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Stitching History: Recreating the Designs of Hedy Strnad

December 1, 2014

If you’ve ever found a handwritten note or scrap of fabric inside a vintage pattern and been transported back in time to visions of the original dressmaker, I think the following story is going to resonate with you…

These beautiful sketches were designed by ‘lady tailor’ Hedy Strnad in 1930s Czechoslovakia.

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The designs were sent to a cousin in America in the hopes Hedy’s talent would secure her a dressmaking job and therefore a visa, allowing her and her husband to escape their Nazi-occupied homeland. Tragically, the plan failed – the Strnads perished in the Holocaust after being interned in a concentration camp.

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Amazingly, the Jewish Museum Milwaukee was able to use the information from just one letter to uncover Hedy’s forgotten history, rescuing her work from obscurity to create the Stitching History from the Holocaust exhibit.

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In a poignant tribute to Hedy’s talent, the costume shop of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater was able to translate her sketches into finished garments using period fabrics and techniques.

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Now the museum is hoping to create patterns from Hedy’s designs so her work can take on a new life and lasting legacy. Can you help?

If you’d like to be involved in the project, please get in touch with the museum at info@jewishmuseummilwaukee.org or share this post with any friends who might be interested.

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To learn more about Hedy, the dresses and the exhibition, here’s a fascinating PBS Special that includes lots of detail on how the dresses were created.

Powerful stuff. Imagine how wonderful it would be to get Hedy’s designs into patterns so they could be sewn and worn worldwide – please share this information with anyone who might be able to help the museum bring this dream into reality!

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  1. Thank you for sharing this amazing story. It brings me close to tears to think of all the people working together to bring this talented woman’s creations to life. It looks like a wonderful exhibit!

  2. Oh my goodness! This is such an amazing story, what an unbelievable thing to do to make someones dream come true. I am blown away by this idea and will share around with people to see if someone can help. Thank you for posting this.

    Liz

  3. what a lovely thought provoking, and sad story it really resonates on so many levels. i know that whenever i use an old sewing pattern which has been used, i like when there are some notes and maybe some pen marks or if i buy a second-hand book, i dont mind if there is a name or other bits inside, i like the feeling of continuance about it all. the designs are lovely and it is so incredibly sad that this woman, Hedy never got to see them, but quite a testemant to the people that realised the project so beautifully

  4. Wow, this article is very interesting for me as I live in Czech Republic (used to be Czechoslovakia) and I find this story very moving and I’m really happy to see that her work is valued that much, they made her vision real and put on display in a museum in America. This is amazing!

  5. This story is poignant beyond belief. They have done such a wonderful job of faithfully reproducing her lovely designs. It’s just so incredibly sad those designs did not save her and her husband back then.

  6. Just one more note – everyone should watch the video – it tells the most heart-breaking, yet beautiful story. I am just so impressed by the high level of commitment and professionalism exhibited by everyone involved with this project.

  7. Gives me goosebumps….how fantastic that it was possible to re-create such beautiful designs into reality. Hope the venture is successful !

  8. The patterns have already been created, and are the property of the artists that created them. I’m not sure where you got the information that the JMM is looking for someone to produce the patterns.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing story! I am so glad and happy that Mrs. Strnad’s designs can be brought to life in such a manner. I’m sure she must feel proud and pleased looking down from heaven. This story brings me to tears. Ever so often arts, or other treasures are still being brought to life from the holocaust or that time period. It was a horrible time for so many. Not only Jews, but Christians and other people went into the ovens as well. This really is a good thing to come to light. It’s too bad more people could not be saved. To bring her fashions to life breathes life from the ashes. Best wishes, Kathy

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