Meeting Makers – The Artist

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I’d like to introduce ‘Meeting Makers’ as a new series of interviews with random people I meet who sew, knit or make anything that I think is brilliant and inspiring. This series is likely to be ad hoc, as it will rely on my ability to bump into creatives! I do have a knack for sniffing them out, though. First up, a local lad…

James is an artist and splits his time between London – where he works and exhibits his art – and Manchester, where he teaches art students. The man’s talented, what can I tell ya? Don’t even ask about his curry-making abilities…

If all of that doesn’t keep James busy enough, he recently decided to sew his own fancy dress costume from scratch, exploiting all the fabric opportunities that Walthamstow market has to offer. Here is his story.

First things first, James. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for your brilliant badger costume?

I find with fancy dress it is best to channel your inner child and not take yourself too seriously. So, where better for inspiration than your little brother? Over many years of silliness, jokes and loving rivalry we have coined many nicknames for each other; while he has been known affectionately as ‘Quakers’, I have been ‘Badge’. I would be lying if I told you I knew exactly where these names came from or why they were dreamed up, but somehow they have stuck. So when invited to a fancy dress party titled, ‘If you go down to the woods today…’ I immediately wanted to be a badger!

Making a fancy dress costume of this particular short-legged member of the weasel family has two distinct advantages. Firstly it is generally black and white meaning the material will be cheap and easy to source and secondly, with its stripes is very easily recognisable and this is always a bonus with fancy dress. I just can’t stand those costumes which consist of a bit of face paint explained by the statement “I’ve come as a sexy (insert relevant cute animal here)” or guys who buy a mask on the way to the party and then spend the entire evening removing it to drink from their can of preferred beverage. It is such a shame, because fancy dress can be a brilliant opportunity to spend an evening being a different you. It is exactly the same as getting dressed up in a dinner jacket or wearing team colours to a rugby match, a bonding experience that often develops into a great occasion.

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How did the fabric vendors of Walthamstow market react to a six-foot man and sewing novice going to buy fabric from them?

With some bemusement! I walked into, around and straight out of Saeed’s fabric shop, stopping only to mumble, ‘No thanks, just looking,’ when asked, ‘Can I help you with anything sir?’. I was looking for something fluffy and, if at all possible, slightly stretchy. The ever-surprising Walthamstow market provided me with a 2 x 1.5 metre black acrylic fleece blanket, a bargain at £9.50 even though there was not a natural fibre in sight!

Can you tell us something behind the process of putting this beauty together? Did you use a pattern or wing it?

A pattern… I have to admit, I’ve never used one of those. I am afraid this costume is more a cleverly disguised sack than a fitted garment. What was exciting was that after a decade of hand sewing costumes, this was my first experience of a sewing machine. What a machine it was, an incredible 50 year-old hand-operated Singer machine. It used to belong to Amy’s grandmother, passed down the maternal side and although temperamental it is still in working order.

The body and legs went together surprisingly quickly. To get the desired short legs I wanted to drop the crotch to knee height – the young’uns would be proud – so I decided simply to make a tube, 2 metres in length, and by cutting a vertical slit front and back in the tube, about a quarter of the way up from the bottom I could then form the two legs by joining together the loose edges.

Once together, I had to make some adjustments, I let the back out with a vertical triangular flap that allowed my shoulders to fit comfortably and it doubled as the means of getting in and out again. The headgear was next; I used a flat cap as a skeleton for the shape and I guessed at the 7 panels that make the dome of the head. It was trial, error and ongoing adjustment rather than a set design. I quite like that process of not really knowing what or how I am making something, and just living on my wits to bring it together.

Did your art background help at all, constructing this costume?

Yes, because this process of adjustment and blind creation is how I try to paint, finding out as I go. The other thing my painting practice helps me with when sewing is the patience and bloody mindedness required to see a project through. I made the costume in just over 24 hours with only breaks for sleep and cooking a meal (not a curry this time, Karen).

