Bollocksed

I like making mistakes with sewing, I’m honing my skills. I’m razor sharp, boss of the machines.

Mistakes are a big part of any creative process. People have waxed lyrical about the importance of mistakes, and yes, it’s important to try many things out when making stuff – you never know what’s going to work. Another way to look at mistakes, though, is that we only really get 2 things right in this life – birth and death. The rest of the time it’s one inevitable screw up after another.

R&D is all about mistakes/ iterations/ “well shit, that didn’t work”/ “oops I forgot to do something” (such as stitching the tongue together before setting it in place). Even when I think a design is viable, the actual construction process shows me again and again where it can be improved (such as adding a few mms more to the lining topline so that it doesn’t get caught up in the stitching). It’s totally ok that this boot has a few bits that are bollocksed up; though the leather is fancy, the boot is a test and just has to get on the foot and prove that both design and construction are workable.

 

Remember to stitch tongue and tongue lining together _before_ cementing into place.
Remember to stitch tongue and tongue lining together _before_ cementing into place.

 

My mind is freaking out that things aren’t perfect** (“they’ll think I can’t sew and won’t trust my work!), but I can’t really fix shitty stitching in leather, I need to just move on. It’s taken me 5 years to get to this point. I am not even pausing because of dodgy stitches.

** This is normal for ASD folk.

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Recollect: Shoes @ The Powerhouse Museum

Early riser, no. Not me. I’d love to be, but somehow the bed is always too comfy, or I forget why I’m getting up before dawn.

Running to catch the plane, a first time for everything. Security person, why you stop me for ‘explosives testing’? MY PLANE. Yes, it’s all about me. But you were still being a jerk.

Sydney. Why did I spend so many years hating you? Was it because my heart was filled with loathing? Probably. You are an interesting city with delicious brickwork. DELICIOUS BRICKS. And yes, random and lost old lady, I’ll help you find your way in a city I have no idea about and despite language barriers. Google Maps, though.

Powerhouse Museum. But first, pastry. Barista boy, don’t taunt me with hypothetical chocolate doughnuts. I want none of your hipster jive, give me my fucking cherry danish. I’M FAMISHED.

Pay to get into the museum? No, I’m here to see someone. No, you can’t call them to meet me, they are in a meeting. I’M TOTALLY LEGIT, may I please check my coat?

The Queen’s knickers were awesome. With such fragile objects on display low lighting is critical*, but that meant I couldn’t see the tiny hand-stitching very well. Corsets are, for me, passé – they are beautiful, narrative objects, but the spotlight shines too brightly on their discourse. Give me mundane, unassuming objects anyday (ie, bloomers), and I’ll unravel their stories through construction and usage. The physical construction of objects is endlessly fascinating, showing both the hand of humankind through time as well as individual qualities of materials.

Recollect: Shoes. I circled like a shark** for a good 40 minutes before stopping to mentally deconstruct specific footwear. The beautiful, well-lit cabinets of the static Recollect space showcase various object types from within the museum’s collection. It’s an area conspicuously devoid of information panels – the focus was museum-collection-object (there was a display, however, of a basic oxford in various stages of construction). Some interactive aspects were included – a wall of lasts to touch and explore***, including their amazing history, and digital films of the process of shoemaking.

Pedorthic lasts displayed at the Powerhouse Museum (MAAS), Sydney

For the regular patron, the Recollect: Shoes exhibited historic, ethnographic, and fashionable footwear from the Joseph Box collection, continuing though a timeline of women’s footwear to modern Australian examples, then smaller displays of men’s, sporting, theatric and children’s footwear. It was interesting – an exhibit of curiosities to spark conversation.

For the patron schooled in museum theory, Recollect: Shoes harkened back to the cabinets of wonder: the typological, encyclopaedic displays of objects, from natural history to ethnographic, the methodology of such being cultural imperialist propaganda demonstrating the microcosm of the known world. However, Recollect: Shoes didn’t dig into propaganda. It was more, “Hey look what we’ve collected – isn’t it cool?” And yes, it was very cool. Having a background in museums, I knew where to look for specific information (the object labels were on the storage housing, also on display), and could understand how the collection was sourced, and why objects were displayed in the manner they were.

For the patron schooled in footwear design and construction, Recollect: Shoes was a gold mine of information. Most footwear students have read Stepping Out: three centuries of shoes, and it was a wonderful to see finally the shoes ‘in the flesh’, including Westwood’s Super Elevated Gillie. AND THE TINY, PERFECT STITCHING (most stitches on the footwear were 1mm). SWOON.

