Thursday, 15 March 2012

Fine Tooth Comb

When we groom and are groomed, we tell stories. When we tell stories, we keep death at bay; we confirm we are alive and linked to others. 

In the supermarket today, I became one-of-those-mums who offers advice, who can’t help herself but interrupt a shop assistant trying to help out a stressed out dad with a daughter crawling with nits.  In short, today I became my mum.

I didn’t think I’d be writing about nits on a blog about clothes, but here we have a little diversion, all in the broader theme of grooming, the body, and how we keep death/life/animals at bay.  Nits have a funny way of connecting the world: yes, they jump and crawl from one skull to another, but the stories of nits and how to get rid of them bond us closer to friends and link us to strangers.  

When my kids got nits a few years ago, I felt like we were in a horror film. 

It took a couple of weeks for me to realize that the constant scalp itchiness the girls and I had was actually the saliva or bites or some kind of reaction to nits.  I thought it was a shampoo allergy.  If you’ve never seen a nit, the adult ones look quite shocking.  They can be large if left for a long time (as ours were) and have a kind of earwig resemblance.  If you’ve owned sea monkeys, you’ve basically seen a swimming nit.  They are sometimes black, sometimes almost jelly-like.

But it’s the eggs that are the killers.  They’re the ones you can’t get rid of.  Now if you haven’t had nits, I can almost hear you say, but there are treatments! Shampoos! Chemical ones, herbal ones… Yeah yeah but here’s the problem: they do not work.  Nothing works.  Nits are resistant to all of that stuff.  Nothing except a good metal nit comb (Zoe recommended the Nit Free long tooth comb) and vats of conditioner and time and time and time. 

The first few times I combed through the girls hair with the nit comb, a tsunami of crawling bugs slid down with the creamy conditioner. It was a horrific and disturbing site.  It took months to be completely clear, as warm and friendly winter classrooms meant they kept popping back. And every time I thought we were done with the nits, back they came.  In a change room once I saw a large nit meandering down my forehead - poor pet had lost its way.  The horror... the horror... 

But I came to enjoy the grooming time, and loved seeing the girls (and me!) with tangle free, clean hair.  That’s not just a mum thing – I know MK (a dad) loves a good nit groom too.  I understand the therapy of regular hairdresser visits and beautician appointments and wish I could do all of that stuff regularly.  When it’s done with family or close friends, it’s a gentle, unconscious way of connecting.  My nanna used to pluck my eyebrows in my mid teens. It hurt like heck but it was important because a) otherwise I’d have a monobrow and b) we’d have a cup of tea and a yap together. 

Humans groom.  We always have.  And we’ve battled nits forever, and passed on nit tips, listened to nit advice, celebrated the years that pass without them (we have been lice-free for at least three years, touch wood).

I wish I’d said some of this to the poor dad at the supermarket today.  Although the historical stuff might have depressed him ("Great. We have always had nits...").  He was completely stressed and was at that impossible stage with the nits where he believed nothing was ever going to work or change.  Maybe I made things worse by saying nothing on the shelves was going to help him, and he needed to go to the chemist and get a nit free metal comb and go through the hair every day.  He said his daughter had ultra thick long hair, and as he was Tongan, I believe him.  He was a lovely sweet dad and rough as guts, and we’d have never had a conversation if it were not for lice.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Happy Autumn and Unhappy Polar Fleece

It’s the first day of Autumn and things are getting slightly crispy in Hobart.  After our heat wave weekend where we were the hottest state in Australia I am dying to pull on wintery layers. This in turn has made me think about how ugly and dull winter fashions can be in Hobart.
The shops that abound in our sweet city are camping shops. There are so many scattered through town and Salamanca Place and they all seem to thrive.  That says a lot of good things about Tasmanians – we’re healthy outdoorsy nature lovers (that’s the fantasy anyway).  It also points to a big ugly problem: excessive use of POLAR FLEECE.  A typical Salamanca market Saturday will display a vast array of polar fleece vests, tops and hats.  For some reason all the polar fleece colours seem to melt into one disgusting maroon. 
Part of me (the mum part) understands polar fleece because it washes well and dries almost instantly. Cheap polar fleece seems to attract lint and piling straight away.  But I ask you, what is the point of an unzipped sleeveless polar fleece vest?  In the words of Katy Perry, "You're hot and you're cold, you're yes then you're no..." In other words, that sleeveless polar fleece vest is doing NOTHING.

