Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Art of Spinning


Look, I can spin! My friend Wil from work, who is really quite amazing when it comes to anything fibre or cake related, recently taught me how to spin with a spindle. He lent me one of his spindles (it's an Ashford top-whorl drop spindle) and  very kindly gave me some roving to spin on it.

On the left is the roving, which is a fibre (in this case wool) which has been washed and carded. Carding is like combing the wool, so all the fibres lie in the same direction, ready to be spun. On the right is the yarn I've spun so far. After a while the spindle gets too full and it has to be wound off onto something (an empty toilet roll tube in this case).


As a long-time knitter and general crafter I picked up the basics pretty quickly, but it's still very laborious and slow. Before spinning wheels were invented (in around the 11th century) all thread was spun on drop spindles, like the one being used by the woman on this ancient Greek vase, dating from around 490 BC. It's amazing to think that for thousands of years this was the only way to spin all the thread that was needed to make fabric for clothing and things like sails for ships!

Attic white ground oinoche , c 490-470 BC, British museum

Medieval woman spinning with drop spindles. The roving is tied onto distaffs, which they hold under their arms. From their outfits they look like upper-class women, but I imagine that spinning was something done by all classes of women as such a large volume of thread needed to be produced.

Women spinning, from Augustine, La Cité de Dieu, c.1475, Koninklijke Bibliotheek manuscript collection


Although men did spin (Ghandi was one notable practitioner) it was usually a womens' job, hence the word "spinster" coming to mean an unmarried woman. The subject of a woman with spindle and distaff was a fairly popular subject for artists, although I must say these women look a lot more graceful spinning than I do!

Young Woman Spinning Wool, Abraham Solomon, 1862

Venetian Women Spinning Wool, Marius Michel, 19th century

The Spinner, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1873

The Spinner, Goatherd of Auvergne, Jean-Francois Millet, 1869

The Child Mary Spinning, 18th century, Peru

And let's not forget Sleeping Beauty, who pricked her finger on a spindle, although most illustrations show her pricking it on the distaff attached to a spinning wheel. Here are a few illustrations where the old woman is  actually spinning with a spindle. 

Walter Crane, from The Bluebeard Picture Book, 1875

Andre Richard

If you've ever wanted to have a go at spinning, do give it a try, it's quite a soothing, meditative thing to do. One day I might even have a go at spinning silk!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Barbie Downunder


I was recently asked to make a pink Barbie-sized jumpsuit by a PR company for a client of theirs. I hadn't got a clue what it was for, although they said it should be similar to the ones that people wear when climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Here is Oprah wearing one while doing just that. Luckily they didn't need it to have raglan sleeves and all those other set-in coloured bits.


Anyway, it turns out that Barbie actually wore it up the Harbour Bridge! The client was Tourism Australia and Barbie is in Australia, "in search of her new Dreamhouse, with Tourism Australia using her as a platform to showcase Australian tourism experiences to the world", according to this article.


I also made this little satchel and tiny envelope purses out of leather. The purses are about 1.5" across. All of them open up too! You can see Barbie carrying one of the purses in this photo.


And here she is with the satchel.


It's very fiddly making such tiny things, but it was a fun experience and I was paid too, which is always nice.

Friday, 5 April 2013

The Help - Whitetrash Wardrobe Inspiration



The other day I watched The Help, the film version of the book of the same name by Kathryn Stockett. I read the book in 2009 when it came out and I enjoyed it a lot. It tells the fictional story of a young white female journalist in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi. She decides to write a book from the point of view of black maids, detailing the racism they suffer while working for local white families, which becomes a surprise best-seller. 

The film version, while faithful to the novel, is a little more touchy-feely and lighthearted, but I did really enjoy the costumes, especially those of one of the characters, Celia Foote. I love the way her clothes are all a bit too revealing, too tight, too sexy. I want to look like a 1950s tart too! 


Played by Jessica Chastain, Celia is a white-trash girl with a heart of gold. She wants to fit in with the prissy and conservative young wives of Jackson, but you can see that her clothes signal that she doesn't quite belong. Here she is on her poolside phone wearing a custard-yellow playsuit with white piping. Note the daisy earrings, and matching pale yellow sunglasses and bracelet!

