And the eyes of them both were opened; and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves aprons.
~ Genesis 3:7
Fig Definitions from Oxford Dictionary
- Broad leaved tree
- Fig leaf: device for concealing something
- Fig-Out: dress up (person) bedizen.
Bedizen: deck out gaudily
With those few words buzzing about in my head, began a project that took a year to complete. The idea of Eve as a temptress somehow fits in with the ‘Fig’ definitions above.
It was academic year 1991/2 and I was enrolled for the second year of a London City & Guilds Creative Embroidery Course, at a local Technical College. I loved the practical side of it but had one big problem… I saw projects in 3D in my head and found it difficult to put my thoughts on paper. There I go again the blots and the blank page syndrome! When it came to art the only thing I was confident about drawing, was a chair across the floor! 🙁
Back then I did not have a computer so all my research loosely involved Trees – books, magazines, paper for drawing & writing on, even parts of pencils came from trees. I began to look at and examine trees more closely.
This picture is only one example and I kept it for the colouring, it came from a magazine like so many more at that stage. My camera was of low quality back then and I had to wait until the whole roll was complete before sending the film away to be developed, only then did you discover that half the prints were unfit for use and details a smudgy mess. Oh! what we could have done with a digital camera.
So trees, bark and paper came between me and my sleep. I read about Barkcloth; it is a versatile material that was once common in Asia, Africa, Indonesia and the Pacific. Barkcloth came primarily from trees of the Moraceae family. It is made by beating sodden strips of the fibrous inner bark into sheets of paper-like fabric and dyed or otherwise coloured.
Tapa, a papery cloth was made in a similar way in the islands of the Pacific Ocean primarily in Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. In former times the cloth was primarily used for clothing, but now cotton and other textiles have replaced it. The major problem with Tapa clothing is that the tissue is just like paper: it loses all its strength when wet and falls apart.
Tissue paper was where I began, tearing it in rough strips and placing them to look like bark.
Then came tissue scrunched up while wet to give the effect of rougher bark.
Another idea was canvas and ribbons dyed with tea.
At this stage I wanted to work with paints in autumn colours so I went to my fabric bin and hoked about until I found a few plain pieces. For anyone interested in trying fabric paints, you need to wash the fabric first to remove any finish from it or the paints may not take.
So this sample is from the rough mixed fibre fabric that I used for my first attempt. I tore it in long strips and plaited them together. I had enough for three plaits from the single width of material. I placed the plaits on a strong layer of plastic sheeting to prevent the paints staining the surface underneath, in this case the floor of the spare bedroom. I applied Deka silk paints randomly with a medicine dropper onto the fabric plaits. The plaits were quite damp at that stage and I left them for about six hours before opening them out. I then left the strips flat to dry naturally.
Using the lines formed like creases from the paint I stitched pin tucks in a variety of threads some glitter and some plain. Very little was needed. This sample below was dried quickly by placing between two layers of baking parchment and ironed.
Next I tried the same method on muslin, and both silk and cotton organdie.
The paint needs to be ‘set’ by heat, and the easiest way is by ironing. NB make sure to place baking parchment above and below the fabric to prevent staining either the iron or the ironing board cover.
Pleased with my results so far, I turned my mind on how to use the strips. I was thinking of Eve but wanted a little more than fig leaves. 🙄 So the next stage was to select other fabrics to go with the bark effect panels.
The fabrics marked 1, 2 & 3 in the photo above were the direction I went. No. 1 was my choice with No.2 for extra effect.
While taking a break from fabric paints and allowing the material to dry I distracted myself with sorting some old photos for another project. This photo of my mother taken while on holiday in Nice, just a few short weeks before the outbreak of WW11, seemed to jump out at me. It was the shorts. Her shorts were purchased while on the holiday and considered rather scandalous when she came home. ( I wore them in the garden as a teenager, I think Elly wore them once and I am sure my sister still has them!).
Shorts and ‘hot pants were all high fashion at that stage so I decided to try and recreate them for sentimental reasons and to add a heart shaped bustier to go with them.
I decided to appliqué four painted panels to the bustier with some stylized leaves to represent fig leaves. For these I used the organdie decorated with machine embroidery. I also used one of my other experiments – of the muslin as a base; scraps of organdie, silk and sparkle threads, fine gold mesh, braid and coloured rayon threads were trapped in food/Saran wrap and over sewn with zig-zag machine stitches. With them I used wooden beads, covered tiny spools and machine made cords (something I love to do).
You have been very patient so far, so I’ll not bore you with the sewing. It is time to see the finished outfit.
And from the other side…
Thats not a hole in my tights, just a mark on the photo!
The top had a second life….
For Elly’s Graduation I made, by request, a pair of trousers and a detachable skirt that started on a hip bone and went around the back to the other hip bone. It was more like a cape at waist level and removed for dancing and that is where the idea for her wedding outfit came from. The skirt was worn around her shoulders for the homeward journey in the early hours of the next morning!