The Tipping Point

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When you are doing something creative have you noticed sometimes there is a point where everything can suddenly go wrong if you don’t immediately adjust to the situation? I guess this is also echoed in our way of life. In many areas we have reached the tipping point for our planet. This is a good reason for artists to use recycled materials.

I read on a local news site yesterday that China is no longer accepting waste materials from Australia for recycling (link to article). This means all the plastic and paper that was to be sold to China will go into landfill if it cannot be recycled here. Councils are now asking ratepayers to cut down on the amount of waste for their recycling bins. This is the result of sending our problems overseas and not finding a creative solution for recycling large quantities of paper and plastic in our own country. If we are to prevent turning our environment into a tip and being swallowed by mountains of rubbish, it will take a change of mindset for our society, which won’t be easy. At the very least, as artists, we can recycle materials in our work.

Many local artists and designers have already been using recycled items to create works of art and are trying to make a difference no matter how small. It is also good for the soul to turn rubbish and junk into something beautiful, as well as unique. Here is a link to an exhibition Turning Trash to Treasure held at the South Melbourne Market in September 2017.

Reusing old materials is a source of inspiration and often requires a lot of rethinking when you run into difficulties. Ellie and I have been learning to make paper from old cotton rags and clothing for use in artwork. We have been having problems with making a very fine pulp, as mentioned in recent posts. This requires breaking down the cut-up rags in the washing machine and repeated processing in the blender.

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It is quite time-consuming so we decided to mix this with a pulp made from shredded computer documents and other paper of a reasonable quality. We found out that if you add calcium carbonate powder, also known as whiting or chalk, this will make an acid free pulp (here are the instructions: How to make Acid Free Paper). We bought some from our local art supply shop as it is used in printmaking. We have also decided to size the paper with a clear artist’s gesso after drying rather than adding starch to the pulp.

 

Papermaking is a really good way to use up old paper rather than putting this in the recycling bin. Last weekend we started making paper with paper pulp on its own to get a feel for the process. This was totally different from the cotton pulp. The first day that we tried this the pulp was a bit lumpy and so some of the sheets were a little thick. When dried this it looked like the recycled molded cardboard used to separate wine bottles in the carton, which was not what we were going for.

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We had also obtained a smaller A5 mold and deckle to make cards, which was easy to use and required less pulp. As the lumps disappeared from the pulp mix the paper became thinner and smoother.

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When we began doing this outside under some sun umbrellas it was quite warm. Just as we were starting to get the hang of the process the sky darkened and there was the sound of distant thunder. With the storm getting closer it was quite hard to concentrate. Not wanting to be stuck outside with lightning imminent we hurriedly packed up and put the paper in the press under the car port then dried it flat inside. After drying the paper was pressed under a pile of heavy books because it had curled a bit.

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The next day it was even hotter and we decided to continue the process under the car port just in case the weather changed. The pulp had softened even more and was a better texture. Because it was thinner we had to be careful when getting it off the deckle. The cleaning cloths that we use for separating the paper sheets need to be really wet or the paper won’t come off the deckle. The hot weather didn’t help and we had a lot of disasters before getting this right. If you sponge the back of this once it is upside down on the cloth the paper comes off more easily.

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We noticed that there was a variation in thickness of the paper but it was better than the day before. If the pulp mixture became too thin the paper was more likely to fall apart when transferring it to the cloth so it was necessary to add more pulp when this was starting to happen. You had to watch out for this tipping point to avoid failure.

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When we had finished we pressed the sheets between our plywood boards with bricks on top and dried them by pegging the backing cloths on a drying rack. This worked better than trying to dry them flat on a surface. Some sheets are better than others but we can experiment with the sizing on some or use them for collage so nothing is wasted and we can always re-pulp sheets that are too horrible.

 

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Next we are going to try some shredded magazines together with recycled computer paper to see if we can make some interesting decorative paper. After we have reprocessed some of the colored fabric we can include a small quantity of this fibre in the mix.

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Individually we might only be using a relatively small amount of recycled material but it’s better than doing nothing. It’s a pity that more local manufacturers are not doing their own recycling of plastics and paper for their products. So much has been done overseas and now that this is no longer sustainable we will all have to be aware of the amount we consume and how to cut this down. This will not be easy so the more people who can come up with creative ways to reuse recyclables, as in artwork, hopefully we can avoid the tipping point.

Kat

There are quite a lot of songs with “Paper” in the title. I love this one from the sixties, Paper Tiger, performed by Sue Thompson. It’s a live version but she is miming and obviously enjoying herself.

