Christine here. Does anyone remember those Braid Craft kits that were found in every fabric and craft store in the 1980’s and ’90’s? I was, in those years, either a college student working at an awful work-study job, or graduated and working as a mental health social worker for a salary that could barely pay my college loans, let alone my rent. Due to financial realities, I eventually left that field and re-trained in another. But at the time, I would see those Braid Craft kits and I would think, I would really like to learn how to do that. And then… assessing the contents of my purse… I’d have to walk away.
Years later, after being rather intensely focused on rug braiding with wool since 2006, I thought about those kits and bought one from eBay.
I was surprised at how thoughtfully put together the kits were. Even the illustrations (and I’m picky about illustrations) were pretty detailed and clear. This kit was not something hastily thrown together but was meant to clearly convey the pleasure of making something with braids.
I got to thinking about the woman who had put these kits together. I googled Shirley Botsford and found her. She is living and working in Beacon, NY. She owns and runs a bed and breakfast (Botsford Briar Inn), designs for Simplicity Patterns, teaches classes on crafting in the Hudson Valley region of New York, and is a frequently-published author in the craft world. (Side comment: crafty people are always so interesting: they always delve into so many different areas at once). Looking up her books, one of them really intrigued me, called “Daddy’s Ties.” It presents a wide range of things that you can do with a loved one’s ties after his passing away. One of her projects with ties was a beautiful dress. This topic particularly interested me because I recently braided a “Memory Basket” of ties for a former co-worker after her husband died.
I contacted Shirley and she graciously agreed to an interview for my newsletter on braiding, The Revolutionary Rug Braider. She told me about her life in the world of textile design, from designing fabrics to working with magazines and pattern companies to publishing her books and booklets. She mentioned that she had once, after a friend challenged her to do so, made a braided wedding gown. I almost jumped up and down in excitement while trying to ask her calmly if she had any pictures. She said she wasn’t sure where the pictures were but she could find the gown and take some new ones for me.
Here, then, is one of the photos that she sent me, of Shirley with her 1987 entry to the Fairfield Fashion Show, “The Braided Bride.” It’s made of satins and sheers and other fancy fabrics, braided together in strips for the bodice and jacket sleeves and headpiece. The skirt then is made of the braid strands serged together. I have more photos in the newsletter, but here is one:
Shirley says she went through bottles of fray check while working on the dress, because those fabrics would start to fray if you looked at them.
I had the greatest time talking to her, and hope to visit her at some point as I’m traveling through that region of New York!