Creative Life: Be Inventive

 

DSCN5283

We all need some kind of tools to be creative. For those who work with their hands these can be simple or complex depending on what you do. Often due to lack of money or availability art and crafts people have needed to make their own tools and equipment, which has led to some imaginative solutions. I have made some simple examples myself because of the expense or if I could not find something suitable. It is good to be inventive.

Looking at homemade inventions from the past can be inspiring. I have a very old metal yarn winder (a swift) that was inherited from my grandmother. I don’t know where it came from but it was obviously homemade by someone who knew how to use a soldering iron. It is made up of an old curtain rod finial, a metal nut with screw holes on a brass and wooden base, screw-in horizontal brass rods that have vertical brass rod attachments to hold the yarn. Someone went to a lot of trouble to make this winder, probably at a time when they were difficult or expensive to buy. It is quite an ingenious solution to an old problem and might have been created by someone who was sick of holding the yarn as it was wound into a ball.

Everyone who works with yarn needs some kind of winder. I had a look on Google image search and many craftspeople still come up with interesting DIY yarn winders using a variety of materials, from old coat hangers to collapsible wine racks. It is good to see in this consumer-oriented day and age that the inventive spirit is alive and well.

This sort of inventiveness has led to home cottage industries. While I have made my own basic wooden frame looms, I needed a larger adjustable loom for tapestry weaving and found one made be a local man who made these from basic plumbing supplies for a reasonable price. He started out making one for his wife who was a tapestry weaver and others liked his design so he made them for students. DSCN5344

When creating your own equipment try not to get too bogged down in detail. The great illustrator W Heath Robinson was famous for his hilarious drawings of ridiculous inventions and contraptions. These made even the most basic of processes complicated. There is no need to go down this route and it is best to simplify as much as possible.

william-heath-robinson-public-domain-pic-14

Mackintosh’s Toffee Advert, Illustrations by W Heath Robinson, Public Domain Image, freevintageillustrations.com

With very basic carpentry skills you can make all kinds of things with a drill. I made a basic tapestry frame loom shown in a previous post. If you get the wood cut to size at the hardware store, all you need to do is screw it together. I inserted a couple of dowel pegs on each side of the frame to hold a narrow wooden crossbar so that I could suspend my design behind the warp. This made it easier to transfer my designs onto the threads and was an improvement on a simple frame.

Version 2

Ellie also made a pegboard for holding cones of yarn so that it was easy to wind it onto bobbins for tapestry weaving. She just used an off-cut of Oregon pine left over from our arbor and drilled holes for a couple of pieces of dowel. Then she sanded the whole thing and coated it in varnish. Didn’t cost a thing because we already had the materials.

DSCN5323

Sometimes you want to try out a craft but do not want buy expensive equipment, especially if you don’t know whether you will like it or not. This is a good time to create you own. As a part of learning about the weaving process I tried out spinning with a drop spindle (How to video). Luckily a relative who had done this in the past gave me her spindle. It is of very basic manufacture and if you had access to the right cutting equipment you could easily make your own. It only requires a short section of dowel and some thick plywood. Here is a link (How to video) that shows you how to make a similar spindle from scratch or with pre-cut discs.
DSCN5327

But there are always even simpler ways to make tools when you look on-line. It is possible to make a workable spindle using a couple of CDs, a piece of dowel, small hook, some glue and small rubber rings (here are the instructions for those interested).

Finding cheaper alternatives to expensive items is a clever way to learn a new technique. With spinning, the wool needs to be combed (carded) and formed into rolls (rolags) before it is spun. Some ingenious craftspeople worked out that it was possible to use slicker dog brushes instead of costly hand carders for this process. These are a fraction of the price. They might not be quite as good as the proper equipment but are ok for the beginner. I was glad that I had learned something about the spinning process without spending a fortune as I prefer to concentrate on the weaving with ready-made yarn.

Sometimes you don’t want a big piece of equipment cluttering up your workspace especially if you will not use it often. That’s when you need to think creatively. I needed to be able to draw up large designs for tapestry but did not want a large, expensive drawing board table. So I went to the hardware store and had a large sheet of melamine fibre board cut to size. I can put this on my easel to draw and then put it away against a corner wall of the studio for storage. It did not cost much and saves space.

