Dutch liberation skirts
Atria has five Dutch celebration skirts, including the skirt above, made by Iet Winkel. The idea of this skirt (also called liberation skirt, life skirt or orange skirt) came from feminist and resistance fighter Mies Boissevain-van Lennep. She encouraged women in the Netherlands to wear a “National celebration skirt” on special days as a memorial and festive symbol of solidarity between women. Women made the liberation skirts from old patches with personal memories.
Dutch celebration skirt transfer. On March 3, 2009, the IIAV (current Atria) received a very special archive item: a national liberation skirt. Esther Elkerbout handed the skirt her mother made to IIAV director Saskia Wieringa. According to Elkerbout her mother incorporated pieces of fabric from her engagement dress and wedding dress into the party skirt. The date of Dutch Liberation Day (May 5, 1945) is embroidered on the hem. Fabric of summer dresses that mrs. Elkerbout wore when she was a young girl, can also be found in the skirt.
History of the Dutch liberation skirt
Mies Boissevain-van Lennep was arrested in August 1943 and transferred to concentration camp Vught in October. While in prison, she was sent a tie made of all kinds of small patches. She recognized bits of cloth from coats, pants and other clothing belonging to friends and acquaintances. Mies told her fellow prisoners the story about every piece of cloth. The other women reminisce. Too, strengthening the solidarity among them.
This happening was probably the reason to introduce the idea of the national celebration skirt after the war. After the end of the Second World War, Boissevain-van Lennep took the initiative on behalf of the Committee of Public Holidays and Commemorations to make skirts from various patches. Women could wear these on special days. It wasn’t all about the wearer’s personal memories. The skirt also symbolized the reconstruction and renewal of the Netherlands by combining old pieces of fabric into one new whole. Something that, according to Boissevain-van Lennep, women are naturally good at: creating harmony.
Guidelines for making a Dutch celebration skirt
Boissevain-van Lennep wrote specific rules for making and using the liberation skirt. The seam consists plain triangles and prominently embroidered on the front: “May 5, 1945”. The skirts were to be worn on national holidays as well as important private parties. Later events from the wearer’s private life, both highs and lows, women could also process in the skirt.
Despite the shortage of textiles in the post-war era, there was no shortage of old items of clothing. The women would sew the patches on old skirts, giving meaning to each patch themselves. Embroidery depicted the memories. And the patches were often decorated with dates of important events. As a result, the patchwork skirts ultimately form a unique life story.
Boissevain-van Lennep had called on all women to register their skirts in the “skirts register”. The skirts were then stamped with a number. The stamp was round and on the outside the text read: “Nationale Feestrok” (national celebration skirt), “Saamgevoegd op één ondergrond” (Joined together on one background) and in the middle NI, the abbreviation of National Institute. At the bottom the year could be read: 1946, 1947 or 1948. After registration, the owner received a postcard with the registration number. She was advised to embroider the assigned number on the skirt. Ultimately, some 4000 celebration skirts were registered.
The register of skirts is not available at Atria, the archive of Mies Boissevain-Van Lennep only contains a list of names and addresses under inventory number 41, but this is not the register of skirts itself. It is not possible to say with certainty whether the register of skirts still exists, but until today it has not surfaced anywhere.
Practicing for the National Liberation Skirt parade, 1948, © unknown, IAV-Atria collection
Shortly after the Second World War, Dutch feminists took advantage of important events in the royal family to draw attention to their ‘case’ through exhibitions, memorial books and historical studies. Like the case in 1948, the year of queen Wilhelmina’s abdication, her golden jubilee and the inauguration of Juliana as new queen. On September 2, 1948 there was a communal celebration of Dutch women at the Binnenhof (the location in The Hague where the Dutch government resides). A “skirt show” was a festive highlight with the meaningful patchwork skirts. And there was even a real “Song for the National Celebration Skirt”. You can view the sheet music of this in the library of Atria.
See also: Patchwork politics in the Netherlands, 1946-50: women, gender and the World War II trauma