Couture, began in late 2016, is a studio-based project that investigates the performativity of drawing through stitching. Combining stitching and drawing with the practice of memory, the project aims to develop a hybrid practice, through temporary experimental installations – aesthetic encounters for drawing and textile-based works.

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 school 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. 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 demonstrate 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 and become a highly accomplished professional seamstress (couturière).

Dupré creates drawing installations inspired by her mother’s stitching samples and collected textiles – translating and reconfiguring print and lace motifs and stitches. Dupré’s 2017 drawings were based on hand-knitted lace and machine-lace fabric, trimming and embroideries from family archive and recent acquisitions. The 2018 installations combine drawings and stitching with objects, needlework and textiles from the artist parent’s home in France.

Dupré reconfigures plain stitches onto Washi paper (Japan, mulberry) and Khadi (South India, cotton rag). She chooses paper over woven fabric to expend the field of stitching into the domain of drawing. Without the woven grid provided by warp and weft threads, regular stitching through paper is a challenge that the artist manages by piercing a grid to guide her stitching.
Dupré’s project Couture brings together concerns about identity, materiality and memory.

Underpinning the project is the understanding of the act of stitching as a site of the feminine – a transformative site for becoming (Griselda Pollock). For Dupré, stitching is also a site of memory where traces of experiences connect through time, space, cultures. A threshold, a portal, a temporary event, where stitchers connect. To paraphrase French artist Pierrette Bloch, beyond order and repetition, the near nothingness of the thread, there is “a labyrinth”….“I believed I found a thread, [but] I have found memories” (Pierrette Bloch, Mailles et mailles de crin: mémoires, 1982).

Dupré’s references are artists Hessie (Carmen Lydia Djuric, 1936-2017); Pierrette Bloch (1928-2017); Encyclopédie des Ouvrages de Dames (Encyclopedia of Needlework),1886 by Thérèse de Dillmont and The Constance Howard Book of Stitches, 1979.

Dupré’ understanding of the concept of event is informed by the ideas of Event of a Thread (Anni Albers), Event of Place (Doreen Massey), Threshold and Passage (Marsha Meskimmon). Some of theses ideas were first discussed in her 2014 published chapter From Brixton to Mostar, social practice through textiles – in Cultural Threads publication edited by Jessica Hemmings.