When you can’t find just the right tool it is time to make your own. I wanted a mahl stick. This is a piece of dowel with a padded end that is used for resting your painting hand against when working on fine details. It is essential that padding does not touch any wet areas of paint or cause dints in the canvas surface so it is best that this rests on the edge of the painting. At the time I could only find ones with a short shaft and wanted one for larger sized works so I made my own. All I needed was a long piece of dowel, a champagne cork, some felt, twine and glue. It works really well and I enjoyed some sparkling wine in the process.

A tool can be made from anything if you use your imagination. For textural work with ink or paint I have used all kinds of things to create my own tools. Corks, sponges, a jagged cut toothbrush, pieces of carpet, homemade bamboo pens, disposable chopsticks and skewers can be used. An emery board is great for sharpening charcoal pencils to a fine point. They are so many things that can be employed as a tool.

Whatever your art or craft, it is great to make your own tools and equipment. Being inventive is part of the creative process and what you make can be as basic or as complex as you like.

Kat

It is wonderful to use your imagination. Here’s an oldie but a goodie by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Advertisements

A Window to the Past

DSCN4382

An old book can be seen as a window into the past and is a way to learn about the lives and interests of previous generations.  In our household library we have an original copy of The Universal Self Instructor (1883) that was a popular book for the home in the 19th century in Australia and America.  In it’s day this book would have given anyone who had basic schooling some kind of further education.  What I find fascinating about this book are the sections related the to the visual arts and crafts, particularly with regard to women.

The frontispiece depicts a goddess figure holding a torch with the words “knowledge is power.”  It was a way to improve your life whether you lived in a city or the country.  This book contains all kinds of information about business, law, agriculture, the domestic domains, leisure activities and general knowledge on many subjects, as well as social etiquette.  It is full of detailed black and white illustrations and is very much a depiction of the ideal life more than a century ago.

There is a whole section in The Universal Self Instructor devoted to handwriting.  It was considered important to be able to write well.  The cursive script is beautiful and would have taken pains to master.  Flourishes and images were added to documents so it was a real art.  Today, unless you are a calligrapher, many people’s handwriting has definitely deteriorated probably due to the constant use of keyboards and the ballpoint pen.  Inside the Self-Instructors cover is a beautiful example of handwriting done by it’s first owner.

DSCN4383

The book is all about rules and shows how restrictive it must have during that period. There are whole sections on social etiquette.  Life was a minefield of manners that included etiquette for introductions, visiting, conversation, public places, clothes, marriage, birth and death, the carriage trip, riding, debuts into society and entertaining. Nothing was relaxed.

DSCN4423

The situation that amused me was the visit to an artist’s studio or gallery exhibition. Artists had reception days when ladies could “pay their respects” to artist friends and were to be on their best behavior.  Pushing in front of others to view a work (something that is really annoying today), talking loudly and laughing were all considered extremely rude and you must never ask if a work is for sale unless you wish to buy it, which seems a bit stupid given that artists are not always great at selling their creations.  In galleries negative comments about the works should be kept to a low voice in case the artist is nearby and you should not linger in front of a work for too long.  Adherence to such etiquette today would make visits to crowded exhibitions a lot more enjoyable and artist’s would feel more comfortable if they did not have to listen to any uniformed criticism.  So not all etiquette is obsolete and without merit.

By the look of the accompanying illustration it was assumed that the professional artist was a man.  Women and girls were expected to keep to the domestic circle.  Girls were to be discouraged from being idle. To quote:

“Girls are very apt to fall into a habit of lounging about doing nothing, gaping out of the windows or napping on the sofas.”

Sounds a lot like teenage boy behavior as well but there is no mention of this.

DSCN4470

To keep them busy, Girls (and boys) were encouraged to learn drawing and painting for pleasure.  It was also a way to decorate the home.  Suitable activities for girls were to paint china, greeting cards, furniture, book covers, and silk for clothing.  Many ordinary women must have produced some beautiful creative artworks, often as a way to save money.

One of our female ancestors was a talented painter who took oil painting classes for young ladies at an artist’s studio in the 1880s.  She did some large paintings of landscapes.  I have included a photo of a small oil painting that she did on glass and a large seascape of Cape Schanck in Victoria (my photo does not do the latter justice as I was teetering on a ladder and kept wobbling).   Unfortunately after she was married and had children she did not continue with her art.   She was probably not taken seriously or encouraged to become a professional artist.  There are a couple of tiny painted china plates in the first photo that were probably considered a more acceptable pursuit for women in that era.

