Outer covering, inner journey
Delwyn Harvey used more than satin ribbon and feathers on her Montana World of WearableArt (WoW) entry: she was working with the fabric of hope.
Delwyn was first inspired to create her garment, called Thou ART... Loved, in 2007 while sitting in the WoW audience. As each innovative garment made its way down the runway, the seed of creativity was planted.
"I was saturated with ideas by the end of it," she says. A few months later, she got up close and personal with the WoW creations while visiting the exhibition in Nelson. "I started to think maybe I could enter. I wanted to make a garment to look like a korowai [Māori cloak] because it is so regal."
The dignified korowai
The dignified korowai would require an equally noble message, one that Delwyn held close to her heart. After revisiting old journals and taking in the meaning of each word written, the theme came to her very quickly. She wanted to create a cloak for victims of sexual abuse who wondered if they would ever feel whole again. She wanted to tell them that everyone is loved, even if the idea of love has been skewed by the guilt, pain and fear that come with such abuse.
“The story… It was my story. You hear so often about the negative effects of sexual abuse, but you never hear how long it takes to recover. Making this garment brought up my old thinking. I had to keep challenging it, saying, ‘I am significant, I am heard, I am seen’. I felt vulnerable, but from a really good place because I was trying to put a positive message across.”
Despite self-questioning that had her wondering if she could finish, the gravity of her message, and what she’d learned from her own journey, is what fuelled Delwyn to share it with others.
“Every time I wrote a word, I had to remember how I came to that word the first time. I guess that layering of affirmations doesn’t go away and I’m going to continually need to deal with it.”
Theme set, Delwyn next spent hours and days plucking turkey feathers off a pelt ordered online and carefully sewing 57 different words of affirmation, such as ‘Affirmed’, ‘Beautiful’, and ‘Strong’, on 603 ribbons. Though a great deal of precision work was involved, it was the inward journey and self-reflection that Delwyn found the most trying.
“The personal toll was great because I was going to expose myself. I had to walk my family through the process to let them know that I was going to enter this garment so that they knew what to expect: that my message would be out there.”
Armed with bravery and the support of her husband, Delwyn sent in her korowai for the public to see. She soon found that doing so was a powerful first step in helping others come to terms with their own struggles.
“It’s an approachable way to talk about abuse and neglect. People have wanted to tell me their stories,” says Delwyn. “I have speaking engagements for this garment. When I talk to a group, I sew a lot of affirmations on ribbon – exactly the way they are on the dress – for people to take with them. The challenge is to sew it on their clothing. Today, for example, I’m wearing my brown coat that says ‘I’m whole’.
“The response has been huge. Nearly everyone wants an affirmation and they love what they pull out. And I say, ‘What does that mean to you?’. I tell them to pick an affirmation and wear it like they believe it.”
Transformation has worked its way into all aspects of Delwyn’s life. Having been a Child, Youth and Family foster carer since 1999, and Rangiora staff member since 2003, Delwyn has heard her share of heart-breaking stories – and stories of redemption. Wanting to be a catalyst for redemption, she became a Family Group Conference coordinator. “Watching and supporting the kids as they go through their disclosures, their wanting to retract, solidified that they need these affirmations in order to recover.
“It’s a pivotal point for change for each young person. We plan how they develop and grow. It’s such a positive turning point; the negative stuff is behind us and we’re now going to move on.”
As for Delwyn, the catharsis of Thou ART… Loved has helped her move to lighter territory for this year’s WoW entry. “I’m working on a fantasy-themed garment. While my four-year-old is at her wee craft table, I’m at mine. All that I can say is that it’s about butterflies. She thinks it’s magic.
“The by-line is: Change is possible. There again, I’m saying ‘keep changing’.”