Costume Parties: One Person’s Heaven, Another Person’s Hell


It’s nearly New Year’s Eve Party time.  Some people spend weeks making costumes for such an event,  while others won’t even wear a silly hat.  It seems that while many party guests love to dress up and pretend to be someone or something else, there are those who refuse to make any effort at all.

I have noticed that those who do not attend in costume often end up feeling left out and don’t have as much fun as the party goers who have embraced the theme.  Maybe some people have a costume phobia because of some tortuous experience in childhood or early adulthood.  If you are going to a party this weekend, for the reluctant participant I have made the following list of recommendations that should help anyone survive an event that requires a costume.  Some of these things are from personal experience and I still like to dress up.

  1. Never wear anything that you cannot sit down in. Eg. A Christmas Bon Bon outfit made of cardboard and crepe paper is a bad idea.
  2. Following on from point 1, never wear anything made in one piece that requires removal to go to the bathroom.
  3. It is best to avoid costumes made from crepe paper altogether because, firstly, they are a fire hazard and secondly, if it is humid or wet this will become droopy and colors may run down your face.  Eg. when your mother made you a crepe paper flower costume and it wilted like a real flower in a heat wave.
  4. Never wear anything that you do not want to be caught in if your car breaks down or if you are locked out of your house. Any realistic characters with a fake gun are probably not a good idea.
  5. Never wear anything that blocks your vision, prevents you from eating and drinking, or is so hot that you can only have your underwear underneath and cannot take it off when you go into a melt down. Even if they look cute, full furry animal costumes are a big mistake and should be left well alone.
  6. Never substitute indelible felt pen for make-up or use red or black grease paint. These will require industrial strength cold cream to remove.
  7. Never wear anything that is a hazardous to others.  Eg. Pipi Longstockings style plaits with a wire core can be dangerous for anyone sitting next to you.  Unless it’s someone in a Captain Hook costume.  They’re already wearing an eye patch. But the damage you could do on the dance floor does not bear thinking about.
  8. If you travel to a summertime party and it is still daylight, never drive through the city centre wearing an 18th century style wig and dress. You will cause a spectacle when stopped at traffic lights and it is impossible to hide.  Maximum embarrassment will result.
  9. Clown costumes were never a good idea, even before the creepy clown epidemic.
  10. If you disregard the above points, you are probably a masochist or an extreme exhibitionist.  So no sympathy when it all goes pear-shaped.

Now that you are aware of the pitfalls, it is possible to come up with some reliable costume ideas.  What follows are some costume suggestions for both those who love to dress up and for those who are more hesitant.

If you cannot sew like me, collect clothes that can be turned into a character just by using a bit of imagination (Op shops and weekend markets are good sources).  You can then reuse or reinterpret favourite costumes and keep them stored away in a wardrobe or vac-packed, so that it is never difficult to find something at short notice.  For example, my several long velvet dresses have been used to create Queens, Medieval ladies and witches, depending on the occasion.  One of my favorite characters from both film and TV versions, is the evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  She is just so nasty, has all the best lines and is a perfect character for a party costume.  Much more fun than dressing up as Miss goody two shoes Snow White.   I have a blue velvet kaftan dress that looks quite medieval and very “Evil Queen”.  All I have to do is put a glittery black knit top underneath, add some gold chains and a fake jewel, a black veil and a (cardboard) jewel encrusted crown and I have a great costume for colder weather. “An Apple, my pretty?”

The Crown was created by cutting out the shape from a cardboard base.  This was covered with fabric and was then covered with gold paper that had cutouts left to reveal the underlying material.   Stick on Velcro was used to fasten the ends of the crown together, and it was decorated with glass gems. Took a bit of work but I think that it looks very regal and can be used more than once.

You could make a King costume using the same principles.  A turtle neck top worn with slim black pants (tights if you dare) under some kind of robe or cape, with a similar crown, some chains around the neck and a prop sword and you could be King Arthur, Aragorn or if you like the dark side, the horrible King Joffrey from Game of Thrones, who has some great lines and an over the top death scene as inspiration.

For a warm weather costume the versatile standby is a fairy outfit, which has endless permutations.  All you need is a light party top, a skirt made from transparent or flowing material and some wings, which can easily be found at a $2 shop.  I have some glittery white ones.  I put these over a red, white and black chiffon style top that has long flowing sleeves.  For a skirt I use a couple of white half-slips, the top one being made of transparent net.  In my hair I put some cerise artificial flowers that I sewed to a large hair clip.  Attached to the flowers is a copper-colored butterfly for a bit of whimsy (for the purpose of the photos I have used a particularly itchy wig mistakenly bought from a party shop. This type of thing should have been on my warning list, along with feathered masks that make you sneeze).

