Sew Slow! The Power of Art and Creativity…

True story: Some of my fondest and most freeing memories of high school (of the PG variety) were made in a classroom. Mr Hines was my favourite art teacher because he wasn’t just any old teacher, he was cool. He wore doc martins like the rest of us and could relate. He didn’t talk down to us and you got the sense that you could tell him just about anything in confidence…well, almost… But that’s what made him so popular!! He encouraged us to channel all our crazy teenage angst and just get it all out onto paper or canvas. No judgements or criticism, just encouragement and a bit of arty farty discourse delivered with a healthy dose of charm, wit and sarcasm (ok, I had a tiny wee crush on him). In that classroom we were safe in the knowledge that we could be or do anything, art was such a powerful statement at that age, an anti-dote to depression and low self-esteem. All barriers were dissolved and nobody cared how popular you were or where you came from. The only thing that mattered was that moment sitting at your desk getting lost in quiet chaos, in total communion with your pastels and paint on paper. Creativity can’t cure cancer but just imagine for a moment if it could?

The same thing happens today when I sit down to draw or sew at the machine or write this blogpost. In the absence of any distractions, my mind becomes fully engaged with what I’m doing in a seemingly endless stream of thoughts and time seems to stand still….and just like that, I’m not myself anymore. I’m transported to another time and place and fully immersed in the moment experiencing an incredible lightness of being and consciously aware that I’m connecting to a pure source of divine inspiration. The Greeks have a word for this feeling…three actually, for the different types of love we experience in any given moment – Eros, Philos and Agape. The first speaks of ‘intimate love’ and for the beauty and passion within, the second speaks of ‘friendship’ and of holding an ‘affectionate regard’ for someone dear or close to us and the third speaks of a higher love, for god or humankind that is unconditional and sublime in nature.

This kind of love, can move mountains and some say is the source of all our creativity and strength, peace and empowerment. But what happens when we deny it? What happens when we grow up and forget the value of its very existence to transform the mundane into the magical, or rather for finding the magical in the mundane? And more importantly how can we strive to get a little piece of it back into our everyday lives?

The answer of course lies within and asks us to simply slow down, to stop what we are doing and take a good look around, to appreciate the beauty, wonder and enchantment in our world just that little bit more, and to worry , fret and analyse a little less. This takes courage and a fearless commitment to discover and be our true creative selves again in a world that is lost to the shackles of time and bound by a conditional clock that tells us we’re always running late, never enough hours in a day or running to chase our tails. That somehow we’re not good enough don’t work hard enough or that there’s never enough money, energy or time left in the bank. We have forgotten what it’s like to simply watch the sunset, see the world through a child’s eyes and remember what it was like to do something purely for the joy or fun of it or how happy it makes us feel in the moment and what’s worse, we feel guilty or care too much about what other people will think when we do.

This is why I sit down to paint seemingly insignificant and erratic brush strokes when I get the chance, the line and colour falling on the page in a range of muddled tones and hues,  or sewing endless rows of neat and tidy stitches with impatient precision and devoting hours to writing this blog in my pyjamas. Because the act of doing so both humbles and humanises me and all the bullshit I feel about life beforehand simply falls away to reveal something more real, honest, meaningful, and alive. We’re not meant to be this perfect whole and complete version of ourselves.

As human beings we are distinctly and beautifully flawed, complex creatures that crave the simple things in life…to live, happy, peaceful and content lives, comforted and confident in our ability to create meaningful connections and share our passion with others.  We are also equally fickle and like to contradict ourselves, it’s just human nature…so although I may not always have the time to do my art, or I may procrastinate when I do, somehow that’s ok too. The brushstrokes might end up half way across the page, my stitches might sometimes resemble spaghetti but hey, I got this, we all do! There are no rules to this either. That’s the beauty of life as in art, you just make it up as you go along and enjoy the process along the way. It’s enough just to be me and like the line in one of my favourite songs goes…’And we’ll all float on ok’ – Modest Mouse

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A Sunday drive – The Dressmaker Revisited

Driving along the scorched, dusty highway towards the town of Winchelsea, past the Bellarine peninsula and on the way to Colac, you could be forgiven for thinking we were driving through a deserted outback town of Australia….we were not. But it was a particularly hot day and we seemed to be the only ones on the road save for a few trucks and idle motorists that would pass us by, out for their Sunday drive, or perhaps trying in vain to escape the heat as we were?

