Last year I had the odd fancy that maybe it would be fun to go back to uni to do postgraduate studies – Masters in Design and Art at Curtin University.
Well, I knew it would be a challenge, but I wasn’t prepared for what would be the most overwhelming part – words. There’s just so many, and a lot of the time they are complex, academic words, used to make the statement that this is Important Stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I love words, I read a lot of them, and I pass every Facebook vocabulary test with flying colours. But sometimes they are used to obfuscate (confuse or conceal meaning) rather than elucidate (explain clearly).
So, I decided to engage with the words themselves, taking them out of the essay’s context, but leaving them in written order, to see what happened.
The very first essay became a list, which I’ve been embroidering onto a secondhand shirt. The essay was about the process of researching one’s own art practice, and the value of walking as a way to process ideas. So I used my treadle machine. And sure enough, I learnt something about process – repetitive circular movements, engaging with a word for longer than if it was merely read and passed over, struggling with composition on the fly. Well worth doing.
However, it is slow. As much as I love my treadle, it isn’t set up very well for extended periods of time sewing, and I have a dodgy hip that aches after 15 minutes. I’m still getting through the words from the first essay. I think the entire shirt will take until graduation.
So I decided to write the words. I grabbed some scraps of heavy paper my printmaking husband had discarded – handmade Magnani hot pressed paper – and my Copic markers. I wrote dense textures, filling the page and then crossing them to make them almost unreadable. They didn’t need to be readable, the purpose was the process, not the result.
The result, though, was beautiful.
So when Spoonflower invited me to part of their blog roundup of Australian makers, I was ready to go. I used a bunch of the digital skills I learnt in my photoshop class to turn my single pages into a repeat pattern. I chose to print two variations of the print onto two completely different base fabrics – cotton lycra and polyester velvet. I received my order shortly afterwards and got to work sewing.
I decided to make a fairly simple Ottobre coat, as I knew I didn’t have a lot of time with my final essays due. I also wanted as little fuss as possible.
The next stage was to sort out a lining. I knew when I saw the fabric that it had to be hot pink silk. The only thing in my collection that was suitable was my wedding dress, lol. I wrestled with this for a bit – weighing up sentimentality against the desire to make this jacket awesome. I realised that there actually wasn’t any conflict – if any garment is going to be rich and meaningful, one made from personal artwork and love is probably it.
So I got my scissors out and cut.
I was pretty frugal. I think I probably managed less than 10% waste of the printed fabric, and I have a plan for the scraps. I had to shorten the body and sleeves to get it out of my fabric, but I quite like it. There’s a lot of green otherwise. I used some of the silk to make cuffs, initially because I thought the sleeves would be too short. As it turned out, the width of the shoulder being so huge on me added length I didn’t need. I love the cuffs though – they add rather startling punctuation and break up all the green.
The fabric was lovely to sew, but I felt that maybe it wasn’t the best choice for a garment, as it has quite a firm hand. Or maybe I just needed a style that was narrower at the shoulder – I feel a bit overwhelmed by the bulk. But I am rather pleased at the luxurious feel of using such a glossy fabric. This is a garment that I need to live up to – it needs proper hair, a well cut pair of trousers, a slick of lipstick and good shoes. No throwing it over a tracksuit for a quick milk-and-bread run.
The tee shirt is a pattern I’ve developed for voiles and other soft woven fabrics. I thought I’d see how it worked up in a knit, but although I like it – and will probably wear it constantly when summer rolls around again – I don’t think it’s the best use of the stretch and drape that cotton lycra has.
All in all, this was a fun project. Huge thanks to Spoonflower for inviting me to be part of the fun!
And, if you want to try Spooonflower’s fabrics, you can use my code, sewanista10, to get a discount. Hurry though, there’s a time limit!