Humans have done a much better job of staying warm before fleecies existed. Why are we regressing??  Wool, fur and layers of cotton have done us proud for a very long time.  I’m not suggesting we need to buy a mink this season (that’s Anna Wintor’s job). The thought of cruelly farmed animals providing no meat, just fur, seems senseless and vulgar.  I’m all for the fakes in that regard.  And vintage furs can be justified in my mind – those horses have well and truly bolted (well, probably the kangaroos or possums, not horses).
Last year I cut up one of my little Nan’s stoles to trim a khaki cape from Sportsgirl.  Some of the old lining fell away from the back, revealing that the stole had been constructed from cutting room floor scraps.  Hundreds of tiny 1cm pieces of fur were perfectly stitched together to produce what looks like a seamless fur.  Bless my little Nan and her low budget glamour.  I wish I’d kept all of her plastic beads…
Now, we don’t have a European winter in Tassie.  It’s miserable, but it’s not frozen solid.  Miss Watts was down here for her whistle-stop visit before going back to Paris, packing up house and moving to London, so she really needed a decent coat. She found one here - brown, knee length for $50 at my favourite antiques warehouse in Warwick Street. The coat is little shabby and sheds a bit, but the shabbiness is nice because it makes one aware that Miss Watts did not sanction the kill.  Maybe it was road kill anyway. We call it Kanga.
With her Sartorialist eye, Miss Watts has put two coats together - the fur and a raincoat shell - keeping out the bad weather and bad styles that tend to crop up in winter.  No polar fleece required.

Matt Coyle Clothes update: Fed Ex parcel from Spoonflower is on its way with new fabric and prints. More details to come.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


It’s rag time.  No, not like that.  It’s time to talk about rags – glad rags and sad rags.
Firstly the glad rags: one of the joys in my life at the moment is working from home. This meant that today the tv stayed on all day (ahem no it does not always stay on all day) – firstly the Krudd leadership shitstorm, which turned out not to be so shitty, then the Oscars LIVE.  So really it was all about the frocks as it is every year. God there were some bad decisions. Gwyneth got it wrong with the cape, JLo – no.  Meryl: unflattering oven bag.  Emma Stone and Michelle Williams, both in red, were gorgeous and looked so happy and under-tanned - yay! 
I’m convinced that the most beautifully dressed women there were dressed by Johanna Johnson.  I do know Johanna a little through my sister-in-law Zoe.  Although I’ve only actually met Johanna a few times, I feel as though I know her better than that.  Maybe it is by knowing her clothes? They are so exquisitely done and balanced and historical and quietly elegant.  And deeply sexy.  See more pictures of JJ's Oscar and post-Oscar party frocks:
I tend not to throw away old worn bits of fabric or off cuts.  They either go into the laundry to be used for cleaning or into the giant fabric basket for the ‘one day’ quilt. If they’re felt scraps it doesn’t matter how tiny they are, they can and will be used for some kind of toy.  As a result there are bags within bags within bags of scraps.  It’s a pathology but I’ve always got the future in mind – the environment, the time in the future to sew more… But as a result the present storage is bursting at the seams.
 A few months ago Matt’s punching bag needed some attention. Yes we have a punching bag. It is surprisingly brilliant for exercise but it’d been left out in the rain and had become really heavy.  Clearly the stuffing had become waterlogged.  It’s a proper punching bag, bought from a sports store. It has a brand, but the stuffing wasn’t foam or padded wool.  It was made up of sodden wet rags.  Not just rags actually, but old jumpers, tops, trousers.  They’d been curled up and stuffed whole into the punching bag.  No-one even bothered to disguise them by ripping them into scraps.

