Couture, in French, defines the act of stitching using a thread and a needle. It is also a noun used to describe needlework/ouvrages and the body of knowledge that forms the basis of all needlework.
The project’s title Couture is borrowed from the front cover of two stitching exercise books/ cahiers de couture that belonged to the artist’s mother Paulette Dupré (née Berthelot, 1924-2011). The cahiers contain samplers, hand-stitched exercises done between 1934 and 1938 at school. The exercises focussed on plain sewing, basic stitches for joining, mending and finishing household linens. The stitches were executed with red cotton thread on plain white cotton/linen fabric; the colour red was purposely chosen to clearly show the quality of the stitch, its regular spacing, length and direction. These were skills, a young working-class rural French woman learned at the time.
Paulette left school at fourteen, to follow an apprenticeship and become a highly accomplished professional seamstress/couturière, working between 1938 and 1951 for a dressmaking business run by Madame Terrasse then Madame Poncin, Malesherbes, Loiret, France. Once married (1951) and living in Paris, Paulette became an independent dressmaker until the 60s when prêt à porter took over, making her redundant. Paulette went on to work for a small lighting manufacturer then a printing factory. She continued until late in her life to make her own dresses, and her daughter’s.
Images © Françoise Dupré Archive