With such a costume, you can be the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella, the Good Fairy from Sleeping Beauty or if you like, the Bad Fairy.  Just do everything in black.  And as for you men out there, I have seen many a brave male in a fairy costume.  But if this is not your thing, there are always wizards or elves, the main requirements being a pointed hat and staff for the former and pointy ear attachments for the latter (and a loud voice and predilection for poetry).

If you can, it is also fun to create your own costume character.  Ellie and I are sci-fi fans and for a local art group’s New Year’s Party we designed and made Space Alien costumes.  Ellie, who can sew, used metallic gold fabric to make tabards (medieval term for open sided tunic) with art deco inspired padded shoulder extensions, requiring a lot of polyester stuffing material.  We made black satin belts that fasten with Velcro and attached a gold painted cassette tape to each to simulate some kind of power pack.  The tabard was worn over black cotton camisoles and black leggings (I had to use a long skirt in the photos as the dummy does not have legs).  We carried plastic ray guns that made a whirring noise.  On our heads we wore sparkly gold wigs from a $2 shop.  These don’t itch.  We both won a prize for our costumes and had a lot of fun being silly and quoting clichéd lines from sci-fi movies, Star Trek and Dr Who.

These types of sci-fi costumes work well for both men and women. They can also be adapted for colder weather with a long-sleeved top underneath and warmer pants and boots.  Also good outfits for a group.  You can pretend it is an Alien invasion.

There are plenty of costume ideas that are imaginative and comfortable to wear, so you should be able to find or make something that will ensure that you have lots of fun, without any major costume malfunctions.

If you are going to a New Year’s Eve party I hope that you have a wonderful time.  I think that we all want to say goodbye to 2016.

Happy 2017


The Christmas Lilies are in Bloom Again

It is a hot, blustery Christmas Eve in Melbourne.  As we are about to have several hot days in a row, I thought I would photograph the lilies in our garden before they wilt.

Our white Christmas Lilies, also known as Day Lilies, are looking lovely at the moment.  It is quite windy and I had wait for lulls in between the gusts to avoid blurry photos.

Also some of the pink Calla Lilies are out, although not as many as last year, but they give a bit of colour.

It is going to be hot on Christmas day tomorrow.  35 degrees celsius is expected.  I hope that the Lilies survive a bit longer because they bring lushness to the garden in summer.

Enjoy the season, whether it is summer or winter.


When We Believed in Fairies


Fairy Design

Watching colourful butterflies in our garden the other day reminded me of our childhood obsession with fairies.  Ellie and I listened with fascination when our parents read stories from illustrated fairy tale books and we played make-believe fairy games in the garden.  In December we had the lovely, paradoxical combination of both the summer fairy world and the winter wonderland of Santa.  The belief in an enchanted world of fairies, elves and a magical being who brought gifts on Christmas night, helped to develop my love of imaginative imagery and fantasy.

Fairies bring magic to the world of children and no wonder they are as popular as ever.  I remember visiting the Ola Cohn Fairy Tree in Melbourne’s Fitzroy gardens as a child and being fascinated by the carved fairies, elves and animals that I thought would move when no one was watching.  Our grandfather would take Ellie and I to the fern gully at the Royal Botanic Gardens.  We called it the Fairy Dell and grandfather would point out the fairies floating under the fronds.  We would see them because our belief was so strong.  Another time he gave us a rock that had a mushroom growing out of the moss on top and told us that this was a fairy house.  The mushroom and moss are long gone but I still have that rock. It was special.


The Ola Cohn Fairy Tree

In my room hung a print of fairies trooping in a forest (The Fairy Way by Margaret Winifred Tarrant).  I loved that picture and I have it stored away as a memory of childhood.  One summer holiday Mum made us some wings out of wire coat hangers and pantyhose and we would dance around in our ballet leotards or swimsuits pretending we could fly.  I don’t know what happened to those wings.  They probably fell apart from repeated flapping.  If it were too hot outside we would create a fairy house by covering a table with a sheet and play underneath.  We found inspiration for our make-believe games in books.  My favorite Australian fairy books were about the gumnut babies, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, by May Gibbs and The Little Green Road To Fairyland, beautifully illustrated by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite.  I loved the fact that the fairies were depicted in the Australian landscape with native animals and gum trees so it was easy to imagine them in our own environment.  The fantastic fairy tale illustrations by Arthur Rackham were other favorites.  We still have these books because they are timeless.


