The Written Image: The Word Dress

From the March/April 2013 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

When bridal-gown designer Jennifer Pritchard Couchman of Lancaster, England, was approached last year to create a garment crafted entirely from the pages of books, she was thrilled by the idea. “I traditionally create bridal gowns using silks and lace, so the opportunity to create a dress out of books was a fantastic challenge,” she says. The one-of-a-kind piece was commissioned by Litfest, a literary festival held annually in Lancaster, and was to be worn by Litfest editor and contemporary fairy-tale author Claire Massey during a reading at the 2012 festival. Once Couchman agreed to make the dress, she says, she was faced with figuring out the mechanics. “The solution came to me on a train trip to Europe: a classic English ball gown made of pleated, folded pages, with a papier-mâché molded bodice, all tied with red ribbon, echoing traditional bookbinding.” Virago Press, publisher of Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales (2005), provided Couchman with several copies of the book to use in the endeavor, which, she says, “worked perfectly, with its mix of typeset tales and woodcut illustrations.” The Word Dress, as it was named, which used over 2,500 pages and took Couchman three days to make, premiered at the festival this past October.

As planned, Massey, pictured above, donned the custom-tailored dress while reading from a recent fairy tale, which she wrote specifically for the event. For more photos of the Word Dress, visit the Litfest Flickr page at or Couchman’s blog at