Discovering creativity

I have never considered myself to be a creative person. I did learn to paint before I learnt to write and went on to be one of the weird arty kids in High school, however I was so isolated that something like creativity never really occurred to me, I just did what I did, biding my time and trying to survive and never really gave it much thought beyond the knowledge that I could never think up the incredible artworks I saw in the collection of vintage Omni magazines and my father’s airbrush art books that were so much of a defining feature of my youth. To be honest I never really gave my creativity or lack thereof much thought until not quite a decade ago when I came to the conclusion that I am not a creative person. I have always been very technical and very practical and certainly emotionally stifled which are pretty much the opposite of creative, I also have a horror of the kind of flighty tie-dyed spontaneity that is a hallmark of traditionally creative types. The root of all my designs in the past has been in history and construction and up until recently I referred to myself as a pattern-maker rather than a designer.

I went from high school to a brief stint in art college where I was equally criticized for not been creative enough and for not following the rules which was incredibly confusing and a definite no-win situation. Needless to say I did not do well and left after two years.

It was in college that I discovered that I am not a lateral thinker, I struggled with projects where I was required to do mind-maps and come up with dozens of concepts for a project, it always seemed a waste of time when I could rather assess the situation and do one or two designs that really worked. I do however have a huge amount of envy for people who are conceptual lateral thinkers such as Ben, my partner who just bubbles up with ideas, each more amazing than the last because my thinking works in one of two ways, it is either completely linear or it has the chaos of a mouse navigating a maze on a bungee cord.
When I work by the former process, I make beautiful minimal gorgeously fitted garments, when I work by the latter, whatever I am making looks like the incomplete bastard child of Monty Python and Salvador Dali.
The upside of this type of thought process is that I am a very good problem solver and am almost completely unflappable in an emergency. Add my volatile temper to this and I am your perfect frontline in a zombie apocalypse!

My designs have never been confections dreamed up and sketched out waiting to be released like many other designers, they have all originated from a structure and are then embellished with fabric and finish chosen for the way it accentuates the structure. I have had people argue that this is a form of creativity, however I disagree. It is about as creative as the botanical illustrations that I paint. Sure they are beautiful, but they are a purely technical exercise, and nothing particularly original.

This linear technical methodology never bothered me, it was how I worked. It was how I had always worked. It never even occurred to me that it may be a problem until about five or so years ago.
It was at that point when I realized that I was bored. I also realized that I didn’t particularly like anything that I made but I was in the middle of a rather long writer’s block and a just as long depression, besides I had a design formula which mostly worked. However like small Tupperwares of forgotten leftovers, although, or possibly because I ignored it it started festering.

Now the problem with realising that you have a problem is that it tends to eat away at you until you do something about it. The problem with been a technical practical person with a problem is that you dissect the problem, lay the parts out in neat little rows, dissect the parts under a microscope and then put them back together again in the same order hoping that they will work properly now that you’ve given them a good clean and airing. Of course this makes it all worse since you don’t realize that the problem isn’t with the parts themselves so you take them apart again and lay them all out neatly in front of a psychiatrist who tells you that what you need is a holiday and to stop worrying about them. So you pack them up neatly and put them into storage while you do some reasearch.

I spent the next few years researching. I spent thousands of hours looking at images of incredible designs and artworks by hundreds of people then dissecting them to work out what made them brilliant. I read every biography and autobiography I could get my hands on about brilliant thinkers and artists trying to work out that spark. Each thing I saw and read just made me more despondent and eventually I just gave up. I didn’t want to think that I wasn’t capable of more, but I also had no way to take it to the next level.

Then late last year, I followed it to the root. It is quite terrifying how years and years of small seemingly unrelated comments from others can make a huge impact on your later life. It is no secret that I was very badly bullied physically and emotionally throughout my childhood and teens however it wasn’t the obvious bullying that has stayed. I worked through the beatings and sexual assault years ago. What I had never managed to heal from was the insidious little comments and jabs that I didn’t even really notice amongst the brute force. The salt encrusted pinpricks that originated not exclusively from cruel class mates, but from family members, teachers and later on from partners and acquaintances. The thing is that when you have lived your life in pure survival mode, ego and self confidence don’t really feature. You figure that you have those things because you are alive, but the instant you feel somewhat safe, you relax long enough to find all the broken parts that have slipped through the 150 000km service plan.
What I was sitting with was a lifetime of other people making little comments that generally started with “you could be…” or “you really should.” There are also the well meaning and saccharinely worded versions that basically come down to “that is not ok, there is something wrong with you” that were aimed at my dress sense, my interests and my sense of self from a very early age. And so I became so good at burying things that I believed it was my choice and after a long time, I forgot what I buried or that it had ever even existed.
Once I realized this, it was shattering a dam wall. It wasn’t that I was not a creative person, it was that I had spent so long hiding any original or imaginative thought for fear of the repercussions that I didn’t even realize that I was doing it.