Whenever I have a pair of shoes in for repair, my mind always returns to the reCollections museum collections manual and the catalogue of types of damage to objects. A super-neat display titled “CSI: Conservation Studies” encapsulated this process – objects (a pair of 70s platform shoes with crumbled platform sole) were assessed for restoration possibilities, but determined as beyond repair because of the material composition (polyurethane or “PU”) and the damages its suspect to (crumbling in moist environments). I’ve had the same style of shoe pass my way for repairing, and gone through the same thought process (ie “nope, not with that sole”). Over the years I’ve noticed that many materials used in modern footwear don’t handle even basic environmental changes well (from their storage cupboard to my workshop), deteriorating more quickly once they are in my hands. Apologies people, no more PU leather platform shoe fixing from me.

CSI: Conservation Studies - the case of the crumbling sole

PHM CSI2

My favourite display, though, were ROLLERSKATES (surprise?). 3 historic pairs were on display c1900-1923, c1930-1950, c1970, as well as some sweet ice-skates. These old skates had wonderful lines – the pattern pieces flowed together so well. They must have felt amazing to wear. The women’s skates, c1900-1923 were my favourite: the heel strap was beautifully curved, with an external counter and a lovely vamp. The toecap and eyelet reinforcing were delicately brogued, and all stitching was .8mm – so tiny! From what I could see, the boot was blake stitched onto the sole, then a thin leather cover was placed on the sole (because blake stitching looks bad? I have no idea). The heel was stacked leather, and the sole at the toe had a wedge built on to accommodate the spring. These skates had a separate vegetan leather ‘cup’ the heel sat in, the cup was riveted to a steel plate for the wheel mechanism. I couldn’t quite make out, but I think the boot must have been bolted onto the plate somewhere around the waist. The most amazing part of these skates, though, is the provenance. The collection database notes their history, and includes a photograph of the skate’s owner wearing them.

PHM RollerSkates

PHM IceSkates

I’d arranged a walkthrough of Recollect: Shoes with the curator, **** she was kind enough to give me half an hour of her time explaining particular exhibition and collection issues. I was also able to have a brief tour of the collection store, to further discuss collection management problems, such as housing and material deterioration. My thanks to the Powerhouse Museum staff for their generosity.

Sociocultural objects collected by museums are typically mundane – average and everyday, they tell us the story of past lives. The Powerhouse Museum’s footwear collection is generally so, excepting a few special pieces such as Queen Victoria’s elastic gusseted boots. I wonder what footwear will be collected for museums within the next century. Modern manufacturing techniques and material composition don’t lend themselves to permanence, exemplified by the CSI: Conservation Studies display. In a market oversaturated by cheap footwear what would we want to collected, and will it last the test of time?

* Kids, that’s why you aren’t allowed to take photos with flash in a museum/ gallery – lumens are damaging!

** I made strange little squeaking sounds throughout my time in this exhibit.

*** The majority of the lasts were pedorthic, curiously built up and fascinating in themselves.

**** How did I arrange this? I emailed them. That’s about it. It also helps knowing what I’m talking about – one of the privileges of education.

I totally don’t have self-compassion down pat

I haven’t written anything for a few days over a week, but I have either been creative, organised creative things, or have been working for money. Creatively, I’m working on my first production pair production prototype pair of roller skates* and I’m scoping out activities and engagements for next year. I’ve also discovered that fundamental to any activity I participate in is the need to open up to vulnerability.

My Desire Map planner for next year arrived in the post… I freaked out about the commitment I was making to working on plans that matter most to me… I then played solitaire on the computer… the next morning opened up my Desire Map workbook and began the initial exercises again. What lifts me up? What do I crave? Where do I hurt? To my surprise, I still have the same drives that I had about 6 months ago – I thought that my earlier responses to the questions would have been shaped by the monumental changes that I’d been going through (ending a long and troubled relationship) and that recent responses would be shaped by the monumental changes I’m currently in the midst of (in-between houses, in-between jobs, in-between transportational freedom). Both sets of responses confirmed, though, “this is who I am, this is what I crave, this is where I am wounded”.

I am, like so many other people, deeply afraid of being vulnerable. Stories will differ, but someone has hurt us when our tender parts were exposed. People have said cruel and useless things, and we’ve been stung by their thoughtless and crappy behavior. For me, deeply engrained is the concept that being less-than-stellar at something is an invitation for verbal and emotional attack.

My peak vulnerability is when I am learning something new and am invested in improving my skills (eg yoga, sewing, and writing). To protect my vulnerability I am defensively (and aggressively) private, I focus on perfection, and I also hesitate to the point of not beginning anything. I’m stubbornly independent, I don’t let people see how much I still need help, and I have a fantastic mask in place about how-great-I-am-at-doing-things and that I’ve-got-my-shit-together. This behavior is isolationist – for me, for those close to me, and for my peers.

