cm and 34 x 45 cm.) I was wondering how many pieces make up a series and decided, on the advice of my good friend The Artist, to aim for at least nine. Then, lo and behold, I saw a post on Instagram where someone wrote that she regards a series of works to be between seven and ten pieces. (Apologies for not crediting the post, I did not note it down.)

I am working on another set of themed works, which involve hand stitch and so are taking longer. So I have really cut my work out for myself (if you will pardon my mauling of the saying).

24 thoughts on “On a Dream Coming True

  1. Congratulations Mariss. I wish I could come to the exhibition in person and see you at the same time. I like the idea of combining the national costume with stamps which are so interesting. Where did you get those old stamps?


  2. Super news about the festival going ahead Mazzie! And that you have secured a long-desired exhibition space at Carinus.👏🏻👏🏻
    Love your new national costume series. 🔥


  3. “This makes me feel better in that I have not destroyed precious artefacts of folk history!” Oh, but Mariss, you are ***creating*** precious artifacts of folk history in these pieces! Much more effective than the typical museum diorama exhibit on peoples&places. Wow.
    I clicked on the festival link…triple wow. This is my type of festival – spoken word with improv music (I’ve dabbled in this myself and love it!) the art, the storytelling, the – everything. And to think this is all in your ‘backyard’.
    I’m dancing my dance of joy for your dream coming true – please keep me/us in the loop on your experiences during the festival.


    1. Ah Laura. Thank you for your uncanny ability to read between the lines and to set me straight. The truth is that I felt a bit guilty about disrobing those dolls and fiddling with their costumes and covered this up with a reference to folk history. Then you come along and say I created something better. Thank you. So much better to think of it as creating rather than destroying something.
      Yes, we are extremely lucky to have the Festival on our doorstep. It’s such a privilege and is the highlight of our year. We are even more excited about it this time because it didn’t happen last year. Will keep you posted.
      Thanks for dancing (even though it’s not snowing!)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so excited to hear about your upcoming exhibit, Mariss! Congratulations. 🙂 These collages are so interesting, and rendering 3-D clothes into 2-D looks like quite a process — you’ve discovered so many handy workarounds, I see! Looking forward to reading more about the exhibit as it approaches!


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