I’ve taken a step back in time, and rediscovered a small album of past work.
Back in the late 1990s, I was studying Visual Arts at RMIT. It was torturous. All I ever wanted to do was paint, and the tutors kept encouraging me to practice sculpture, and then photography once I dropped sculpture in favour of painting… It was difficult because I didn’t have the courage or confidence to verbalise where it was going, or the developed skill to demonstrate it.
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Sewing began as a hobby because I couldn’t afford to buy the clothes I liked. Sometimes other students would commission me to make them bags or leg warmers or hats. It encouraged me to make more things on the side, and put them into a store called Jezabelles, which was open at the time in St Kilda on Carlisle St, right next to the library, and then, into another little store on Church St Richmond.
It must have been a cold winter because everything i was inspired to make was out of faux fur!
I also put a heap of stuff in another shop on Brunswick St Fitzroy. They put all their own tags on my stuff, failed to pay me for stock sold, and disappeared out of trace, with all the stock I’d personally hand made, and left with them on consignment – Not Cool.
Fake fur was cheap back then, and believe it, people noticed these furry legwarmers. No body else was making them at the time and I prided myself on being daring and original. – I had made a tiger costume for my up coming 21st birthday, and the leg parts were so warm, I wore them nearly everyday to the lead up. The fact that they didn’t really suit my hand made orange track suit pants teamed with purple/blue massive woolly Tibetan jumper didn’t really matter (despite stunned glances), it was so comfortable! Anyway, the weekends were for dressing up and playing the part of “cool, fashionable and with it” what ever that means!
The idea of doing a fashion course was out of the question. I needed training to learn short cuts, real pattern making and tailoring skills. Who -in their naive youth- wants to spend time learning about factory production lines, and dulling designs to appeal to a mass market?
One day, while accompanying a friend to shop for a skiing trip, I came across a costume shop in the city, quite by accident, and my direction took a more defined turn. After researching costume discovered that there were courses one could do, and that costuming was in a fact a viable and recognized way of making a living!
I got into Swinburne TAFE, started learning the costume trade there, and began working in the very store that inspired this direction. “J.C.Westend Costume hire!” My all time favourite costume hire store to work in ever! They truly know their stuff, from so many angles. Constructively, historically, while also keeping abreast of changing trends and with a healthy dose of fun. Every day with them was a pure pleasure. It was a wonderful learning experience, and I still visit every time I drop into Melbourne. Even though the venue has changed, the costumes and some of the people (for good reason) are the same, the institution remains, and – though more commonly known as “Costume Capers” these days- holds so many great memories.
The following album is a small selection of things made before any formal tuition.
It’s surprising to realise how inventive a person can be with little to no training.
Each piece was professionally finished, and fully lined. That was most likely due to the guidance of my mother – her mother did after all have the first sewing machine in the Village, but that’s another story.
The funny thing is, once I started the costuming course, the Ube Love pursuits fell to the side. It’s only been revived in the last year, the muse has returned!
The only disappointment is that there weren’t more photos taken.
Often, for some reason, we don’t tend to value out own talents at the time. Looking back, I wonder how I managed to be so freely creative. A healthy creative family background helps, and nurturing relationships with other people.
House mates and friends used to drop over and have a great old time in the lounge room, chatting, and laughing, and playing cards, and all I wanted to do was sew! Those were the days. It was a party house, and in many ways, the constant flow of people possibly provided some element of motivating energy.