It was fun being allowed to stay up late to watch the old 1930s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream starring Mickey Rooney as Puck on TV.  Although it was in black & white, the film captured the dreamlike world of the fairies and brought Shakespeare alive.  I saw it again recently and it is both an ethereal and humorous version of Shakespeare’s play, despite the basic special effects.  We also enjoyed the 1951 British movie version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol staring Alastair Sim as Scrooge, which usually screens around this time of the year.  The jovial “Ghost of Christmas Present” was a version of Santa Claus.

Like many children, we would visit Santa’s Grotto at a city department store, make our gift wishes and have our photo taken with a perspiring Santa, who always looked like they were about to collapse from heat exhaustion.  It can’t have been an easy summer job even with air-conditioning.  On Christmas night we would leave out a drink and a snack near the fireplace despite the fact it was unlit.  Because it was summer, dad said that Santa would prefer a beer, not milk, as delivering presents was thirsty work.  We were innocent children and it never occurred to us that if everyone did this Santa would have become inebriated.  He always drank his beer.  Waking up at 4 am to the presents hanging on the end post of the bed was always exciting.  We could never wait till daylight.  Ellie would come into my room and we’d unwrap everything together as this was much more fun.


Santa Xmas Cards

I think I was in the fourth grade at school and mentioned what I wanted from Father Christmas and another girl said, “you don’t still believe in Santa, it’s your parents”.  I was shocked and devastated.   She was not one of my friends and probably said it to be superior.  Because I did not want Ellie to have the same bad experience, I decided to let her down gently and told her that our parents handed out the presents on Santa’s behalf, because he could not get all the way to Australia in one night.  I wish that our parents had told us the truth rather than leaving it to chance.  It is always sad when childhood beliefs are destroyed by some unkind, thoughtless person.  I bet that girl is still a sourpuss.  But the world did not end and it was just a part of growing up.

I don’t remember when my belief in fairies ceased.  I think that it just gradually faded away.  Probably the Santa incident was the beginning of the end.  The tooth fairy vanished after I gained my second set of teeth.  Without that cash incentive she became redundant.  Maybe fairies start to disappear as we learn to cope with the realities of life, but it is hard to forget their magic.

As an adult Myths and Folklore are still important.  I find modern fantasy artists who depict the fairy realm very inspiring.  One of my favorite painters is the British artist Josephine Wall, who produces beautiful, incredibly detailed paintings of the world of fairies and other mythical creatures.  I also love to read fantasy novels and watch films that are based on old fairy tales.  Probably the first book that I read on this subject and still one of my favorites is Faerie Tale by Raymond E Feist, with its references to Celtic mythology.  Quite scary and definitely not a bedtime story for little children.  A masterpiece of the fairy tale genre is the 1940s French film La Belle et la Bete (Beauty and the Beast) directed by Jean Cocteau.  With its living statues, the Beast’s palace is deliciously creepy and surreal.

Fairy tales still capture my imagination and have been an inspiration for my songs and art.  I have made cards with fairy and Santa images to accompany gifts for friends and relatives and will continue to be influenced by these mythical beings and will try to bring them alive.

And hey, if the Irish and the Icelanders will not harm a fairy tree or move an elven rock because this will affect the fairies and elves who dwell there, who’s to say they are wrong. The natural world needs all the help it can get.

So if anyone asks, “do you still believe in fairies?” I will answer’ “Yes, I believe in the idea of Fairies” and that will be the truth.   And as for Santa, he is everywhere whether you believe in him or not.

Happy Holidays.


(There is a lot more to read and view if you click on the text links in this post, including the full version of the movie, A Christmas Carol).

Creative Blockages: Beginning Something New

For me the hardest part of a new project is beginning.  A blank page or canvas, a pile of new materials waiting to be transformed can sometimes be daunting.  Once I am over this hurdle and have begun I find it much easier to get on with my work, but making the first step is always the most difficult part of the process.  There is the danger of using delaying tactics, like spending time setting up the equipment and art materials so that everything is easy to reach, then being confronted by the task in hand and becoming paralysed.  So it is good to have several strategies that help get you going and the following have worked for me when I have become blocked.