Three weeks ago I did the first purely imaginative drawing that I can remember doing. It was bloody scary. I stared at the paper working up the courage to start for days. It is still so fresh that I procrastinate and panic for as long as I can get away with and every time I pick up a pencil, I need to remind myself that actually I can do whatever I want, this isn’t about anyone else. I also remind myself, albeit less frequently since it is pretty much ingrained into my psyche, how disasterous it was to restrict myself. It doesn’t make it any easier to do, but a lifetime of practicality has made me a master of reason, so it is that much harder to talk myself out of doing things anymore and hopefully with time I won’t need to.

For the first time, I am putting myself and my work out there with no shield,  and it is scarier than a three year old’s birthday party. I know that there will be criticism, some people are not going to like what I do, and that is ok there will be plenty more who will love it, and most importantly I feel right about what I am doing.

a bit of an explanation

Life has been unusual even for me for the last while and I’ve had a lot of people asking and some rather wild rumours spreading, so I thought that I would start this fresh slate with a bit of an explanation. This is by far the most personal thing that I have ever written, however I have come to believe that hiding amputated limbs in jars of formaldehyde does not a good pasta sauce make.

Contrary to popular opinion, 2015 was the worst year in the creation of the universe, even worse than 1992 which was pretty bloody awful according to The Queen. 2015 was the year that I realised that I was desperately unhappy, hated what I was doing and had no idea how to fix the problem. It involved a lot jobs that I took on purely because I was desperate for the money and that I ended up losing money on, and often for very troublesome clients. It was also the start of the House Trauma (I’ll leave that for another post)

If you would rather avoid the emotional vomit and just find out the changes that I am making to Arwen Garmentry, skip to Part 2 🙂

Part 1

By the end of the year I was exhausted, grossly depressed, financially precarious and was ready to, in the words of the immortal Zoolander, crawl back into my planetarium. After I blacked out on the highway from exhaustion in December 2015, I did just that. I spent three weeks in bed moping, reading inspirational quotes on pinterest and trying to figure out my next move and how to avoid another year like 2015, and then the following year avoiding all forms of social engagement and most forms of business engagement.  The best that I could come up with was to not take on work for people who I had a bad feeling about and to send people who came wielding a picture that they wanted reproduced on their merry way. Although this is easier said than done, I did manage to stick to it the entire year.

2016 started with a bang in that three out of my four staff members did not return to work at the the beginning of the year. After an hour or two of arm-waving panic, I calmed down and realised that this was actually a bright and splendid thing, the best way I could possibly start off the year. I had been attempting to upskill and in some cases retrain the staff for the previous half a year to enable me to start to change the direction of the company, but this was met with complete refusal from the staff. Them not coming back, meant that I could hire staff with more relevant skills or staff who were interested in learning new skills.

I took on two extremely smart and talented young women, one as my apprentice/assistant, and one as a finisher (the person who does all of that super fine gorgeous detail work) instead of hiring more basic factory stitchers. These two have for the past year been, along with Ben; the bits of Pratley’s Putty that stand between me and apocalypse.

Opportunity knocked at our door early in the year. Now, I am not a risk taker in any universe. I am a person who needs things in writing signed off publicly by the president. Although preferably not ours, or the US’s. Thinking about it, I can’t think of a trustworthy president, so maybe a pope or a high ranking member of the illuminati? The point is that I am not a risk taker and I am certainly not trusting. The risks seemed fairly minimal and if it fell apart, it likely would in the early stages before any real finance had been put in. If it worked out however, the payoff would have had huge implications for the company.

We went through four months of positive meetings, each one taking things to the next level culminating in final sampling. Then, when we were expecting signoff on our first order, the whole thing fell apart leaving me heavily in debt, with most of my suppliers refusing to supply me and no new commissions on the horizon.

So I made bread.

Sometimes you get to the point where you actually can’t go on. your body, mind and soul just decide No More. This was that point for me. I froze.