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A “New” Recycled Christmas Tree

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At this time of the year I always like to cheer up our home with some Christmas decorations and try to be a bit creative by reusing old ones in a new way. I wanted a change from the music stand tree we have had for the last few years but buying a new one was the last thing on my mind, as recently Ellie and I have had a lot of expenses after dealing with our mother’s funeral costs. So what to do for a change without spending any money, as well as sticking to a recycling ethic?

I remembered that several years ago a small potted camellia tree had died because the roots had become pot bound and we left it too late to replant. It was a lovely shape so I cut off the dead roots and leaves and put it in the studio for a while to display some bird nests that had fallen in the garden. When I became tired of the clutter I put it in the roof because I did not want to throw it out. After some careful maneuvering I managed to get it out of the roof in one piece. Once the spider webs were removed I could see that it would make an interesting Christmas tree. If you have any trees with dead branches that need pruning these would work as well.

All I needed was a container to stand it in and found that it looked good in a white indoor plant container that we already had. Anything reasonably large would do like a ceramic pot, a vintage milk can or a huge glass jar or vase. I decided that as the planter had a wide opening I would put a narrower container in this to hold the tree in place. What to use that was the right size? I came up with a unique solution using an old WWI brass mortar shell case. Not something that everyone has kicking around but a tall jar would also do the trick. I put marbles around the tree trunk to stop it from wobbling in the shell case (you could also use small pebbles or sand) and packed newsprint paper around the container to stop it from falling over in the planter. A layer of white polyester stuffing for toys etc., that came rom our craft supplies was used to cover the paper and hide the shell case. It simulates snow. Anything fluffy and white could be used, like cotton wool or you could use sand or pebbles, depending on your theme.

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Now it was time for the fun of decorating the tree. I used the same decorations that had been on the previous tree, but added a mass of aluminum butterflies that were in storage. All of these were bought on sale. Because I try to stick to a colour scheme of silver, white with a touch of gold, it is easy to add or make more matching decorations. We also have some large silver glass balls, but with dogs this is risky because they will go for any baubles of this shape. I don’t want to have these crashing to the floor and smashing into tiny smithereens so left them off the tree.

With stars, angels, tiny Santas and musical instruments, the silver fir trees and butterflies, a peace dove and a white horse, the tree looks really great. We don’t have any suitable Christmas lights, but at night the silver decorations really reflect any light in the room and the tree glows. These also reflect the bright sunshine of a summer’s day.

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In the front hall I did something similar by hanging a star and some embroidered butterflies on a single branch sitting in an ultramarine blue glass vase. Gold and white glass ornaments were placed on mum’s vintage aqua glass platter. The decorations look lovely with green and aqua vintage glass vases and a colourful Italian hand painted platter. These were found at op shops or were gifts. Again I just used what we had already.

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On the front door I hung a wreath made from a plaited straw circlet that had once been part of a Swedish Christmas mobile. I decorated this with some green and cream ribbon that came from a florist’s arrangement. It looks summery and cost nothing.

Reusing old stuff is a fun and inexpensive way to make the festive season brighter. Nature is also a great supplier of tree materials and decorations, from dead branches to evergreen leaves. If these can be found in your own garden so much the better. You can also put any vegetable matter back into your garden as compost or mulch.

Just because you don’t have a lot of money does not mean you can’t have a beautiful and fun celebration. Never forget that your creativity is beyond price.

Kat

One of the best Christmas songs is How to Make Gravy by Australia’s Paul Kelly. It is happy, sad and touching all at the same time. Here’s a live version.

Travel to the Past

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When I need a holiday but haven’t the funds or enough time for a long trip, I like l to take a journey back to another time when life was slower and people enjoyed simple pleasures.  How to do this without a time machine?  Well I deploy our collection of vintage items and use them to create a fantasy of a long gone period.

As I have mentioned before in this blog, I love going on picnics.  But sitting on the uncomfortable ground fighting off ants is not always pleasant.  Why not go back to the mid 20th century, when you could sit in style anywhere with your folding picnic furniture to enjoy the great outdoors.  Back then a family or group of friends would load up the station wagon with all kinds of goodies and equipment and would go off to spend the day in the country.  It would have been a bit like a mini expedition without the dangers (if you exclude potential bushfires or snakes).

