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: – Haori page


Getting creative with Fancy Dress Costumes

Now that we are heading into November it’s time to celebrate. In Melbourne we have the contrast of the autumn festival Halloween and the spring racing carnival.  The Melbourne Cup is next Tuesday, straight after Halloween and lots of people like to dress in costume for both events.

We are not attending any racing or Halloween celebrations but a mutual friend is celebrating a major birthday at the end of November with a Gangster and Gangster’s Moll party theme.  In the past we have made some elaborate fancy dress costumes for parties, but Ellie’s sewing machine is broken and needs mending.  This will leave little time to do anything complicated so we will have to improvise.

Most of the female Gangster costumes available on line seem to be based on the 1920s flapper fashions, or on male gangster pin striped suits and felt hats. The well-made versions are quite expensive.  As I am more of a fan of 1930s fashion I thought that it would fun to use Bonnie Parker as inspiration for a costume, because I already have suitable clothing in my wardrobe.  The real Bonnie Parker favored dark colours, as opposed to Faye Dunaway’s pale clothes in the 60s movie.  What I have put together could easily be used for a Halloween “witchy” outfit with a few adjustments.  Ellie is still thinking about her costume but will wear something similar but with more colour.


Bonnie Parker

I’m going for an overall 1930s look, not historical accuracy and will wear the following: a bias cut black skirt with uneven hemline; a black lace three quarter sleeve blouse; a long sleeve black cotton knit top; a black beret; black low heeled court shoes; a velvet bag originally found at the op shop; a vintage crystal necklace and a pair of Art Deco style black enamel and diamante earrings.  It could be warm at the end of November so the outer top can be removed as necessary, although given recent Melbourne weather, summer is still several weeks away.

The buttons on the knitted top need replacing because these are too small and keep popping open.  We have a collection of old buttons and have found some larger black cut glass ones that should do the trick and look more appropriate for the era.  As you can see from the photos, I also have a wig.  I might wear this but only if the weather is cold because I always end up taking it off when I become too hot.  Otherwise I will go with curly hair.

I will try to imagine myself as a frequenter of a gangster run speakeasy during prohibition in the early 1930s.  We have been asked to help with some group musical performances and can sing and play Bonnie and Clyde on the guitar, as well as All That Jazz.  It should be a fun party and I’m sure there will be a lot of hilarity with plenty of potential for overacting our parts.

Don’t panic if it’s too late to order or make a costume for parties and celebrations.  With some creative thinking you can use clothes that you already possess and come up with a suitable character for any occasion.  If you are having problems there are plenty of last minute suggestions on the internet and below is a link to a website that has many helpful DIY costume ideas.

37 DIY Costumes You Already Have In Your Closet


Creative Spaces: The Garden

The house next door is going to be demolished next week. The neighbours are building a house that covers almost the entire block and there will be none of the original garden left.   Paved areas will replace it with a controlled minimal planting design reflecting the present obsession with low maintenance.  While everyone is entitled to build what they like on their own property, what makes me sad is that many people give little thought to their own and their children’s creativity when designing a new garden. A garden should be something that we treasure as a place to learn about the environment and use our imaginations.

Ellie and I have found that since childhood we have used our garden and those of our grandparents, as inspirational and creative spaces.  As children we built cubby houses out of whatever materials were available: old doors and corrugated iron from the woodshed; bamboo poles and old branches from the garden.  Ellie was the master builder and I was the interior decorator.  We learnt how to put things together and come up with our own solutions, as well as creating our own stories in play.  There was a wilder area at the end of the garden where we could imagine ourselves in a jungle or the bush and several shady trees to safely climb.  As we grew older we started to grow our own plants and contribute to the shape and nature of the garden.  We still have a reasonable sized garden and use it as a place to express ourselves and get ideas.

Our garden is constantly changing.  We need to pave an area outside our family room, add new plants to the garden beds and replace some trees.  It is not perfect but nor should it be.  The main thing is that it is a place where we can be experimental with ideas, just like in our studio.

The fernery adjacent to the section that needs to be paved is our “wild” area.   It contains birds nest ferns, tree ferns, fish ferns, aralias (fatsia japonica) and some Japanese grasses and is shaded by a walnut tree and a large Yeddo hawthorn shrub.  The fernery is densely planted and sheltered and is the lowest point in the garden where the rain water runs.  It has coped with drought conditions in summer and the colder temperatures of winter.  It’s microclimate gives a cooling effect in the summer and the nearby table is a pleasant place to sit and a place to create.  I have often used the tropical looking foliage in my drawings and other artworks.  Having a variety of landscape areas in a garden can stimulate your imagination in many different ways.

