Christine Wilks’ “Fitting the Pattern” explores the parallels between textile creation and writing through an interactive dress pattern that the author uses to create her memoir. Wilks’ relationship with her dressmaker mother is the premise of the piece, and the audience is able to unravel the history of this relationship by working with the layout of the dress pattern. The audience is able use interactive tools to piece together her memoir, which is scattered in pieces throughout the fabric. The memoir is constructed as both a story and a poem. Each adjustment that the audience makes to the fabric causes another line of the memoir to appear on the screen. Through this method of interaction, Wilks relates to the reader her struggles of fitting into the mold that her mother had for her during childhood and the pressures she felt from society. Specifically, the expectations and norms she felt have to be fulfilled as a woman. She equates this mold to the predetermined shape of a dress pattern. Rather than have the mold fit the narrator, the narrator suggests that she was brought up under the impression that she had to fit the mold.
Unlike a traditional story with a clear beginning, middle, and end, the organization of the piece allows for the memoir to be read in any order. This is reflected by the reader’s choice of tools and in what order they are used. Different readers are likely to read the memoir in different orders, which effectively brings personalization into the interactive quality of the piece. In my reading of the piece, I noticed that using flash rather than individual hyperlinks hinders the reader from navigating to specific parts of the text or back to a specific line. This is comparable to the creation of a dress. Each piece is woven together until they are no longer individual pieces that can be revisited but instead a completed garment.
Through the use of the dressmaking tools, the reader is able to find more lines of the poem. In this way, the separated lines that are individually uncovered are emphasized and resonate within the reader. For instance, the reader uncovers the line “I had to learn to tough it out” then has to use the tools to find the line “so unladylike, so unlike my mother,” by arranging the text in this way, the lines follow each other yet are still separated. This further follows the organizational pattern of the lines being able to be read in any order.
The memoir is relatable to women through the idea that women have to be a certain shape. The narrator is specific in her experiences as she relates the expectations of her mother, but through a feminist approach it is clear that these experiences are a reflection of society. The speaker asks the question, “The picture on the pattern envelope/am I supposed to be that shape?” This can be paralleled to the media’s depiction of females. Just like Wilks, many women – especially growing up – are forced to question their physical characteristics and whether they meet society’s standards. Wilks’ memoir describes that at a period in her life she was “the model daughter/coming apart at the seams.” Although Wilks may have been meeting the standards set upon her, she wasn’t emotionally well. This line is also important as Wilks is again able to relate the premise of fitting into the clothes to fitting into female pressures: The “seams” signify both the clothes and the author.
Through my personal reading, I was able to relate to the memoir through the use of feminist notions in a realistic, individualistic setting. Wilks describes how society judges and gives expectations to females which as a female are relatable.
Specifically, the line, “But following the pattern/is so much easier than inventive stitchery,” is particularly applicable to my personal experiences. I have noticed that people tend to follow the norm and ideas that society believes rather than believe something different. This is because straying from the norm is difficult and requires strength and resilience against the pressure to confirm. Through this approach, if society believes females should be a certain way, then it is difficult to believe that females shouldn’t be that way. In my experience, it is discouraged for females to do strength training in fear that they will become “too muscular.” Instead, women are encouraged to be thin which is more “feminine.” Having these gender-specific notions of beauty is exactly what Wilks writes about in her memoir.
“Fitting into the Pattern” was published in 2008 and is an impressive example of e-literature. By clicking on a hyperlink, the user is brought to a screen which is essentially the cover piece of the memoir. The piece uses a flash program to create an interactive piece that requires an input to create an output. A user can connect to its interface using the internet. The reader is able to interact with the piece and is a part of the memoir’s completion. The memoir explores feminist issues that Wilks experienced throughout her life, which she organizes in a way that allows the reader to become a part of the retelling. Although a memoir is a supposed to be an account of a single individual, Wilks’ means of presenting the text allows for the reader to become more involved in the story as well as relate themselves to the experiences.
Gabrielle Vernachio was a student of Dr. Lisa Swanstrom for a course in Literary Theory taught at Florida Atlantic University in the Spring term of 2014.