Recently I started working through own vulnerability by ensuring those I let in to my life are respectful and loving and honestly acknowledging that it’s okay when I get things wrong. In the past I’ve been terrible at respecting my boundaries for acceptable behaviour and have kept myself in distressing situations. Also, while I’m pretty accepting when other people get things wrong (except when they do so with blinding consistency and pig-headedness), I’m far less compassionate with myself. These days I’m taking good steps towards good mental health, but my actions are still internalised, invulnerable manoeuvers. I’m still fucking managing vulnerability, minimizing emotional fall-out.

By going back through the Desire Map and connecting with the feelings that underlie why and how I do things, I saw clearly that by not being explicit about the process of working through, and sitting with, the things that scare me I wasn’t able to do the one thing that really I do best – make authentic connections with others and open the doors to acceptance and forgiveness. Now I’m taking off the mask of I’ve-got-that-(self) compassion-shit-together and am honestly working with how tricksy I can make my life. I’ve been stumped by how many people are saying “I feel that way too!”, and while it’s a good feeling, I’m primarily doing this thing for myself. I cannot truly accept my vulnerability until I get down to the raw bones, to stop hiding behind masks (I’ve been working for a few hours about how to phrase these thoughts, but I know that I’m on the right path when my eyes start to prickle and my throat constrict.)

I have a powerful drive to help and encourage others, particularly downtrodden souls. The inexperienced execution of this drive has put me in shitty situations, and hurt others as well, but I’m not jaded; connecting with people is what I do most naturally. For me to help and encourage others, I need to be compassionate. For me to be compassionate, I need to be compassionate with myself. For me to be compassionate with myself, I need to acknowledge and accept all of me, particularly the aspects that are scared, that hurt. My focus on helping others work through creative indecision and uncertainty is hollow and unfulfilling unless I am explicit with how I relate to such feelings myself.

 

* I had thought that I had the production method down pat, then I swapped sewing machines and gave myself a whole new heap of things to deal with. Fuck.

So what happened to my rule of creating every morning? Saturday morning – tired from working till midnight the night before, and getting read for work starting at 9:30am that day: I edited a photo and published a blog draft. Sunday morning – tired from a Halloween party the night before: I read my new library book Craftivism. Monday – tired, as I didn’t sleep the night before because I missed my medication on Sunday morning: I napped, and in the late afternoon I completed a sewing project (a Wednesday Addams version of the Vogue 9000 vintage dress for my daughter).

One thing leads to another.

This is one of the reasons – the main reason – why I’m obsessive (and defensive) about getting my shit together. Regular sleep, decent food, quiet social life. Drama (a crazy life) is expensive, draining energy and what little time we have; lives are whittled away by one stupid act after another. My life spiralled out of control for years, and from living within emotional chaos I now find myself abhorring drama. It freaks me out, reminding me of old times, and I know just how easily crazy times begin. It seems that the less I want drama in my life the more others’ want me to be participate in theirs (this is partially hindsight, but there are some people who don’t want others to make different/ better choices – they are afraid it will make them look ‘bad’).

I want to make things, to challenge and encourage people. I rein in my life so that I can do this. From a Zen perspective, it’s good to stop stirring up the waters, let them settle, and look through the cleared water to see through to what’s at the bottom. My existential kicker is that the lotus grows from the mud – clarity makes no difference whatsoever. I’m defensive about finding clarity, but that in itself is just another thing muddying the waters. Everyday though, I aim to disengage and find some kind of balance.

 

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Image: sycamorestreetpress.com

Rules of Engagement: Creativity

One of my favourite TED Talks is the ‘Rules of Engagement’. Kate Bingaman Burt talks about the fear of the blank page – what do I draw/ paint/ write about? She notes, though, that if someone said “draw anything, but only use purple” it would be fundamentally easier, like a switch had been flicked. I’m sure there is a neuropsychological mechanism in place, but it’s easier to say ‘human brains need some kind of boundary through which they can engage the world’.

I was talking this over with a friend yesterday, how the rules of engagement apply to any personal and social situation. Though I’ve been working on my own social rules of engagement (it’s been a wild year, including the Pandora’s box of psychologist sessions) I’ve never made rules about how I engage with my creative work.

‘How to write’, ‘how to work through creative blocks’, ‘how to focus’… these articles are a-dime-a-dozen. I’ve read some really fantastic ones, and ideas have stuck and started to grow in my mind… but I’m still terrified of writing. I’m two years behind in my business plan. Today, though, I’m writing my own rules of engagement for creative work. The timing is fortuitous for big changes – three years ago I was wrapping up my studies in Melbourne and winging back to Brisbane, today is All Saints Day when I remember the people who’ve made a difference in my life. Summer is here, and the jacarandas are in full decaying bloom. It’s time to step forward.

