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Entries in embroidery (67)


Bird of Paradise

Like a magpie, I am always attracted to shiny, pretty things. Anything beaded and embroidered catches my eye and begs to be touched, and so I particularly love the Indian decorative arts: textiles, jewellery, and miniature paintings.

One must admire the artisans for their skill and patience in the care taken over so much intricate detail. There is so much joie de vivre in these colourful works of art – the visual equivalent of Bollywood films. The landscapes are perfect little jewels of Arcadia: the sun shines gently, the breezes murmur softly through the ladies’ saris, and birds sing sweetly in the lush background.

Although these days I lean more and more towards minimalist fashion, I still cannot resist adding to my collection of sparkly vintage trifles here and there, particularly when I am travelling in exotic countries. They might come out on a special occasion to add pizzazz to an otherwise simple or graphic silhouette.

To create this picture, inspired by Indian miniature paintings, I’ve gathered together an Indian embroidered tunic and skirt (both purchased in charity stores), a silk scarf, a vintage embroidered and beaded belt, new and vintage necklaces, earrings from a local Indian fashion boutique, and beaded slippers, souvenirs from Vietnam.

It was Diana Vreeland who declared in 1962, ‘pink is the navy blue of India’, making the pink silk scarf an apt choice. I do love Indian jewellery too; the jingles only add an extra element of fun, and it is one of the few styles in which I like yellow gold.


The cloudy background is of a wall I photographed in Tangier, Morocco, and the lawn a picture I took recently in Melbourne’s own Royal Botanic Gardens. The bird in hand comes from hereThe dried flower is a Billy Button or Craspedia, a member of the daisy family and native to Australia and New Zealand. 


Beaded Piece

When I go shopping in charity stores I am both amazed at what people throw away – and what they bought in the first place. In the latter case, it’s always worth a good giggle, and in the former, I count myself lucky to be in the right place, at the right time.

On Saturday I went op-shopping for something trashy, a prop to use in a photoshoot for the Second Fashion Commandment (Thou Shalt Stay Classy). I was lucky enough to find it in the first charity store I looked in, but I was even luckier to score a few classy items.

This beautiful silk racer-back tank in a celestial shade of blue was one such. It’s beaded with silver bugle beads in the shape of a dove, the symbol of peace, and is in perfect condition. Named ‘Pecking Order’, it is by Australian label Saxonne, and is currently on sale on their website at half off for $75 … I paid $5. I’m calling that the Bargain Of The Month. Or would that be the year?


Big Hats for Little People

I never imagined this red velvet 1920s hat would be so versatile when I bought it. It’s a cloche. It’s a Phrygian cap. It’s a gnome’s sugarloaf. And I don’t mean a miniature sweetbread baked by apple-cheeked little girl gnomes – the sugarloaf is anything but petite.

A sugarloaf is simply a pointed hat, and such headwear has been worn by a wide variety of cultures – including the gnomic of course – throughout history. It has landed atop the heads of whirling dervishes, been a travelling cap in Ancient Greece, a 15th century Burgundian noblewoman’s headdress of choice, a samurai’s ceremonial hat, the chapeaux of aristocratic kazaori eboshi, a dunce cap (because it stimulated learning in the 14th century), and the anointed, pointed sugarloaf of many a religious figure, from popes to Ottoman Janissaries.

And today it’s a gnome’s hat. How appropriate that it came from a milliner in Convent Garden.

In my research on girl gnomes I came across innumerable grotesqueries and countless kitsch tchotchkes, so here I am redressing the balance and shooting for cute. The silk embroidered blouse is vintage 1940s; the hat and apron are both relics of the 1920s; the 90s taffeta skirt comes out of my costume box (finally it has a use!); and the tooled red leather slippers are souvenirs I bought in Morocco. Cute, and just a little bit sweet.


