Patch Up

A feestrok, or ‘celebration skirt’, is a patchwork skirt that was specially made to celebrate the liberation of the Netherlands from German occupation at the end of World War Two. This particular type of skirt is also known as a bevrijdingsrok (‘liberation skirt’), levensrok (‘life skirt’) or oranjerok (‘orange skirt’).

This colourful and special kind of garment has its origins in 1943, when Mrs Adrienne Minette (Mies) Boissevain-Van Lennep (1896-1965), a member of the Dutch resistance, was imprisoned by the Germans. Eventually, two of her three sons were executed by the Germans, while her husband died in a concentration camp. She was initially held in a prison in Amsterdam and was then sent to Vught (located in the Netherlands) and later to Ravensbrück (in Germany) concentration camps. While in prison, Mies Boissevain-Van Lennep was secretly sent a scarf (lappendasje) made up of small pieces of cloth taken from the clothing of family and friends. This would later inspire her to develop the idea of the patchwork feestrok.

Following the end of the war in 1945, she became a member of a women’s committee that decided to create a garment that represented ‘unity in diversity’ (eenheid in veelheid); ‘new from old’ (nieuw uit oud); ‘building from the broken’ (opbouw uit afbraak) and ‘one garment makes unity’ (eendracht maakt eendracht). The skirt, or feestrok, was intended to reflect the diversity, unity and rebuilding of the Netherlands after the war.

In 1947 the national feestrok project was set in motion, in conjunction with the Internationaal Informatiecentrum en Archief voor de Vrouwenbeweging, IIAV (also known as the International Information Centre and Archives for the Women's Movement). Based on surviving records, it appears that about 4,000 skirts were eventually made and registered. But it is likely that far more were actually made and worn. Only a few of the registered skirts have survived to the present day, and most are in various public and private collections.

Extract from the Cotton issue. Words by Dr. Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood. 


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