The rags stank not just of damp but of dirty old clothes (which of course is what they were).  When they were spilled out on the courtyard they looked sad and disgusting. Who chose that cotton jumper for an eight year old girl? Could they ever have envisaged that they’d end up in a punching bag?
 Then again, all clothes become dust anyway.  What a downer.
 I'm working on a top for Matt's Sydney show at the moment.
A scarf has sold at Space Bar (quick, three left), giving me some $ to do something new with the scarves.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Scarves in Store

There's one of our scarves flying off a balcony in Paris.  Thank you Miss Watts.  I am so happy that four of the Matt Coyle scarves are in Space Bar, just off Wooby's Lane at Salamanca in Hobart.  I dropped them in on Wednesday, day before Australia day, so they've been in for a couple of days.  Today I'll pop in and see how they look in there. 

Soooo with only four in the store they will HOPEFULLY sell quickly, but if you are reading this and live elsewhere, just send me a message if you want to order one.  I'll be setting up an online order system very soon. 

This week I'm doing some more experimenting with fabric and prints and sizes. Currently at Space Bar there is a very large silk/cotton print with the soldiers,
the Still Life print above,
the 'Setting Out' picture from Worry Doll and one of my favourites, 'Confrontation in the Coach House'.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Pause for thoughts and deadlines

Although I badly want to write a long post about mortality, love, cleanliness and fabric progress, I have another deadline for something due next week.  So all fabric and clothes thoughts are on hold for now.  The funeral of a dear friend, Hux, on Friday has reminded me that life is both long and short, full and requiring pause.  Lucky me, there is next week.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Arrival of the first edition

Here's a very quick post. Yesterday the printed fabric arrived for the scarves. They're a yard long and I think I'll get some bigger ones done soon.  But for now, these really are beautiful.  Half silk, half cotton.  I've had more of the 'Still Life' picture printed than the others.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Maria Care(y)s in More Ways Than One

One of the great joys of teaching has been some of the gem students.  There aren’t hundreds of them, but I treasure the few brilliant and funny ones.  Perhaps half the reason I am not a ‘real’ academic is because I actually like teaching and students so much (no, not that way. I’m not casting no first stones thank you very much).  One of those rare gems happened to be on Maria Island over the last few days (and some others were house sitting – thank you Hannah and Holly!).  
Matt, the girls and I were at Maria Island unwinding for three nights in the penitentiary huts.   
So was Jess, a postmodern Brideshead Revisited vision.  He’s one of those people straddling the divide between theory and art, having done his Honours thesis on colonial men’s waistcoats and he’s just finished first year TAFE fashion design (I’m sure that course has a proper name but I don’t know it).  He gave me lots of scarf/clothes support and THIS WEEK I am ordering. 
Anyway, we were talking about the colours on Maria. If I were the Project Runway EP (why aren’t I anyway?), I’d have a special Maria Island episode where the contestants had to spend a week working on a Maria-inspired design.  There was an overwhelming amount of inspiration: all that burnt colonial brick,  English pines and Tassie dark green bush, flat planes of grass, bright blue sea and white sand… So if I were a contestant I’d focus on an outfit based on the weird, ancient looking Cape Barren Geese. Flouro green beaks, light grey bodies, red stocking legs and black ‘shoes’.   

Although I’m not planning to work with colours other than grey, black and white, I’m often pondering various combinations.
God I love Tasmania. I really do. (I’m giddy with east coast sunshine and no tv). There’s always someone with an answer close by.  In my last post I wrote about how tricky it was to sort out the printing of the sword at the front.  The problem is perhaps solved: another art/stitching person Leonie was on the verandah at Maria Island and has given me a name and number to make everything better.  Fingers crossed.