I found a couple of costumes sketches from the movie. The costumes were designed by Sharen Davis (who also did the designs for Dreamgirls and Django Unchained among others). Looks like she left off the little tie at the front of the playsuit in the final version.


And these are Celia's shoes! Floral slingbacks with rosettes on the front. Aren't they darling?

Celia in her grand old house. I love this outfit, it would have looked SO tacky in the early 60s. The skirt is too tight, the top is too sheer, it looks cheap and tarty. I love it!


The blouse looks like it is made of a seersucker printed with tiny pink flowers. The skirt is perhaps a stretch corduroy? The belt is elastic with a patent buckle, and she has matching red earrings.


A very blurry picture of the whole outfit, see the red patent heels?


This is the outfit Celia wears when she is learning to cook - it's a comfortable at home outfit of red slacks, a pretty top and a tight belt.


A close-up of the top, which I really like. It is darted over the bust so it is quite fitted, but has that nice soft neckline and the cute knotted shoulders. Even in the kitchen, Celia wears matching earrings, you can just see the clear red hoops she has on.


Her shoes are beige or tan leather heels, which don't match with her black patent belt, but are much more flattering, as they would make her legs look longer. Clever!


In this scene Celia is taking a pie round to Hilly Holbrooke's house, so it's kind of dressy casual. It's a great winter look - a bit sexy librarian! 


The skirt is a sort of nubbly flecked tweed, and the neckline of her plum-coloured sweater is very flattering.


This not particularly flattering sweater is hardly worth looking at. Boring.



For a charity dinner, Celia has this dress specially made, to the horror of the other women and the delight of their husbands! It's too tight and revealing, but isn't it the most divine colour! It looks like it has been made of a silk brocade which has been embellished with beads.



The original costume sketch. Although I love the version in the film, this one looks more showgirl-ish with the all-over squiggly sequin decoration.


Finally, this pretty frock for playing the happy hostess in. It's similar to that worn by many of the other well-to-do white women in the film, with its full skirt and floral print, but of course Celia's version is a one-shouldered dress, more revealing than anything a nice society matron would wear.


There are some other nice frocks in the film, but they are standard late 50s wear.


Monday, 1 April 2013

Golden Goddesses


Me and Zoe in our finished costumes at Federation Square last Sunday afternoon.  It was a race against the clock to finish these costumes - we were both extremely tired by the time it came to wear them.


Bit of a close-up backstage.

The belts were made in the same way as I made the collars - vinyl glued together. We strung the front pieces on belts made of some sheer gold and black sparkly fabric I had lying around.


We also made some cuffs out of gold lycra with strips of black vinyl glued in place - the stretch in the lycra means you could just slip them on and off easily with no fastenings.


I made the headdresses out of buckram, wired on the top and bottom. Then I covered them with gold lycra, stitched on the inside (pretty messily too, but I was in a hurry).


I sprayed the heads of some rubber cobras from the $2 shop. The paint was enamel, so it didn't take very well to the rubber, but I didn't have time to do a coat of primer.


I chopped the snake's head off and wired it to the front of the headdress, then glued a line of ric rac around it to make it more interesting.


For the Hathor horned-sun part, I used very thin MDF which was $3.50 for a huge sheet at Bunnings. Luckily our very nice neighbours lent me their jigsaw - I now see why power tools are so amazing, I cut them out in about 10 minutes, while using a little coping saw would have taken about 3 hours! Masked it off with masking tape...



And gave it a quick spray with some black spraypaint I had lying around.


After I'd masked off the black and sprayed it over with gold, it turned out like this.


We had to slip them down the back of the headbands, and through a hole we cut in the wigs to go down the back of our necks. That way the wig elastic helped to keep them secure. If I'd had time, I would have drilled holes in them and wired them to the headbands, but by then I just wanted to finish the costumes on time!


It was a pretty fun afternoon, we mostly just posed for pictures with tourists and festival goers, until our arms felt like they would drop off from holding the wings up!