Either way, I was now beginning to question the pilgrimage I had begged so much for Matt to take us on, in the spirit of adventure and an innocent Sunday drive. The dressmaker film had taken me quite by surprise and having not read the book by Australian Author Rosalie Ham, I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed the storyline, characters and of course the costumes, so it made sense to want to go out and see the exhibition, even if it meant driving and hour and a half out of Melbourne. After all, How far could it be?

Barwon Park Mansion stands literally in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by dirt yellow bush and dried scrub, the ‘driveway’ winds alongside dry paddocks baked yellow from the heat of the mid-summer afternoon sun. Built in 1871 for a pastoralist and philanthropist, Thomas and Elizabeth Austin created a lavish and luxurious Mansion boasting 42 rooms, a magnificent entrance hall and stables reminiscent of a history rich with old world English heritage and charm.

Marion Boyce, costume designer for the film speaks fondly about the story and reflects on the costumes being one of a ‘personal journey and transformation’ for the main protagonist; Tilly Dunnage (played by actress Kate Winslet), now a successful designer/couturier returned from the high fashion ateliers of Paris to the harsh and unforgiving landscape of her outback hometown of ‘Dungatar’. The beauty of this juxtaposition highlighted by Tilly’s amazing costumes allows for some absolutely stunning cinematography and such magical storytelling that you are instantly transported back in time to the era of the 1950’s silhouette.

As Tilly uncovers the truth, we see her transform the ghosts of her childhood past into vivid and wildly colourful dreams re-imagined, brought to life by the extravagant garments she creates for the eccentric town folk. The dressmaker costume exhibition evokes a sense of make-believe and glamour, revisiting a time when clothing represented power and femininity. Walking through the rooms, you get a sense that the characters from the film are somehow real and portrayed with such warmth, humour and vibrancy that the costumes become living, breathing artworks in themselves…

If you missed The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition in Melbourne, it is now on at The Ayers House Museum in Adelaide from 1 Sept – 11 December, 2016. Otherwise, if you haven’t already seen the film it is an absolute must-see for fashion, vintage and art lovers alike!!

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Mandalas and Moonbeams…

‘I am the I’ by Joanna Brown

 A little while back I posted some artwork by Joanna Brown on Facebook (as inspiration for an autumn/winter fashion project) and a random print I found on Pinterest by Don Blanding called the ‘Moon and Stars’. As quite often happens, I get so caught up in the creative process that I forget about some ideas that naturally come and go…but sometimes, they have a way of coming back to you in the most profound and surprisingly meaningful ways.

Lady of the Night Illustration and poem by Don Blanding, c. 1935

I am talking about the unconscious creative collective or dreams that exist in your imagination when you first begin the process of gathering inspiration for a project and the kind of instinctive and intuitive narrative that occurs when you set out to attract that which is in your mind’s eye. In this case, I was imagining what would happen when ‘slow fashion’ meets ‘art’…what would that look like and how could I translate this onto a piece of fabric? The image of a mandala immediately sprung to mind.  It seemed to be a magical amalgamation of contemplative art melding with contemporary fashion and traditional sewing practice. The mandala as a symbol for peace and creativity, and the act of fine art or sewing as a patient meditative practice was both mesmerising and enchanting to me.

When I began to explore this this idea further, it got me thinking about a powerful home truth…That I have never been a patient sewer or creator!! Of course I aspire to this, but hand sewing especially usually has me in tedious fits of rage and hysterical laughter, in-between bouts of chocolate binges that leave me swearing I will never again pick-up a needle and thread. On the other hand, it made me want to challenge this…because once upon a time this is how it all began, with a simple needle, thread and a careful hand.

The true marksmanship of early sewing was born out of patient practice which could not be easily rushed or flawed. History is rife with examples of this and women would sit for hours together with nothing but a needle and thread in hand, the quality of which, would measure their true worth and place in society as an accomplished and refined woman. Moreover, it was this act of sewing that also brought women together in the family hierarchy with sewing techniques being lovingly passed down from Grandmother to mother, aunts, sisters, daughters and cousins. This familial female bond ensured fine sewing survived through the lineage binding one generation to the next, with something far more precious than silk thread. Thus was the power of needlepoint.  So my question is: how far have we really come to value these traditions within the context of slow fashion and fine art, and how much have we lost? As younger generations of women seek to shed the skin of their history and ghosts past, are we also at risk of missing something much more?

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