DSCN4452

Needle point items, pressed flowers and moulded bread dough flowers would have been typical crafts of the period

There are all kinds of suggestions for appropriate craft activities for women and girls. Of course there is embroidery, lace work, knitting, crotchet, patchwork and dressmaking, all  popular textile crafts.   There are also crafts such as creating scrapbooks, molding coloured wax flowers and fruit and the making of trifles (not the dessert).  Trifles were attractive but fairly useless little novelty gifts made to pass the time.  Inside the Self-Instructor, which is quite a tome, I found some dried flower petals pressed by a previous owner.  I wonder if they were for the creation of some “trifle.”

DSCN4432

Pressed flowers found in our copy of The Universal Self-Instructor

Another craft mentioned and probably long gone is “wall pockets,” decorative baskets lined with odds and ends of fabric, filled with dried flowers and foliage, tied with ribbons and attached to the wall (more like dust traps and spider homes to me).   Such gentille activities would have only been possible for middle class women and girls who were not forced by their circumstances to work long hours in underpaid jobs.

DSCN4429

A beautifully illustrated poem by Longfellow

Poetry is included in the book.  There are a few by women poets, like American Magaret E Sangster, and this would have been an inspiration to young girls who loved to write poetry and demonstrated that they could also become writers.

The Universal Self-Instructor conveys an idealized view of the period, but for ordinary people who did not possess many books or have the means for further education, it would have been a valuable asset.   It was like having access to the Internet in its day and opened up a world of possibilities in all kinds of fields for many people.

It’s a fascinating book and I hope it inspired some girls, as well as boys, to pursue their dreams in the arts despite the social restrictions.   With all our modern freedoms, resources and technology there is nothing to prevent us from living an artistic life.

Kat

Bags of Creativity

DSCN4035

In this world of mass production I love handmade things.  They tell the story of their creation and continue the skills and traditions valued by the people who made them.  I have a collection of handmade bags and purses from the past and the present.  They are examples of textile crafts that require time and effort to produce and reveal the various ways different cultures embellish utilitarian objects.

Some of my little bags came from ancestors and old family friends.  They were produced in the early part of the 20th century when ordinary women had more time to make their own clothes and accessories and they learnt various crafts that are now usually practiced by artisans and keen hobbyists.  Other more recent bags and purses in my collection are examples of the textile crafts of other countries that are still being created in villages and towns today.

The black beaded evening bag and two rectangular purses were made in the 1920s and 30s by an old family friend.  She must have spent hours sewing or weaving the tiny beads into art deco style designs that were fixed to the fabric backing.  Women’s eveningwear would have been an added expense in those days, especially around the time of the Great Depression and many women made their own party clothes and accessories.  They probably got ideas from overseas fashion magazines.  When I look at these I can hear the sound of jazz bands and the clinking of martini glasses and see couples dancing in their finery.  Such objects remind us that the owners were once young and enjoyed going out to parties and other celebrations.

DSCN4061

Japanese Crochet Beaded Purse, 1960s

I also have a small vintage 60s beaded crotchet purse from Japan.  This type of Japanese beadwork was popular in the 50s and 60s for bags and purses.  You can find lots of examples for sale on the web. It seems to have been a common Japanese style of beading and purse shape. These tiny purses were widely produced and are still being made today. I like its miniature size and design. It must take a lot of patience to do such fine, fiddly work and to fit on the small beads while working with a crotchet hook.

Beaded bags are still admired in the 21st century and new ones are readily available.   I have a grey beaded evening bag made in china and a small red beaded purse from India, where handicrafts are still common and are created for a wider market.  There are also many obsessed independent crafts people who create their own beaded purses for sale online.  It is good that this time-consuming craft has not disappeared.  There is something magical about the way light catches on the surface of the beads.  It is like miniature mosaic.

