This time: garment construction. It was a sewing circle, after all!
To begin, for those who haven’t worked this out for themselves, let it be understood that I am a pretty plain sewer. I like sewing, I have some skills, I’ve been doing it a long time. But, I tend to use patterns, amend patterns created by others, make changes driven by sheer lack of cloth or my own mistakes, or construct a pattern from an existing garment. I don’t just look at a piece of fabric, form a concept and apply scissors. India Flint does, and she has written a new little book about the underpinning concepts which I hope will be available to others at some stage… I’ve been kindly gifted a stapled copy. Some of her approaches to creating new garments from old (‘refashioning’ to some) are also set out beautifully in Second Skin.
But the thing is, having the concepts doesn’t get me from here to there. Practice would be needed, of course! But confidence, too–and these two things have a relationship to one another. I know when I went to the first workshop I did with India I listened and watched and was inspired as she demonstrated and explained. I remember wondering why I hadn’t organised my life so I could do exactly this every day. And then I had my own expanse of cloth and my own scissors and my heart sank just about immediately.
It’s a statement of the extremely obvious that India has spent a lifetime thinking about art and garment construction and honing her skills at all related things, and I have not. This knowledge and experience cannot be transferred from one mind to another like a thumb drive plugged into a hard drive. For one thing, it would be more like the hard drive being plugged into the thumb drive! But more than this, I experience doubt that my mental architecture could ever equip me to do this kind of design work. Which is fine. The rich diversity of human minds and creativity is part of what makes life wondrous.
I noticed all manner of things. I have a few good ideas and only so much time, so while I get stuck on some things, I have more ideas than I can carry out already. India had so many ideas about what I could do with the few things I had with me, that my mind boggled. I couldn’t come close to carrying them all out. But when it came to deciding which ones to act on, I found myself up against all kinds of things, from sheer inability to believe that I could carry that idea out, confidence that I would not wear the resulting garment, and sheer inability to conjure up what that would look like or how it could be done, in my own mind.
I have the concept that many of the sewing ‘rules’ I have been taught are the kind that a more skilled person can adjust, skirt around or safely ignore because they know the exceptions and have superior skills. But I can feel myself clinging to them like some kind of misplaced sense of a lifebuoy. It’s only fabric, after all!
Well. The thing is, a learning experience is about expanding your mind. Even if you can feel the strain! So here I am modelling a linen shirt from the op shop, in the process of becoming–an apron? A frock? I thought apron, but by the time it came home, my beloved felt that it was, essentially, a frock. I can’t say she’s a real expert in frocks, but she has an opinion. I am continually being struck by my own inflexibility about what I’ll wear. I have courageous moments of branching out, but I am just nailed on to some core concepts. For one thing, when India thinks of an apron, she thinks this (you’ll have to scroll down, but Sweetpea’s blog is a special place, so don’t hurry over it). When I think of an apron I think of a rectangle of black cotton with two tape ties. I have two, and have had them since I was making my living cooking, long ago!
Anyway, back to the main story. This strategy for shape shifting (shirt to apron) is set out in Second Skin, and I’ve read it a few times without feeling any inclination to try it out. But here it is! It ended up with some recycled raw silk sewn on so it became longer and more flowing. More and more frock-like, one could say. I finished sewing it in Mansfield and it has been sitting quietly at home waiting for the transformation of the dye pot. I am still trying to figure out whether there is any chance of my wearing a shirt-apron-frock. But you never know! And if I can’t, well, I am sure someone else will.
This process really made me think that when I run my fingers through the choices at a garage sale or op shop, I see something that could be taken apart ready to begin again. Where I see a shaped garment that could become flat pieces and then from flat pieces be converted into something else, India seems to me, to see one three dimensional thing that could become other three dimensional things. While we were working in Crockett Cottage, she was taking two pairs of men’s trousers and turning them into one long, glorious skirt of many pockets. It was a thing of wonder to behold this process, let alone the insertion of a silk lining. There is a sample of the finished glory here. Below, a garment made from hemp and cotton knit and the sleeves from the linen short that became a frock, with sheoak leaf prints.
On my way home I had enough time in Melbourne betwixt the bus from Mansfield to the Melbourne central railway station and the Airport shuttle to nip out and see some of Blue at the National Gallery of Victoria. Let it be said that this adventure involved taking my public transport courage in both hands: two trams each way and half an hour at the Gallery. It was so worth it! I could not take pictures. But see images here and here and here. There were fragments of Egyptian garments from many, many hundreds of years ago. Examples of indigo work from a wide variety of weaving and embroidery traditions from China, Japan, Indonesia, India and Europe. At one point I was surprised to find myself answering another wanderer who was asking out loud whether something was woven or embroidered. Clearly I have acquired some knowledge about weaving from hanging about with weavers! Garments ranged from elaborate finery to those constructed entirely from rags in the boro style, and a rather extraordinary rain- and wind-protective cape made of two layers of cotton or hemp, with a layer of waxed paper sewn between them. They were constructed from cotton, linen, hemp, silk, elm fibre. If you have the chance, I recommend this exhibition highly. It can’t help but inspire and amaze to see such evidence of the skill and ingenuity and sheer hard work of peoples from past and (in some cases) continuing traditions and to learn a little about the significance of indigo and the creation of cloth and clothing to them.