Rules of engagement with creative work:

1. Make something with my hands every day. Write something everyday. This is not the same as completing something or publishing everyday, but it creates a routine and that is something my brain relishes. I don’t want to complete something every day of the week. I like watching things grow and change over time, and I know this will happen only with momentum each day. Inertia breeds doubt, and I’m going to squash that fucker.

2. Morning is my time. Not first thing, but after coffee, breakfast, and my daughter has left for school. Ideas pop, and my brain is fresh and clear. The day is young, I don’t have to start wondering about feeding or clothing people. I will not give this time to housework, social media, or talking to others. This is my time, for my thoughts and energy without competition. I have limited time and focus, and will use it for things that are best for me.

3. Build a support group. I have so many friends that are makers and writers I’d be fucking crazy not to ask for help. I’m stoically independent (read: stubborn) and have tried to ‘go it alone’ for so many years; frankly, this has gotten me nowhere. Everyone needs encouragement, to share ideas, and to both offer and receive assistance. We are social creatures.

Stay-behind-yellow-line-QR

I thought there’d be more rules, but I’m starting to understand that it’s the concept of boundaries – and that they are personal boundaries – are what really matters. I’m already feeling more relaxed about my creative work. I know this is the initial rush of having found focus, and I’ll wait to see how I feel about writing tomorrow. In applications for this year’s TED Talk at Southbank we were asked ‘what is the question no-one is asking?’; my response was ‘what would the world be like if people made their own rules for living?’. I guess I’ll find out soon.

Get happy? No, and fuck you.

Near to my home is a billboard advertising a local radio station. Big, big ultrabright smiles and wide eyes of the three hosts*, the phrase “GET HAPPY” emblazoned.

That phrase, and the billboard in general, makes my eye twitch just thinking about it. Every time I see it I mutter “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.”

I will not get happy because you tell me to. I cannot get happy. NO-ONE can get happy. “Happy” is not another thing to acquire, you consumerist capitalist pigs.**

Feelings/ emotions are cultivated within us. Although they fundamentally depend on external factors – are you eating/ sleeping well? Do you live in a stressful environment? – all emotional states are an aspect of a person’s worldview. Emotional states don’t just happen; they arise through complex perceptions of how the world works, often simplified to the question “is the cup half-full or half-empty?” Clichéd, yes, but still valid. If someone believes the world is out to get them, it’s very difficult for them to feel happy. Myself? “Dude! I’ve got a CUP!/ There is no cup.”

Also, feelings are fleeting. They wax and wane each minute/ hour/ day. This is both the nature of your brain, and impermanent nature of reality. To “get” a feeling and hold on to it is impossible. And stupid. I’d rather be present in whatever I feel at any given moment, from eye-twitching rage to joy that I’ve got a cup of coffee at my side.

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* 2 male, 1 female = dear lord forbid that female voices should dominate the conversation.

** Really, stop telling me what to do or how to think. You’ve no business at all doing that.

Image: Journalist Malcolm Browne’s photograph of Quang Duc during his self-immolation.

Subject Object? Mu.

When we make things, it’s neither about the objects as entities themselves, nor our understanding of their subjective contexts. It’s both, and something other-than-that. We shape our world, our selves, by making things and using things. We embody the objects, and they arise through us.

Can we look at things we make Objectively? Subjectively? Mu.

Just make.

 

The last 2 weeks I:

Made pompoms at The Knot Fibre Festival and wore them to work. The trick to making poms from t-shirting? Before you wind the strips around your pom shape (thanks, Threadbanger!), stretch it – it will curl in at the edges. Note the nice blue pom? Bec made that one. I also made poms to decorate banners for Vulcana Women’s Circus Magnificent Monster show.

Taught people how to use sewing machines. Again, at The Knot Fibre Festival, with Dorothy Walsh. Teaching people how to use their machines, rather than be afraid/ dismissive of them, is a wonderful process. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again (zen zen sew).

Played. I made flying machines at work (my jellyfish made from pipecleaners, pattypans and paper rocked). I also crocheted some more of my scrumble beanie. Anecdotally, I recognise the critical importance of big kids (“adults”) engaging in creative play and recognise the common blocks we all put for for not playing. I still don’t play enough. I’ll be working through this.

Documented lost shoes on Instagram. How people misplace only ONE shoe is fascinating.

Hosted a skateboard event. The new installation at work is Pat Hoffie’s Immaterial Labour (Skatebowl/ Proun Room). The work highlights the juncture between art, space, and post-industrialism. Better yet, people skate on it.

Thought deeply, worked on restoring my machinery and got on with my work.

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