This type of picnic is something that I would like to recreate when the weather is not too hot.  Anyone can do this with a bit of imagination and not too much expense.  I set up our vintage picnic furniture and equipment on our back lawn to illustrate my idea for a mid 20th century picnic.  We have some old deck chairs, a folding stool; a folding wooden table and chair; a vintage linen table-cloth, old thermos and wine cooler; shuttlecock and quoits sets, all of which came from relatives.  The glass jug; aluminum beaker set; picnic basket and small wooden case were found at op shops (thrift or charity stores).  The umbrellas came from an Asian shop.

Just imagine a lovely country landscape with lots of trees (and nearby parking).  You set up your furniture and unpack your picnic basket in the shade.  It is a beautiful day with a slight breeze.  After a delicious lunch of gourmet sandwiches and salads served with cold wine or craft beer and delightful conversation with friends, you can indulge in a short walk or play a novel old-fashioned game of shuttlecock or quoits (or whatever game takes you fancy) or take a nap after reading a good book.  Then you have afternoon tea or coffee and cakes before you pack up for the journey home.

This is how I would like it to be, but it always pays to take the insect repellant, mobile phones and other mod cons just in case.  Resist the temptation to start Googling or checking your emails.  The whole point is to get away from 21st century stress and slow down a bit.

In Australia there are picnic race events in the country and you could attend one of these and have this type of picnic in style.  Appropriate clothing would complete the vintage feel.

There are even some people in Australia who live their whole lives in another era (Pia Anderson).  They dress in vintage clothes and live with objects and furniture from their favored period.  I think that this would take a lot of effort to do all the time and would not seem like a holiday after a while.  But whatever turns you on.

You could probably travel to other past times for a picnic theme.  Think medieval spit roast.  For this you would need a group of hungry people and no total fire bans.  A Roman banquet would be a bit more difficult.  Hard to find folding Roman couches but maybe a banana lounge would make a good substitute and there are always those portable shade cabanas or gazebos for a Roman tent if you have access to one.  These themes could be hilarious with a group of friends.

So next time you plan a picnic try something different.  Forget the modern minimalism of backpack convenience and go for a historical production for a fun way to visit the past.  There is nothing like a bit of escapist fantasy as a restorative.

Kat

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.

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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.

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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.

Kat

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.

Kat

Be Creative with Your Old Festive Decorations.

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Each December I give a Dalek figure a Santa hat and a stocking and decorate a Tardis money box with a magnetic tree, because Time Lords and their evil nemeses deserve a bit of festive joy, as do we all.  Decorations for the festive season put you in the mood for fun holidays and family get-togethers.  Every year it is nice to add a few new pieces to your collection, but the advertising catalogues we receive in the letterbox seem to be full of ever more expensive or unoriginal items.  If you like doing craft you can make your own, but if, like me you do not have the time to do this in a big way, you can remake and repurpose your existing decorations.  In our household we reuse items from our decorations box every year, but try to give them a new spin, with the latest catalogues providing inspiration.  It is so much more imaginative and satisfying than just going out and buying new baubles.

In Australia it is also summer and I like to limit the amount of northern winter decorations, because the days are long and there are hot days to enjoy.   A reference to the snow is ok because it can make you feel cooler, but it is good to celebrate the summer time.

Sometimes broken decorations can be given a new purpose.  A few years ago I reused the round metal frame of an old wreathe that had lost its foliage and hung this by a chain from the ceiling above our stair banister.  From curtain hooks I hung metal silver butterflies and white, gold and silver papier-mâché stars to form a mobile.  In the centre was a hanging red bird candle holder.  To match this I attached a long silver chain on the left side of the stairs decorated with silver and red hearts and a white peace dove.  To the right of the mobile I hung a white glittery horse, a larger silver heart and to reflect the summer,  a red mobile with natural shells.  It was a look that suited our modern living room and did not clash with the African artifacts and the black bamboo pole on the stairs.

Over the years we have done the real and the artificial tree thing, but a couple of years ago I decided to do my own original take on this iconic item.  We have an old silver music stand, and the base forms a pyramidal shape like a pine tree when the top half is removed.  Once placed on the TV console, I wound the silver metal chain around the outside held with a couple of curtain hooks and voila, I could hang decorations from the links.  The same star decorations from the mobile, some silver trees and musical instruments, together with a metal angel, were attached to the chain with small wire hooks.  I fitted a metal skewer into the hole in the top of the central pole and blue tacked one of the stars to it.  A silver metal reindeer, a couple of silver summer insects and a tea light sat under the tree to give it interest.  At the other end of the console our grandmother’s 60s wooden leaf-shaped dish held some silver fruit decorations.