Another popular craft of the past and present is needlepoint.  I have had a go at this with cushion and picture kits and it is a slow and relaxing pastime.  Before these kits became commonplace women would use unmarked canvas to create their own designs or could purchase graph style patterns to copy.  Of the two bags that I possess one is a combination of petit point and standard needlepoint and the other consists entirely of petit point.  An ancestor created the former in the 1930s and the latter is an example of Austrian petit point, possibly from the 1950s.  One can only imagine the eyestrain caused in stitching such fine needlework, especially before the availability of magnifiers with lights.  Austrian bags like this are still made today but are extremely expensive because they are so detailed and slow to produce.  Anyone who does this painstaking work deserves to be paid well. Luckily there are still plenty of vintage bags available for a reasonable price for those of us with limited means.  I sometimes wonder where the owners took these bags; from the theatre in the 30s to concerts in Vienna in the 50s, it seems a world away from our modern life today.

DSCN4045

Hand Embroidered Silk Evening Bag, 1950s

Other types of embroidery were applied by hand to mid-century bags.  The stylish 1950s black silk clutch in my collection has very fine couching embroidery on the top flap. Nowadays a soulless machine would be employed do this type of detailed embroidery.  This purse reminds me of Audrey Hepburn’s elegant style in a Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

DSCN4051

Embroidered and Crocheted Guatemalan Bags

Buying craft items made in another culture helps to keep the local textile traditions alive.  I have three bags from Guatemala that demonstrate examples of different textile crafts. From woven fabric and rich embroidery to crotchet, these decorative bags represent the work of individual Guatemalan women.  An ordinary bag is turned into a joyous expression of their creativity.  I love their use of color and texture and when I carry these bags, they make me feel happy.

DSCN4060

Iroqui Uzbek Cross Stitch, Uzbekistan

A small handmade cosmetic purse that I use all the time comes from Uzbekistan in central Asia.  It is an example of Iroqui cross stitch, a traditional craft of the Uzbek tribe which uses silk thread.  Equally colorful yet so different from the Guatemalan textiles, this purse belongs to the stylized aesthetic you associate with the central Asian communities along the legendary Silk Road.

At a time when computer technology is giving humans less to do manually in the workplace, it is good that there are still some things where a machine does not produce the best result.  Automated textiles just don’t have the same character as those created by hand.  It is the imperfections that make them unique and visually pleasing.  No wonder so many people are rediscovering old crafts for their own pleasure or to sell on-line.

My small collection of handmade bags and purses display craft traditions from several continents that span nearly a century.  It is wonderful to see the varied methods that have been employed in their creation and decoration. I really admire the patience and ability of the makers of these objects. They have transformed what is just a receptacle for carrying around ones possessions into expressions of their creativity and concepts of beauty.

Kat

The More You Know The Less You Know

dscn3987

Woven bag: My first weaving project

You see an art or craft that looks relatively easy and fun to do so you give it a go.  Then you get into it and soon discover that there is so much more to learn and various avenues to pursue to gain more knowledge.   It’s a continual learning process and as with most art forms, it is usually a case of 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration to become really proficient at any creative discipline.

I was reminded of my creative journey into tapestry recently when I received a craft catalogue in the mail.  One of the products was an easy weaving kit.  This brought back the memory of how I started learning to weave that ultimately led me to study tapestry design.

In an old set of 1970s magazines called Golden Hands I saw instructions on how to make a frame loom to do simple weaving projects.  It peaked my interest enough to want to make the loom, which I did.  My fist project was a woolen Greek style bag, made by folding the woven fabric, sewing up the sides and knotting the warp threads to form a fringe at the top.  I attached plated shoulder straps.  It turned out quite well for a first project, but because I drew and painted, I wanted to learn how to do my own imagery in woven tapestries.

This involved more research and I bought a basic book to learn how to weave tapestries.  I modified the loom so that it was now a simple frame that I could use vertically with a clamp, rather than horizontally and bought a metal dog comb to beat down the weft threads, as recommended by the book.  At first my attempts were quite amateur because I was using a very basic technique and needed to learn more sophisticated methods if I was going to improve.

Luckily I saw an advertisement for classes at a local tapestry workshop and enrolled in a short course.  This was really helpful as it taught the methods used by the workshop and my weaving improved greatly.  I ended up doing a more advanced course there and I was hooked.  I was now able to weave from my own designs and the final results were much more proficient.

dscn3974

Tropical Rhythms: My first tapestry after completing the short courses

Ellie was also interested in textiles and I taught her what I had learned and she also got the tapestry bug.