The simple reason why I paint is because I enjoy making things; in art you can see a project all the way through from initial idea, building and priming canvasses, to making the painting itself and on to reflecting in writing about it, and even delivering it to galleries. You can take ownership of every stage. I love the satisfaction that comes from turning your own effort and dedication into something tangible. Indulging the enjoyment of making something is why I enjoy sewing fancy dress costumes. It’s about revelling in the making of something outside of the academic rigour and seriousness of creativity when it is allied to a profession.

Most importantly of all, did you win First Prize for your fancy dress costume?

No prizes on offer I am afraid to say, just the warm satisfied feeling inside that I had not cobbled something together, ‘Blue Peter-style’ out of duct tape and lollypop sticks. Oh, and by the way, a fancy dress party in my opinion is the only permissible public occasion for a man to be seen in a onesie!

I think James is an inspiration to us all, readers. I love his fearlessness, his thoughts on patience and application, how outfits bond people, and the simple fact that he wanted to make something and blooming well went for it!  Have any of you made an awesome fancy dress costume recently? Can you better the badger?!

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25 Responses to Meeting Makers – The Artist

  1. I’m afraid I’ve never made anything quite as fabulous as this particular creation, but I was lucky enough to be visited in hospital by a friend dressed as a sting ray once… That costume rocked my socks.

  2. judyhamid says:

    I quite agree about the ‘onesie’ comment – I think I may apply it to ladies too! A Pair of pyjamas is much more stylish than a onesie. I’m not sure why they are so popular now, but then again, we all loved shoulder pads in the 80s and bell-bottomed flares in the 70s, so hopefully soon we’ll wise up to the horror that is a onesie. I’m looking forward to the ‘Pyjama-along’. Judy. (Just discovered you blog – really enjoying it).

  3. Love it!! I find making fancy dress really therapeutic. From having the idea, working out how to put it altogether and then hoping it works 😉 I confess I’ve only done it for my children though – so hats off to James!

  4. Wow, that’s dedication and application of all sorts of genius. And I would suggest that a hand-operated sewing machine, Singer or any other sort, is likely to be rather more than 50 years old. However, whatever its origin, it was clearly a machine up to the demanding task of fashioning the most fabulous onesie I’ve seen in many a year! That’s an inspiration.

    I don’t think I’ve ever made a fancy dress costume of any note. I don’t much like fancy dress at the best of times but the few such parties I’ve been invited to have generally required application of wardrobe trawling rather than sewing anything (come as your favourite nightmare or your dream career or whatever it might be, things you could just get the nylon dressing gown and curlers for or dig out your opera-singer dress).

  5. FabricKate says:

    I have just made a version of the 1965 YSL Mondrian shift dress for a work event to celebrate our founding in the 60s. There will be a prize for best 1960s outfit for one woman and one man. Unlike the lovely Badger outfit I should be able to do the Twist in the dress.

  6. AnotherKaren says:

    I didn’t have James’ ‘can-do-I’m- going-for-it’ attitude, sad to say, so kept it simple. With a pair of sheer harem pants made from net curtains, a face and head swathes in a long net-curtain veil and a ginormous black brassiere onto which I had glued sequins and glitter, my husband looked every inch the concubine. (Except for his boxer shorts and trainers) I didn’t make my own costume – I didn’t have the time, but I borrowed some school uniform. (No, I didn’t go as Britney Spears, I went as one of the Crankies).

    I love the way James has made it up as he goes along and how he discovers solutions and ideas in the process. Very liberating. I learnt something about the discipline of an artist too. Great costume, James, well done. .

  7. Stephanie says:

    That is fantastic – love it…..

    I love going to costume parties. Christmas last year for work was rock ‘n’ roll, so I made a purple swing skirt with the poodle on it. Tried to make a petticoat but that didn’t quite work out (had to go and buy one). Lots of twirling and being twirled was had that night.

    stephanie

  8. Ginny says:

    Ha, love it. I’m a true believer that if you’re going to do fancy dress, put the effort in and do it properly! I quite agree with James about the face paint and masks. Those kids get the crappy sweets at Halloween lol. I’ve made my own costumes since being about 11. Last Halloween me and my boyfriend went as Magenta and Eddie from Rocky Horror, and I made most of the costume. I even sacrificed a leather jacket that fit me perfectly to do his jacket! Which I somewhat regret now, mind you. This year’s costumes are already planned: steampunk Alice and Mad Hatter. They may take some time to make!