Last year I went for more of a Scandinavian effect.  The horse and the peace dove were now on the tree.  I added a reindeer themed card on a stand and next to the tree the silver reindeer sat beside a couple of small logs, offcuts from some tree pruning.  On top of the flat log was a little rabbit blowing a trumpet that we have had for years.  Just a little bit of change is often all that is needed to update your theme.

We had some old Ikea straw decorations in storage and one of the mobiles was a bit tatty, so I cut off the straw angels and stars and tied these to the stair banisters so they sat against the wall.  Some were also hung from the ceiling above the stairs, together with another Ikea straw mobile and the red bird.  In the wooden leaf dish now sat three Ikea woven straw pinecones.  I assembled an abstract snowman figure from an alabaster ball that came from a broken lamp, topped with a porcelain ball from a broken salad dressing shaker and sat it next to a gold star.  On the bookshelves opposite I put some more traditional wooden ornaments; small white angels, musicians and Santas next to a glittery tree card.  The whole scheme was very modern with references to northern traditions, yet did not look out of place in our warm climate.

I have not decided what I will do this year because I usually decorate spontaneously.  Maybe I will dig out some of the less used items in the storage box for a change.  I have noticed that traditional wooden toy decorations are making a comeback so I might play around with some that we have tucked away.

You may prefer a more traditional festive scheme, but whatever your style, have fun and use your imagination to rework what you already possess.  It is possible to come up with interesting ways to decorate you home without spending a great deal, if at all.

Kat

Creative Dressing: Summer Party Jackets

This year in Victoria the hot weather has been a long time coming and everyone is relieved to be finally ditching those winter clothes.  In Australia we have the advantage of end of year holidays in the warmest months when we can wear our summer finery.  Dressing up for summer parties can be expensive and it is good to have items that can be used in different combinations so that they last for more than one season.  In Melbourne there is also the unpredictability of the weather that makes choosing an outfit tricky.  You never know when a cool change will make the temperature plummet from above 30 degrees to the chilly teens.  A great solution to this dilemma is having a summer jacket to go over your lighter clothes.

I have been collecting these types of jackets for several years and switch them around with different tops and skirts to create new looks.  This has saved lots of time and money and reflects my own style of dressing.  Vintage Japanese Haori jackets are among my favorite pieces.  I bought a couple of these at a Japanese store in Melbourne, and while not dirt cheap, were great value because they are beautifully made and each is unique.  I also have several less expensive Indian made jackets: one floral Haori inspired; two identical made of lace in black and green; and a black sheer one.

I like to mix these jackets with vintage clothes and accessories and newer items for my own individual look.  I have a black contemporary skirt that goes with different tops under all the jackets.  For a 60s look I wear the skirt with a vintage black sequined top and a 1930s bugle beaded necklace both inherited from a relative.  This looks great under the red and black 60s Haori.  If I want to appear even more colorful, I wear the red floral Haori with a camisole top and the skirt and accessorize with a Chinese enameled buckle belt and Venetian glass beads, souvenirs from overseas trips.  For a cooler look I put the same top and skirt under the Indian floral Kimono jacket, together with a black leather belt and a Scottish green enameled pendant.  Combining clothing and accessories from different cultures and eras in the one outfit creates visual interest, as well as being fun.

The lace and sheer jackets completely change the feeling of the skirt and top.  For that little black dress effect I wear the black lace jacket with the leather belt and a vintage bead necklace found at the op shop.  Switching to the sheer black jacket creates a different outfit, especially when you add a chunky colorful eighties necklace and the Chinese enameled belt.  For a softer look I replace the jacket with the green lace version and wear this with a floral Indian top, tied with a matching sash and the Scottish enameled pendant.

There are many more ways that I can wear these jackets.  Putting them with a longer skirt or with pants allows many different combinations. Then there are the endless changes that can be done with various accessories.  Sticking to a base color like black means that you can get away with buying a few good quality shoes and bags that make an outfit appear stylish.  I see these jackets as pieces that I can keep for years, as they are timeless classics and do not get the same amount of wear as everyday clothes.

If you want to do something similar you can find suitable vintage jackets at local recycled clothing stores and on the internet.  You might be lucky and find one at an op shop or a Sunday market.  For new items there are ethical Indian clothing stores to be found at major shopping centres and on-line (like Tree of Life and Ishka ).  Just buy what appeals to you and develop you own individual sense of style rather than following fashion fads.  After all, what we wear is another form of self-expression and it makes you feel good to dress for yourself.

The following is a link to an Australian website where you can buy genuine Haori jackets:

japanmade.com.au – Haori page

Kat