But I still wasn’t satisfied and felt that I needed to learn much more to become highly skilled in tapestry design and production so, as previously mentioned in this blog, Ellie and I both enrolled in an Art course where we could major in tapestry.  It was a very practical course and we were constantly challenged to develop our skills and learn many new techniques.

From textures to interpreting complex designs, we had to continually stretch ourselves so that nothing was impossible to weave and were encouraged to develop as visual artists.  We took part in workshops with master tapestry weavers, both local and from overseas.  We learnt textile technology and how to dye wool, as well as occupational health and safety so that we did not poison or injure ourselves.  The only downside of doing a course is that sometimes you must do projects that do not always interest you creatively and this can take away some of the enjoyment.  But if you want to do this professionally you must learn that there are times when you might need to make compromises.

The course was quite intensive and after I graduated, I had to take a break from weaving. So did Ellie.  I have been doing other creative things, like drawing and painting, as well as music, but now I feel that I want to get back to creating small-scale woven tapestries and rediscover my love for the medium.  All because I received that catalogue in the mail.

What begins as a simple creative pastime can turn into a complex adventure.  To become really good at any creative discipline takes a lot of hard work and dedication.  It helps to have a never-ending thirst for knowledge, as there is always more to learn.  And even if, like me, you take a break and do other things, you can always return to your earlier passion with a fresh viewpoint.

Kat

Getting into the Goldilocks Zone

dscn3902

The Goldilocks Zone

We’re in the middle of a heat wave and it is affecting my ability to think.  For two days I have been trying to write a post but I keep getting bogged down with detail and too many facts.  Exactly what I want to avoid.  I am trying to write about how finding your creative outlet is not always a straightforward process.  You try an art form that looks appealing but, like Goldilocks first found, it is not quite right and you need to move on and find something that will give you enough enjoyment and passion to persist.  But our struggling old air conditioner is either not coping with the heat or making it too cold and it’s numbing my brain.  I am definitely not in the “Goldilocks Zone”.

The Goldilocks zone is a term used to signify the habitable region around a star where an orbiting planet can support life, that is, it is not too hot or too cold but just right.  Well I’d like to be in that zone because it is not “just right” at the moment.

But when is it ever “just right”.  Often we put off doing something because it is “not the right time” or “it will be better tomorrow” or “I must do this mundane thing now so I’ll put off what I’d love to be doing till later”.  Well maybe “just right” is “right now” and I should devote some time to drawing or playing the ukulele.   Yes, I don’t think that I have mentioned that I love the uke and it is one of my passions along with singing.  Its feel-good tone makes me happy and lifts my spirits and I love writing songs on the ukulele, even more than on the guitar.   It is definitely something to get me into the Goldilocks zone, along with using water-soluble pencils and pastels, creating assemblages in the garden or playing ball with our dogs before it gets too hot and they collapse from heat exhaustion.  There is no time like the present to get into that zone so don’t delay.

If you have not yet found your true passion, it pays to experiment with different art forms to find one that is “just right”.   Sometimes it takes time.  I have tried various forms of creative activities and not all of them have worked out as expected.  At art school I decided to do ceramics as an elective because my mother had once done this as a hobby and she still had the pottery wheel and small kiln.  I thought that this would be great to try.  But it wasn’t meant to be.  I found the process too time consuming and lost the desire to continue after a year of constant breakages.  Usually my best work was damaged during the drying stage and I was always redoing projects.  I was not cut out to be a potter.  Too stressful.  We ended up selling the wheel and kiln to someone who really loved the activity.

dscn3914

Japanese Garden 1: Tapestry Design and Sampler

Sometimes you discover your true passion through doing some other art form.   From an interest in textiles I had taught myself tapestry weaving and did a short course to learn more.  I really enjoyed creating something out of thin air and decided to take it to the next level.  The Art School I attended offered this as a major and I was able to learn how to design and create woven tapestries in both small and large-scale format.  I became quite skilled at this process and always received good grades, with a distinction in my final year.  But I found the thing I liked the most was doing the drawings or painted designs for the tapestries and developing my own visual style.  While I still like tapestry, I prefer the immediacy of drawing and painting which were my first loves.  Getting experience in different creative areas will not only help you to find your bliss, but will give you insights into all kinds of art forms and it is never a waste of time to learn something new.

