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As we reach the end of 2020, I find myself reflecting on what effect the pandemic has had on creativity. I assume that you, reading this blog, are a creative person, or if you don’t consider yourself creative, you at least have a high appreciation for creativity. I acknowledge that sewing is a feat of extreme left-brain engineering intelligence, but I also believe that it is largely a creative right-brain hobby. As a person in an adjacent creative field to the world of craft, whose work was utterly demolished by Covid-19, I look upon 2020 as both a curse and a blessing for my creative activities. I feel guilty just saying that it could be construed as a blessing! I acknowledge my privilege in living in a country, and in a state, that has been relatively low risk – in finding some positivity in the lockdowns we’ve had, I in no way want to diminish the suffering of many millions of people around the world. Even though my professional work has been gravely affected by the virus, and may continue to be impacted for a long time in the future, I also know how immensely lucky I am to not personally know anybody who has tested positive. And since my “day job” is in a creative field and my hobbies are also creative, I’ve felt the starkly juxtaposing effects – both devastating and beneficial – of coronavirus on both sides.
Many months ago now I ordered some labels from Kylie and The Machine and received a freebie label: “circa 2020”. I saved this label up, wanting to use it in a garment that felt to me like it truly represented how I’ve experienced this year. The label has now found it’s home: this concert-blacks, performance-ready, Zadie jumpsuit (by Paper Theory) in A + R’s special silk noil fabric.
As a musician in Australia, I admit to feeling undervalued in the past, but never more so than this year. I’m not even the cool kind of musician: I’m a classical musician! When people ask me what I do:
me: I’m a musician
them: Cool! Do you play or sing?
me: I play viola in an orchestra
I’m often met with blank stares. Most people don’t know what a viola is, or that being an orchestral musician is a full-time, salaried job, or even that their city/state has a full-time orchestra! When the pandemic hit, the arts and music industry pretty much came to a standstill. We were at work one day, then sitting at home, awaiting instructions with calendars completely wiped clear the next. Suddenly all these lists of essential vs. non-essential workers started coming out, and you can guess which list musicians/artists/creatives landed on. To be told by the “general public” (which I put in air quotes because I’m hoping that those lists came from some small group of people, or were plucked out of thin air, and are not the thoughts of the majority of people) that your profession is not essential, that what you do actually holds little value to society, is really heart-breaking. And yet the Covid-19 shutdowns saw more people more actively engaging with the arts than ever before. Not just watching Netflix and reading, but taking virtual museum tours and watching/listening to both local and global music companies that had opened their digital doors. How can something so essential to a bearable lockdown experience still be so undervalued and underfunded in Australia and the world?
Lockdown was a time where suddenly I had all the time I had ever wished for to spend on my creative hobbies. I feel so thankful that the orchestra I work for, Queensland Symphony Orchestra, has an excellent CEO and management team to guide us: a team that values the musicians in a way that relieves financial anxiety (I know this can’t be said for other orchestras in Australia and the world; or for other musicians, artists and creatives. I count myself so lucky). In some ways I was elated to be sewing all day and knitting all night, but I also felt very alone in my little craft bubble, without the personal connection my job in music provides in my life. Musicians don’t just connect and find inspiration in each other; we find these things in the audience. I was sorely missing these vital creative connections in my life. One of the first things I sewed in the lockdown was a black blouse for performances. I’d bought the fabric and all the notions over a year prior, and it’s interesting to me that in that moment, at a time when all performances were cancelled for the foreseeable future, I felt compelled to sew it. I found solace and hope in sewing for future performances. I consider myself so fortunate to have creative hobbies to keep the juices flowing when I can’t make music. While I’m talking about creative hobbies, I want to thank my colleague: violinist Shane Chen, who dabbles in photography and took all these lovely pictures for me! (@shanechenviolin)
This is the second Zadie jumpsuit I’ve sewn and I learnt so much from the first one (for example, that real fabrics often have a lot more give than the fabric I use for toiles!). I sized down one more size than before, 2 sizes from my measurements, and shortened the rise by 4cm (and therefore lengthened the bottom of the legs by the same amount) and am really happy with the fit now. I also lengthened the tie on the right side of the bodice (when worn) so that I could get a really good bow more on my left, as I prefer this to a central bow. When I chose silk noil to work with, I was initially very nervous, having heard all the warnings from other sewists about slippery, unwieldy fabrics, and I had prepared myself with special silk pins and a rotary cutter. However, silk noil is not at all what I expected! I guess I heard the word silk and immediately imagined the shiny slippery stuff. But silk noil has a beautiful drape and sews up like a dream! I was able to use my normal needle size in my machine and normal thread too (I had all the good intentions of buying silk thread and a fine needle but my local Spotlight has been out of stock. The rotary cutter has been a total game-changer though!). What I also love about this silk noil is that it has a really cool, slightly slubby, texture and feels like some kind of luxurious warm woolly silk. It’s not actually warm, it’s kind of hard to describe its feeling… rest assured that it’s been taken for a test run under the hot stage lights, and it doesn’t feel too warm against the skin. Also, when buying black fabric or RTW concert black clothes, sometimes black turns out not to be true black. I was so pleased that this black is true!
Much like the black blouse I sewed at the beginning of lockdown, I sewed this jumpsuit with hope and optimism for a future for my profession. We’ve managed to put on two main-stage concerts before the end of this year and we have a full season next year, which is absolutely fortuitous and incredible, considering how many other arts companies have been catastrophically affected. I hope the post-lockdown era heralds a renewed interest in classical music and the live music experience from the general public, and perhaps some reconsideration of where we creatives stand on the essential scale. I certainly can’t wait to wear my concert jumpsuit – which is infused with my hope for art and creativity, and ties together my dual loves for sewing and music – at performances in the near and distant future.