I needed time, but at the same time, I needed to keep things running and keep up as much of an illusion of normality as possible.  I needed a “gap year” to rest and to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and the company and I got exactly that. The universe is a strongly intuitive thing. I struggled to cope with people and be creative and commissions weren’t exactly pouring in anyway (although the few commissions that I did get last year were interesting jobs for the most wonderful people which played a large part in convincing me that I did need to carry on)  So I did the second most natural thing to me – I baked. More specifically, I baked bread. Really astoundingly good bread. I made bread for private clients, did a few markets and stocked a few shops while Arwen Garmentry ran at snail speed in the background. The bread became a beastie of it’s own to the point where I not only didn’t have the time or the energy to concentrate on Arwen Garmentry, but I needed to put everything into the bread since it was the thing paying the bills. I lost myself in bread. I was wonderful to be doing something so completely different to what I had been doing for the past 16 years and it was great to feel successful for a change since the clothing company had been creatively stagnating and financially precarious for a number of years due to me not having the intuition or courage to change. Mostly it was wonderful to not need to put absolutely everything into what I was doing. Making bread is mindless physical work. It gave me room to breathe and room to think.

By July I was convinced that I would never make clothing again.

By September I was deeply bored.

By November my mind had started to open up again. Anre and I sat down and started planning.

Then I discovered that many people had been saying that I had closed down my clothing business which helped explain the almost complete lack of enquiries. At that point everything fell into place.

One of the scariest decisions I have ever had to make was the one to close down the bread business. To get rid of my literal bread and butter and go back to the thing that has been my passion for as long as I can remember. I delivered my last loaf of sourdough to a deli that I had been supplying on November the thirtieth 2016 and felt like someone had left the door open, although probably not the fridge door considering the average temperatures at that time.

Part 2

Last year gave me something that I have longed for for a decade. It gave me a completely fresh start. In totally breaking down what I had built, It gave me the opportunity to build something new and something honest.

Amongst all the trauma, I decided firstly what I was not prepared to put up with anymore and secondly, it helped to to figure out exactly what I wanted to do and gave me the courage to make those changes.

So here is what I have done.

I have scrapped absolutely everything that I have done to date. I looked at the work in our showroom one day and realised exactly how mediocre everything was and most importantly how it was all designed with someone else in mind, never because I liked it, and I genuinely did not like anything that I had made. I had held myself back because I was afraid that things I liked and wanted to design wouldn’t sell. Well, the things that were designed with a clientele in mind didn’t sell either, so why should continue to do that?

This company is a passion project. I will never be rich from it, but as long as I can continue to do what I do and pay the rent, I am satisfied. If I am going to be living a frugal life, let it be a happy one full of beautiful things that make me proud.

I am starting from scratch and to a model of my own devising. There are three basic models in the fashion world – 1: custom made per client, 2: many short ranges – a collection of clothing that is all released at the same time that will be available for a limited period, usually a season. or 3: a standard range of basics that are always available. usually corporate wear or jeans wear.  I have worked by all of these models, and have often had various collections running by each of these models simultaneously however none of them have really felt right to me. I get bored too quickly to cope with #3, I don’t work fast enough to run #2 successfully and #1 is very difficult to run as a primary business model in the present economic climate, plus I am not a people person which is essential for that model.

So we are going to be bringing out a number of ranges. These will run simultaneously and be diverse long term ranges that will be added to over years. Although new items will continually be added to and removed from these ranges, the entire range will only be discontinued when I feel it has run it’s course not after a set period of time. These ranges will also be very different to each other which will keep things interesting and allow me to design a wide range of things without worrying as to whether an item will work with the current aesthetic of the company which has been a problem in the past where I have purposefully held back designs for this reason, however often by the time that design may gel with everything else happening, its time had passed. There will also be many one-offs and very limited edition items which means that you have far more opportunity to obtain something unique without needing to have something made.  I will still be doing full custom work for private clients, however I will be a lot more selective about the work I take on.

I am also slowly moving back into the art world, something that I have been avoiding for a good 20 years, but has kept up its call. Many of these new designs will feature distinguishing finishes such as hand painting or limited edition prints which i have toyed with in the past, but never seriously contemplated until now, and some of them will be part of mini collections that will include artwork of of other types. I was a part of an exhibition last year for which I did five oil paintings and a corset, and it opened up for me how much further I could take my work in this way.


Life is again fascinating an exciting and full of wondrous adventures. This is the first time that I am designing for the joy of it, and for the first time in a very long time, I am genuinely happy and genuinely excited by what I am doing. I am designing things that intrigue me. Things that I want to put on my body and I hope that you will to.