For me, playing music, as well as drawing and painting, get me into the Goldilocks zone.  If you haven’t already, it may take a while to discover what does this for you, but in your search you could find yourself taking interesting paths and deviations that is part of the joy of the creative journey.

Kat

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

dscn3744-1

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

Kat

Party Costumes: When at First You Don’t Succeed

As you have already heard from this blog, Kat and I have been invited to a “Gangster and Moll” birthday party.  My character will be Blanche Barrow, the sister-in-law of Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame, and her style dress shall be different from that of Bonnie Parker, Kat’s character.

Now like my sister I do not want to go in the expected costume of a 1920s “flapper”, dressed in masses of fringing or sequins.  It is just not my style.  Instead of going out to hire or buy a party costume, I have created a unique costume by combining key pieces from my wardrobe in a way that reinterprets the silhouette of the period.

The Costume

For this occasion I have combined a blue, floral patterned velvet cardigan over a plain maroon ankle length skirt.  To accentuate the skirt and hips I have wrapped an Indian velvet scarf, around the top of the skirt and pinned it together with an oval brooch at the front to form an overskirt with two overlapping floral panels.   For my jacket I have been inspired to select one from my collection of Japanese haori.  It is a soft pink/violet with a small, stylised floral pattern of white and grey flowers.  The kimono shape was fashionable during the 1920s and early 1930s.  To bring it all together I have accessorised with a violet, embroidered floral shoulder bag to match the skirt.  I have also made a headpiece using ribbon, diamantes and feathers to truly get the look of the period.

The Headpiece, Plan A & B

It seemed like such a simple task. Make a small headpiece to look like a 1930s lady dressed for a night in a speakeasy.  This was my chance to be creative.  I could make the headpiece from materials that I already had and would not need to spend a lot of money.  Just in case I did not have the correct fixings at home I went to a large chain store specialising in sewing and haberdashery items to buy some basic construction materials.  I was playing with the idea of making a small rosette or panel on which I could fit some sequins or beading and feathers.

I purchased a headband with a woven straw disc, a fancy diamante trim to make the headpiece “sparkle”, 2 packets of white feathers, some circular fabric discs to fix the feathers to my selected base and some metal hair clips to fix it to my hair.  At home I found some pieces of scrap material, blue taffeta silk and a patterned floral silk in blue, pink, green and white.  These would match my costume.  I also had some interfacing and Tacky Glue.

I soon realised that the headband and the round straw disc were the wrong shape for the diamante trim and too big for my hair.  I decided to move to Plan B.  Six layers of interfacing were ironed together and cut in an oval shape slightly wider than the diamante trim.  The floral silk was cut larger than the oval base, centred and glued to the back of the interfacing.  I then sewed a line of stitches around the outer edge of the loose fabric and gathered it in the centre to form a ruche on the front of the disc.  Decorative ruching was popular during this period.  Next I stitched a metal hair clip to the back of the oval panel.  I glued the white feathers together using between two of the white fabric discs as I planned to glue them to the front of the fabric then attach the diamante trim on top.  Before doing these final steps I experimented with how it would look in my hair.  It did not work.  It looked terrible.  My hair is too curly and wild and it would not stay in place.  I decided I needed another solution and not waste any more time on this idea.

The Headpiece, Plan C

Back to the notions box in the studio and with much rummaging I found two violet satin ribbons in a paper bag.  They were good quality and already were tied in bows.  I think I must have saved them from packaging, where sheets or linens were tied up in pretty bows.  After trying one ribbon on my head to see if it would fit, it did, I found the size of the bow was perfect to fit the feathers and the diamante trim.  I first sewed the fabric disc holding the feathers to the front of the bow, with the diamante trim sewed over both the feathers and the bow.  Voila!  Finally I had the perfect headpiece for my costume.

Making this headpiece reminded me that there is more than one way to be creative.  You can carefully plan your project from the start, so that you have everything worked out so that you save time, money and effort.  You can also work more freely as I did and make it up as you go along.  The important point with both methods is to recognize when an idea is not working and that you sometimes need to go through the design and construction process and fail before you can find the right solution.

My costume is now complete.

Ellie