  9. I feel a huge amount of affinity with James, being a fellow ‘ badge’ by members of my family so am dead impressed to hear about the fantastic and very realistic costume. Awesome skills. I did wonder at first if a pair of white pants might have been a short cut for the head stripes? One for me to bear in mind if the time comes.
    In terms of my fancy dress, for the millennium we held a fancy dress challenge to come as a celebrity/ mover or shaker of the C20. I made my own outfit, coming as the Ayatollah homeni ( apols for my lack of political sensitivity and poor spelling). I crafted my own papier mâché turban, sewed a cape and wore white etc, bought a false beard and used elvis sideburns as eyebrows. I’d have to say it was a reasonable if short likeness, with no duplication at the party….

    • LinB says:

      I was all ready to get up in arms that James had “stolen” your identity, until I realized he probably has no idea who you are. My best costume story comes from the time I spent in the costume shop at the University of Southern Mississippi, when we overheard one side of a phone conversation to our professor from a shopowner in town, “Yes, yes, we do make costumes to order for outside businesses … Yes … yes … Let me just ask you: How would you like your chicken dressed?”

  10. Julie Cruickshank says:

    Great costume! I think it’s wonderful that James took the time to make a costume. We had an ‘Over the Rainbow’ party for my dd’s 18th and I made myself a yellow brick road number by stamping bricks onto a white sheet with a decorators sponge. I then used the sponge as a fascinator -type head thingy and prayed it didn’t rain! I even made yellow dangly brick earrings out of sponge dish cloths too. It was a very fetching ensemble…although I can’t remember much about the party!!!

  11. Gjeometry says:

    “Meeting Makers”. Great idea! And, I really think that lad should wear the Badger garment out to tea! If not, why not.

  12. I admire the boldness of the beginner!

  13. EmSewCrazy says:

    This must be a British thing. I’ve never heard of fancy dress parties and until I got about halfway through thought it was kinda weird that he was wearing a badger costume to a formal event. Now I know better and will be prepared if I’m ever invited to such a thing.
    That aside, he is super clever and what a great job he did with his costume.

  14. cjgal says:

    This is so great! I love making elaborate costumes, some of my favorites are this one of the coyote and road runner, and This one of yoda. I’m glad to see there’s other people who find it to be as fun as I do! Great work for a beginner 🙂

  15. I live in a city whose byline is “Any Excuse to Dress Up!” What with the Rugby Sevens, Halloween and any number of invented excuses, it’s all on around here. We have more costume hire companies per capita than any other city in the world, I would guess. Nach, I am strictly DIY. Costumes for the last 10 years have included an Abyssmal Abyss (purple and pink sequinned nun habit with cat o nine on the belt instead of a cross) for a Rocky Horror/Sound of Music/Hedwig and the Angry Inch party, a Voodoo Mama for an All American party, a pirate on TLAP day,..so many more. I have an entire rack of costumes in my workroom that I am constantly lending out. It’s the BEST FUN EVER!

  16. huggiebaby says:

    LOOOOOL!!! Love love love. Amy’s description did NOT do this justice. A true heavyweight in the fancy dress stakes x

  17. Anne-Marie says:

    Never been to a fancy dress party so have never made one, but my daughter goes all the time and either cobbles something together or hires a costume (she lives where Mrs M. lives) – and she loves fancy dress! A memorable one was her Amy Winehouse getup, which made me cringe as I thought she’d changed her style!

  18. Prawn says:

    I love fancy dress parties – it’s a good way to be able to strike up a conversation with anyone at a party. Haven’t made any costumes recently thought but I did go to a fancy dress party a few years ago dressed as a Prawn, also using fabric from Walthamstow market! Don’t think I have photos….

  19. Lizzie says:

    Hi Karen – thanks so much for your blog…can’t accuse you of not being creative and different with your posts!

    Thanks also for your guide to Walthamstow market, was very useful all the times I’ve been, although maybe it meant I spent too much!

  20. gingermakes says:

    Wow! What an awesome outfit!

  21. Pingback: Meeting Makers – The Author | Did You Make That?

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