Triangle Fire Remembered Project.

Author Alida Brill asked me to be involved commemorating the 100th anniversary of the triangle shirtwaist fire and to create a visual contribution. The first thing that came to mind was to make a shirtwaist, what it would look like or be constructed of was yet to be determined.

The shirtwaist, which is akin to our modern blouse, is not a replica- it’s a creative reinterpretation of the many examples I looked at for research. I looked at the types of blouses the workers would have been wearing, what they were making and the types of shirtwaists that were custom ordered from shops or created at home from patterns- the full stratus of designs.

The design for my piece, in shape, most closely resembles the workers attire. It’s white, it has simple lines and gathers, it upholds the full bodice design with the least amount of material. It is a humble garment. But then, I needed to add the names of the fire victims. I wanted them to be integrated into the design, not just an added kitsch element. The idea came to take the names and write them out in an embroidery design, a design element that would have been reserved for the more high-end types of shirtwaists, due to the amount of labor involved.

The names of all 146 victims are inscribed: not just the women, there were also male victims. It’s important to remember that there were men in the factory as well, doing the most menial of work of ironing, sweeping, and sewing. There’s something to look at closely here: the workers were urban immigrants, they were laborers, they got whatever work they could get, and this work overlaps with the work that we generally understand as traditional women’s work.