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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Domesticity: The Mystery of the Red Dress

Well, with such a title this story could go any way at all, couldn't it? It could be a Monika Lewinsky kind of red dress. Or the red dress could be like the red shoes, compelling the wearer to go to a salsa club and dance the night away. Many exotic mysteries might cluster around the idea of a red dress.


But my mystery is prosaic and domestic. At my favourite store's January sale I bought a beautiful red dress of heavy cotton, with vaguely Japanese black marks sweeping over the fabric. The top is a simple sleeveless tank-top shape, loose-fitting, and the full, swinging skirt is attached just below the natural waistline. But the skirt is enlivened by numerous one-inch deep horizontal tucks about five or six inches wide. These tucks puff up the fabric and catch the observer's eye. The skirt is exciting to see and to wear.


No mystery yet.


I wear this dress in both winter and summer, adding black tights and a black turtleneck in cold weather. I wear it for special occasions at home, such as when I'm hosting a dinner party. At those times I always wear an apron over it, because cooking is messy and unpredictable.


I always wear an apron when I cook, except when I don't. And it was during one of those latter, apronless times that a big fat spatter of grease landed at the ribcage area of my beautiful red dress. The spot was as big as an egg and very noticeable.


The next day I pretreated the stain and washed the dress. I let it hang to dry, so as not to set the stain in the heat of the dryer. When it was dry, the stain was still there. I pretreated the stain and washed the dress again. Same result. I put the dress aside.


And then, serendipitously, I read in a magazine that the best way to treat a grease stain was to spray it with WD-40 before washing it. This sounded very strange, but what did I have to lose? The dress was useless as it was.


I sprayed the stain with WD-40 (which, despite its little straw nozzle, tends to spray an area larger than you expected). The WD-40 covered the egg-shaped stain and then some. It was now a four-by-six-inch oval spot. But I had faith. I washed the dress and hung it to dry.


Two days later, when the dress was dry, I couldn't see the grease spot, but that was because the WD-40 stain obscured it. Instead of a little egg-shaped stain, I now had a large dark oval in the middle of my beautiful red dress.


I took the dress upstairs to the sewing room, hoping to be inspired and to find a clever way to disguise the stain (it wouldn't be the first time I'd tried that sort of thing). But during two weeks of off-and-on mulling, no clever idea came to me. The dress was a write-off. I left it in the sewing room until I figured out the best way to dispose of it. Or maybe I'd cut off the unstained skirt and find a way to use it without the top.


Soon, however, I needed to clean the sewing room to turn it into its subsidiary role as guest room. The dress, along with several other half-finished projects awaiting decisions, went into a box that I tossed into the back of a closet.


That's the background to the mystery of the red dress. Or is this the miracle of the red dress?


Scoot ahead three months to summertime. The woolens in my closet have been replaced with linen and silk and cotton. One very hot day when I needed to look dressed-up for a trip to town, I remembered the red dress. (I belong to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind half of the population, so I'd totally forgotten the dress until that day.) I wanted to wear the red dress. I looked in all possible closet spaces and did not find it. But as I was looking I began to have a tiny memory of a stain, an ineradicable stain, on the red dress. Okay, I finally remembered that part of it. But what had I done with the dress?


I gave up on the dress that day, but the next day I had an hour to spare so I began searching again, and I found the box in the back of the closet and the dress at the bottom of the box. I took the dress to the light to refresh my memory of how bad the stain was.


There was no stain. There was no stain at all, neither an egg-sized grease stain nor a paperback-book-sized WD-40 stain. The dress, though wrinkled, was spotless; it was ready to be ironed and worn.


So I ironed it and wore it. It felt wonderful. I felt beautiful in it, swinging the skirt like a five-year-old.


I think the WD-40 evaporated over time. That's the only explanation.


Lessons learned? (1) Wear an apron when you cook. (2) Don't ever panic; things will work out. (3) Use WD-40 on a grease stain, but allow a LONG time for the WD-40 itself to disappear. (4) Have patience. (5) Procrastinate. It always pays off in the end.



Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

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