You need to loosen up if you want to create freely and begin something new.  A few years ago I did some creativity classes at a local art group and learnt some helpful techniques. One method is to do a drawing based on how you are feeling at that particular moment. You take a large sheet of paper and some pastels and immediately draw on the paper without thinking about what you are doing, just how you feel.  It is not about creating a finished artwork but about freeing up your mind.  That said, it is never a good idea to use newsprint paper for drawings because if you do one that you want to keep it will disintegrate over time.


Free Spirits

The same freeing up method can be done with modeling clay, words, singing vowel sounds or losing yourself in dance movements.  Beat a drum and howl like a wolf if you wish. Whatever releases your ability to create.  Once you are feeling less constrained then it is easier to tackle a new project.

Sometimes a blank white page or canvas can put you off beginning a new work.  The solution is to use coloured paper or paint a coloured ground that harmonizes with your subject.  A mid range colour is good because you can add the highlights and shadows over this base.  Once the white blankness is gone you have already begun.

But what if your canvas is a blank screen.  Well the same system applies.  Write something, anything, even if it is just headings or ideas.  Get rid of that empty screen. Think while you write or write without thinking.  Whichever works at the time.  With the latter, I find that the words seem to appear out of nowhere and that my thoughts start to make sense on the page.  The subconscious often works things out before you are consciously aware of an idea.  Then the momentum carries you along.

It is difficult to start something new if you think you need to produce the whole work in one session.  Visualise where you are going but concentrate on what you are doing at that moment and take a break when you are starting to get bogged down with detail.  Agonising over every pencil mark, brush stroke or word never helps.  It will turn the whole thing into a chore and this will show in the final result.  You want you work to look effortless no matter how much time and energy went into its production.

Probably one of the most important things is to make what you are doing fun, then you will be raring to get on with your work.  I like to put on some music while I am working. Sometimes I need relaxing music, at other times good old stimulating rock and roll.  I find this gets you into the flow and also cuts outside distractions.  Music can give you energy and take you out of your everyday state of mind that makes creating easier and that much more enjoyable.

On my pin board is a cutting from an old calendar that says “all glory comes from daring to begin” (Eugene F Ware, “Ironquill”).  How true.  Without taking that first leap you will never get anywhere.


Making and Remaking Necklaces

In the summer I find I am more creative.  It is so much easier to get out of bed in the morning when you are greeted by sunshine and beautiful blue skies.  It is the time when I like to work on new projects or just sit back and soak in the loveliness of nature while I think about new creative ideas.  If it is hot I do not want to do anything too energetic, so sitting around making a small item is a great thing to do.  Some of my summer projects have included creating necklaces out of found objects or remaking broken ones.  Then I can wear them when going out to summer gatherings.

The first one that I made was from some old beads and mother of pearl buttons that I had collected.  The necklace is quite chunky and looks equally great on a plain T Shirt or on knitwear in winter.  I just threaded the beads and buttons onto some fishing line to make an interesting pattern.  Not hard at all.

Another necklace was made from shells and coral that I had found on trips to beaches both near and far.  The organisms were all long dead.  These were easy to knot onto black cord because there were holes in the coral and shells.  I like to wear these with a light black or white top and they are particularly appropriate for the seaside.

It is also good to repair old vintage necklaces that are made from interesting or rare beads. I inherited an old carved bone necklace from a relative.  I think that it was originally a single long strand of beads, but it had been converted to a double strand necklace that did not look very attractive.  The flower shaped beads were dirty and I did not want them to deteriorate further, so I cleaned them gently using a weak solution of methylated spirits and water, applied with a soft toothbrush. Once they had dried I threaded them onto strong linen thread.   The necklace looks much cleaner and better as a single strand.  A redesign can make all the difference.


I also restrung a broken vintage plastic necklace, possibly from the 1950s, that had been given to me by a family friend.  It simulated orange amber beads and some were missing but this did not matter.  A few looked like Chinese carved bone beads and I was able to reassemble the necklace to make the most of these in the design.  It did not have a clasp and fitted over my head.  It is one of my favorite pieces.


Vintage buckles and dress clips can be turned into interesting necklaces.  I have a few diamanté ones.  The easiest way to wear these is to attach them to a velvet ribbon to make a choker for some old world elegance.  I cut some black velvet ribbon to fit around my neck and sewed a press-stud in the appropriate place at each end.  I can slip on the buckles or put on a dress clip and wear a different one to suit my mood or outfit.  Thinner, longer velvet ribbon can be used to hang pendants, like lockets, instead of on a chain.  Simple.

