Text & photography: Annelijn Steenbruggen.
Her youngest son was born on the celebration of St. Michael’s day. With him on her mind the all-round talented Doortje Bruin designed a dragon costume. What started as a spontaneous activity for her own children, has developed into a sustainable costume range labelled: Madam Petit.
The idea of a dragon costume arose while visiting a forestry centre in the local dunes of ‘Schoorl’ in the Netherlands. At this centre Doortje saw several animal costumes. Her youngest son, feeling related to the story of Saint George and the dragon, wanted to dress up as the dragon. However, a dragon costume couldn’t be found among the forest animal costumes. “Let’s try and make him a dragon costume”, were Doortje’s thoughts. She used a green, woollen cloth from her closet and just started cutting and fitting until she found a sewing pattern that really resembled a dragon and was comfortable for her son to wear.
Doortje always creates her designs from the fabric. “I intuitively cut the jacket of the dragon costume and imitated the hood from a coat”, she tells. “The first prototype didn’t fit at all. I disassembled the costume and kept amending and resewing it until it fitted. Off course, the dragon had to look fierce, hence the tail with the red spikes. The little heart at the tip of the tail gave the dragon a sweet touch. When I finished the costume, I disassembled it one last time and traced the patterns onto tracing paper. Later, I have re-used these patterns as a basis for lion-, horse-, mouse-, rabbit, parrot and dolphin costume designs.
From childhood Doortje was taught anything can be done, until proven otherwise. “As a child, I started from scratch with an antique sewing machine that belonged to my grandmother”, Doortje reflects. “At first I started sewing clothing for my dolls, later on for myself. Usually I could only wear them twice before the stitches came loose. My father used to ask: “What sort of curtain are you wearing?” and my primary school teacher said: “You can never tell whether Doortje has dressed up or not”. This was until I took sewing lessons from a friend of my mother. She showed me how to create a skirt or a dress out of a circle of fabric. These lessons were very helpful. She taught me how to make a design from the fabric, and how to amend it until it had the right fit. After secondary school I had difficulties choosing what to study. My versatility is also my handicap, it’s hard for me to focus. I couldn’t picture myself as an artist working in a studio. I completed a degree in teaching arts. I found it comfortable to have a license that allowed me to teach. Although my subjects were drawing and ceramics, this education contributed to my general creative skills and out-of-the-box thinking.
Doortje has worked as a visual arts teacher until she became a mother: “I preferred to be at home with my children”. Sitting still is not her thing though, so soon she started sewing as a hobby. As her children grew older, she felt the urge again to start doing something for herself. Doortje: “Sewing combines well with running a family, I can put my work aside for a while and continue whenever it suits me”. She started with skirts, bags and flags, like many other diligent mothers. Despite the oversupply on the internet, she dreamt of her own web shop. “If I want to stand out, I have to be distinctive”, was her conclusion. “That is how my enterprise ‘Madam petit’ was established. I fully focus on sustainable costumes. Not just by using natural and recycled materials, but also sustainable in the sense of usage (you have to be able to climb trees or start a campfire, wearing these costumes). The costumes can be worn for a very long time – from a toddler up till about eight years old – and will last for years so they can be passed on to a younger brother or sister”.
Whether Doortje creates a cowboy or an Indian costume, she always uses the same guidelines: a good fit, children can put the costume on and take it off again without the aid of an adult and the hood should easily come off and back on again. I work with natural materials. These materials are less flammable and more breathable than synthetic fabrics. The outer layer usually consists of wool. Wool is comfortable for the child to wear and it’s pleasant for me to work with. Because I remembered how itchy wool can be on the skin, the inner lining is always made of cotton. I have chosen to make the costumes uniform on the outside in order to make them recognizable. On the inside I deliberately use different colours and prints which make every costume unique. Actually they are not costumes – they are more like vests – so the child is not restricted in playing. When my children were younger, they wore the animal costumes as a coat – even when going to school.
Doortje has a clear mission with Madam petit: “I really enjoy children playing and learning how to play with a little help from my costumes. When I observe my own children, I can see they are developing while playing by: copying, acting and reflecting. It helps them to discover their personality and boundaries. In a fantasy game a child can determine their own truth: a dragon can be sweet while a fairy can be naughty. Playing is also processing: replaying and reliving their experiences, thus being able to place them. I hope my costumes stimulate roleplay and fantasy and helps children to become aware of their body and their inner world”.
Text & photography: Annelijn Steenbruggen.
Source: Antroposofie magazine (www.antroposofiemagazine.nl) ; AM September 2016.