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Poppy dress taking shape for Remembrance Day in Powassan

When all the design work is done, Gohm figures she and her employees will have cut about 2,000 poppies and put in about 200 to 300 hours of work into the project
Screenshot 2020-10-28 at 8.42.55 PM
JMI Design Studio owner Julie Gohm, right, has begun cutting and attaching the poppies that will make up the poppy dress she's creating. Gohm is getting help from several of her employees, including Diane Hanselman, centre, and Marlene Savarie. The poppy dress is expected to take up to 300 hours to complete. Kathie Hogan Photo

By early November, people who pass by the front window of JMI Design Studio in downtown Powassan won't be able to miss a major Remembrance Day reminder.

What they'll see in the display window is a dress laced with poppies from top to bottom.

JMI owner Julie Gohm is putting the dress together with help from her employees.

The poppies are being hand-cut and then sewn onto a black polyester slip or lining.

Gohm says the material is 100 per cent polyester, a move she says should keep the dress from fraying.

The poppies also will be made from polyester with a bit of lycra added to give them some elasticity.

The poppies will come in six different sizes.

While the smaller poppies will have buttons for their centres, the centres of the larger poppies will be made from vinyl.

The dress will be heavy when complete, although at this time Gohm doesn't know just how heavy.

However, in the end, the weight doesn't matter because Gohm says the poppy dress is intended strictly as a display and is not being created with the goal that someone will wear it.

Gohm says she got the idea for the poppy dress from a similar image she saw on Facebook a few years ago.

“It was a dress in a storefront window and it was made of poppies,” she recalls.

“I paused to look at that picture and to remember. I thought what an amazing eyeopener. And because I make dresses, it resonated with me. I thought 'Wow, I wish there was something I could do for my community.'”

But Gohm had to wait two years before that desire would become reality.

Before buying the downtown building on Main Street in Powassan, Gohm's previous location did not allow for the type of display she had in mind.

But near the start of 2020, she acquired the Main Street site, which has a “beautiful window at the front.”

But another event had to occur before Gohm pursued the goal of making a poppy dress.

That event was COVID-19.

When the province went into lockdown in March, it created challenges for people, demoralized others, and just made pursuing regular activities we take for granted nearly impossible.

“It came to me this summer that I wanted to do that dress,” Gohm says.

At first, it was just a fleeting thought, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized COVID was going to pose challenges for Remembrance Day. We might not have the types of services we're used to seeing.”

With many communities hitting the pause button for their respective Remembrance Day ceremonies or reducing the size of their events, Gohm wants to do her part to make sure people didn't forget the significance of Nov. 11.

“As people walk by and see the dress, they're going to pause and remember that without all those men and women we would not have the freedoms that we have today,” she says.

“I think people forget that. They forget we are who we are because of where we came from generations ago. So this became an important thing for me.”

Gohm says the fabric that serves as the lining to hold the poppies will have a train similar to the trains that some brides have on their dresses.

The poppies she and her staff are cutting out will see the smaller ones placed at the top of the dress and then become larger as they make their way down the lining, creating a cascading effect.

When all the design work is done, Gohm figures she and her employees will have cut about 2,000 poppies and put in about 200 to 300 hours of work into the project.

Gohm isn't concerned she's putting all this time into creating something that will never be worn.

“It's the idea of what the dress represents,” she says.

“And it represents all those who have fallen and died on our behalf so we could be here. They died for us and sometimes we forget that. We truly do.”

With so many hours being devoted to the creation of the dress, Gohm also acknowledges it's going to cost her a considerable amount of money, but says in this instance that doesn't matter.

“It's important to remember, people first, things second,” Gohm said.

“It took me a very long time to come to that realization.”

At this time Gohm doesn't know yet if the poppy dress will go up on an annual basis or if she will try to create something new for next year.

And staying with the military theme, Gohm also plans to display a military suit alongside the poppy dress when it's showcased in the display window.

- Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, North Bay Nugget. LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.