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It is fun to be quirky with what you place in the garden.  As in the house I like to create found object arrangements.  For example, I made a small table out of an old upturned concrete pot with a circular concrete paving stone for the top.  On this are interesting rocks, a shell and a tea light holder made from a terracotta pot, with a glass insert that came from a broken hurricane lamp to keep out the wind.  Another still life of rocks and shells hangs above in a wire basket.  Together with an Italianate garden statue and lots of pot plants, this forms an attractive vignette that can only be seen when you turn a corner from the main lawn area of the garden. It is a contemplative quiet spot to sit on a sunny day.


Having a variety of pots for plants can allow you to change an area of the garden and create interesting groupings and vistas.  Pots can be moved around depending on the season and the movement of sunlight.  For instance, we have a large concrete driveway in the back garden that was rather bleak.  To make this area more visually appealing we have used a variety of pot plants to break up the space.  We are not obsessed with having every pot matching, as this can look too “designed”.  Instead a mixture of sizes, colours and textures is more individualistic and repetition of shapes can link the pots together.  In this area there are a pair of low blue pots, a taller blue pot and two identical cream concrete pots, all of a similar rounded shape.  In addition there are several terracotta pots, most of which have an inverted conical shape.  Filling the pots with the same or similarly shaped plants also creates visual harmony.  We have used spikey plants that include a native silver grass with yellow flowers, prostrate and standard rosemary, some interesting bromeliads and a pointy apple tree.

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Sitting against a wall of the house near the driveway is an old rusty Victorian pot plant stand, one of a pair, which came from our great grandparents home.  It holds an orchid, some bromeliads and a spider plant amongst others.  The raised pot plants give colour and surface interest to an otherwise blank brick wall.  If you do not have a pot plant stand you don’t need to invest in an expensive plant wall feature.  You could fix inexpensive chain store metal brackets and shelves to hold light weight pots.  Or you could use old metal brackets and wood and paint them any colour you wish.


If you have limited outside space like a balcony or courtyard, it is still possible to use these outside areas creatively with pot plants and interesting objects.  Just use a smaller scale than in a garden.  If you have no outside space, some municipalities have community gardens where locals can contribute to the care of plants, grow vegetables and create sculptures and landscape features.  In contrast to the increased destruction of private gardens, community gardens reflect that there is a still strong need for gardens.  It makes you feel good to be out in the fresh air enjoying the greenery, digging around in the earth or making a new outdoor item.

With so many regulations and laws about what you can do in public spaces, it is wonderful to be able to create what you like in your garden.  Gardens keep us in touch with the natural cycles and foster our need for free self-expression.


Imagination is Free

In the last few years the cost of living has skyrocketed.  This has really impacted on the price of art and craft materials, as well as hardware items.  After paying for life’s essentials there are often inadequate funds available for expensive creative projects. It is necessary to find a cheaper solution and sometimes having limited means leads to more interesting and original ideas.

We are lucky to have had three generations of hoarders in our family.  Not the extreme kind, but those who kept old furniture and junk items under their houses, in their sheds, garages or storage areas.  While we had to get rid of a lot of this stuff when our relatives died, we managed to keep some interesting things stored in the attic and shed of our family home.  We have been able to use such found objects around our house and garden in a creative and fun way without spending a cent.

It helps if you like the naturally distressed look, objects that have genuine flaking paint and real rust.  Sometimes all a thing needs is a gentle clean or a minor repair.  This saves on time and materials, like paint and sandpaper.  The age of an item shows its history and over restoring would destroy any authentic character.

For example, an old distressed dolls house in our studio is used to display a collection of bottles dug up from our garden, as well as glass jars, that are filled with interesting old buttons from our grandmother and driftwood, flotsam and shells found at the beach. It also holds some sewing and craft materials.  I find it fun to change the objects every now and then, as these give me inspiration and are visually pleasing.  This is a case of using things found around the place in a new manner that costs absolutely nothing, as well as requiring little time and effort to produce.

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It really pays to look in your close relatives’ sheds, attics, garages and basements to see if there is anything useful. Best to ask permission before rummaging around these places and appropriating objects to prevent any family arguments.  If you do not have your own source of free stuff you can find things in curbside hard rubbish collections and skips (dumpsters), but to avoid breaking local council laws you should ask the homeowners if it is ok to take something from their pile.  Also there are plenty of free recycling websites around Australia and the world where people give away unwanted items or get stuff for free.  Probably the next most inexpensive places are garage/yard/car boot sales; then op shops/thrift stores/ charity shops, weekend markets and of course on line auction sites.

It definitely is satisfying to look at any old piece of so-called junk from a different angle and then create something new.  Often this tells a story about your family history and is also a way of recycling things that would otherwise be trashed. You will have something unique that reflects your personal vision.  So play around and use your imagination.  It will make you feel good without breaking the bank.