Coco and Karl

This is one of my favourite shots of the film, Audrey Tatou is photographed through the bannister rail on the stairs of Chanel’s atelier.Recently I watched the film Coco Avant Chanel again, and hugely enjoyed the documentaries on the DVD too. One of the things that struck me was how Coco Chanel did not like to show the knee – she found it inelegant. Karl Lagerfeld, on the other hand (or should that be leg?) is quite fond of revealing great swathes of bare thigh. Obviously one has to move with the times and all that, but I do wonder what she would think of Lagerfeld’s interpretation of her style.

More critically, Chanel’s raison d’être was comfort and ease of movement in women’s dress – this was in essence the very reason she began designing clothing. “I freed the body”, she said. Would she be shocked to see modern garments fashioned in her name that are as restrictive as Christian Dior’s New Look – of which she vehemently disapproved? This at least, most certainly.

Of course what is glimpsed on the runway is more outlandish – the better to capture the media’s attention – than what later comes forth from the atelier. I was therefore interested to rediscover this article from American Vogue* comparing Coco Chanel’s garments to Karl Lagerfeld’s. I am not a lover of the classic Chanel tweed suit (reeks too much of the bourgeoisie), but her 1928 satin gown with the asymmetrical hemline is divine, and the 1931 white lace gown is to die for. Lagerfeld’s golden tribute in 1996 is almost as good.

Click on the images for larger versions and have a read.

* Apologies, I am not sure which issue, although it is most likely 1996 as that is the most recent Chanel garment pictured


Klimt and Pattern

I have always liked Vienna Secession artist Gustav Klimt’s work. His paintings are so rich in detail, ornamented with a riot of pattern and lavished with gilt. I have always loved Byzantine art too for this same reason; Klimt’s two-dimensional pictures recall the mosaic patterns and arabesque colours and designs of Byzantium. Of course Klimt’s subjects are sensual rather than religious, but they are equally glorious.

A Klimt-like pose – click for larger versionFor a long time I had thought about creating my own picture in homage to the Secessionst, but could not decide how; to simply decorate a photograph with Klimtesque swirls and floral motifs seemed obvious and not true to my own style besides. But it is the patterns, and colours (apart from the women obviously) that are so striking about his paintings, and earlier this week I suddenly hit on it. I would use printed and embroidered fabric to emulate Klimt’s ornamentation. I even had the perfect vintage dress. Years ago I had done a story on lingerie, and I recalled a particular pose (right) that had reminded me of Klimt’s painting Danae (below). Then a quick hit on Google for additional visuals of Klimt’s paintings lead me to The Virgin (below). 

Danae, 1907–08The Virgin, Gustav Klimt, 1913

I pulled out of storage an Indian bed sheet I had purchased from an exotic homewares store in Penrith, NSW when I was about 16 (I fell in love with it, and bought it even though it was very expensive for me at the time); another enormous length of spangled and tie-dyed silk (part of a sari perhaps) purchased in vintage store The Jazz Garter in Sydney, also many years ago; and some embroidered gold fabric the origin of which I do not recall. The cotton maxi dress is also vintage, possibly 1970s, purchased from Fat Helen’s in Chapel St a few years ago. Although I love the dress, it is so hot to wear, there are so many metres of fabric in it. The pattern is a perfect rendition of Klimt’s florals however.

The young girl(s) in The Virgin look rather like they are lolling on an enormous bed (the painting depicts the transition of a girl into a woman), and accordingly I cast the fabrics on my bed, set up the camera on its tripod and threw myself on top, arranging the folds of my dress artistically. It’s not so easy to compose this kind of image when one can’t look through the viewfinder, and I probably shot the equivalent of ten rolls of film before I ended up with a few pictures I was happy with. (Some I have included in the Out-takes & Extras gallery, including the full image of the details below.) I call it The Sleeper

Read about Gustav Klimt here.

Detail (from one of the out-takes), original photo (left) and the picture utilising the typical SNAP filter effects (right). Click for a closer look.The Photoshop painting filter I used in these images creates an interesting effect. Detail (from one of the out-takes), final image with additional painting texture at 70% opacity (left) and image showing painting filter at 100% (right). Click for a closer look.

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