It is good to have some black leather cord for making necklaces.  I have a round amber disc with a centre hole that needs to be looped around a cord to wear as a pendant.  This is easy if your want to wear it long because it will fit over your head.  But I like to wear it as a short pendant at the throat.  The solution was to tie some old necklace clasps that I had to the ends of a shorter length of the leather, which was looped through the centre of the amber disc to hold it in place.  I can do this up without any trouble and it is now the length that I prefer.


None of these necklaces required any special equipment to make, only some basic materials.  Just a matter of using attractive or old items to create a new wearable object.


12 Reasons Why Dogs Make Us More Creative



  1. Dog’s adventures are an endless source of inspiration
  2. Dogs love to watch you work so you are never lonely
  3. Dogs know how to pose for a portrait so you always have a subject
  4. Dogs never criticize your work
  5. Dogs let you take them for a walk when you have a creative block
  6. Dogs jump on and lick annoying people who interrupt your work
  7. Dogs know when your pencil or brush needs replacing – they eat it
  8. Dogs know when you should finish a drawing – they eat it
  9. Dogs like to taste Still Life subjects so you learn how to work quickly
  10. Dogs show you how to paint with nose and paw – on the floor and on the walls
  11. Dogs show you how to select found objects from the beach, the park, the bedroom, your friends’ handbags …
  12. Dogs make you laugh and are an artist’s best friend


Creative Summer Garden Decor

Now that it is summer I want to spend as much time as I can in the outdoors.   It is always lovely to sit outside and read or chat with friends.  It is good to have comfortable and sheltered places in the garden where you can do this and enjoy the fine sunny weather, so you need some suitable garden furniture.  You can buy items that look exactly like furniture found indoors, but these are not very bohemian, which is the style that I prefer.   I think that it is more fun and creative to do something with old furniture and use props to dress up your garden when called for.

It would be nice to have a covered area where we could leave out cushions and less weather proof items and if you have such a structure make the most of it.  We have a very basic wooden garden table, an old railway bench that came from our grandparents and some old rusty metal kitchen chairs on our terrace.  I like the rustic look, but as a change I dress them up with interesting fabrics and other items for a more exotic feel.  Last summer I did this before entertaining some friends.

I covered the table with a painter’s canvas drop cloth.  You can buy these quite reasonably from hardware stores in various sizes.  Drop clothes are really useful as throws and tablecloths, especially outside, because they are heavy and will not blow around easily.  On top of this I put a gold Chinese style table runner and some colourful cloth tablemats, all found at an op shop.  Because it was breezy I anchored the ends of the runner with matching paperclips attached to the base cloth and placed straw mats along its edges.  These could be used as coasters.  On the tablemats I put some (op shop) candleholders and at the far end, an incense burner with lemongrass stick incense to repel flies and mosquitoes, but these weren’t a big problem because of the wind.

An old striped tablecloth was used to cover the railway bench, with some Indian cushions for comfort.  We have some black seat cushions that the fit seats of the metal chairs and a couple of striped Indian shawls were thrown over their backs, with cushions to rest against.  A large market umbrella shaded the table.  From it’s right side near the fernery I pegged up a colourful sarong to cut the glare of the sun.  This moved in the wind and was quite soothing.  From the wooden internal supports of the umbrella I hung a copper wind chime, found at an op shop and the musical notes also created a relaxing mood.   Everyone felt like they had been transported to a more tropical location rather than being in an urban setting and this was a great conversation starter.  Some good cocktails did not hurt either.   It is worth collecting interesting textiles and table accessories from places like op-shops and Oxfam, so that you can use them in imaginative ways outdoors.

I also like to sit and read or write songs in another sheltered and quiet part of the garden, where it is warmer when there is a cool breeze.  A couple of the metal kitchen chairs and an old white cast aluminum table sit in front of a pittosporum hedge and are flanked by a potted wisteria and a pot of thyme.  I can put a beach umbrella in the table for shade.  With a cool drink, some cushions and a good book, you can be perfectly comfortable in this spot.  What more do you need?  Well a nice view would help.  So opposite the table and chairs, against an old rusty gate, is a collection of bottles, ceramic pots, a statue of The Three Graces,  a mask of Pan and some found objects, together with pot plants, to form an interesting scene (referred to in 22 Oct post).   Behind this is the cool greenery of the fernery and hanging from the walnut tree above are some wind chimes.  This gives me something to look at and listen to when I need a break from reading or writing and I feel that I am in my own little oasis.

Don’t think that you need the latest décor to have an attractive garden for summer  entertaining and in which to enjoy the fine weather.  It is much more fun to do your own thing and your garden will not be the same as anyone else’s.