Tag Archives: exhibitions

Wearable Arts in Auckland

Last week I was incredibly fortunate to visit the Guo Pei exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery with two friends from Auckland Felters. I’m ashamed to admit, that up until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of her, the social media frenzy that surrounded Rihanna’s appearance in the “Imperial Yellow” gown completely bypassed my feeds.

Despite the media hype around it, this dress didn’t even make my favourite top ten from this exhibition. Don’t get me wrong, the Imperial Yellow dress was beautiful and very intricately embroidered but the standard of all the dresses / gowns in this exhibition was genuinely mind-blowing, it was like being able to walk amongst a World of Wearable Arts show. A week later and my head is still buzzing with inspiration….

This photo doesn’t do the colour justice, it was a much brighter golden yellow with gold embroidery

Guo Pei’s story is as fascinating as the engineering behind her dresses. Growing up in communist China, fashion did not exist, so when she announced that she wanted to be a fashion designer everyone thought she wanted to be a seamstress, the concept that the shape and silhouette of clothing could be altered was not commonplace in China in the 1970’s and 80’s.

Added to that, China in the 70’s and 80’s was a very patriarchal society, women were not expected to be entrepreneurs, if they worked outside the home / domestic setting it was as an employee not an employer, making Guo Pei’s journey to owning her own fashion house all the more remarkable.

Sadly, it appears the hundreds of artisans who worked on bringing her designs to life, were not well paid, especially in the early days. Hopefully, the notoriety Guo Pei is receiving now will be reflected in the wages paid to her extremely talented embroiderers and seamstresses.

The attention to detail in each ensemble was impressive. Each gown had its own accessories and shoes which were works of art in their own right. However, I imagine some of the shoes would be like walking on stilts 🙂

I wouldn’t normally advocate taking photos up someone’s skirt but at this exhibition it is a must. I think the organisers missed a trick not putting mirrors on the floor under some of the dresses as the workmanship inside the skirts is amazing. The detailed beading and embroidery we see on the outside doesn’t stop at the hem.

View from the ground looking up a model’s leg

This dress was intriguing, viewed from the side the model appears to be very pregnant but from the front you are presented with a hollow but inflated skirt….

That is filled on the inside with hundreds of golden flowers…

I’m not sure if Guo Pei was trying to make a statement (I see soft, opulent petals in a voided pregnancy) with this dress but this idea of presenting two very different faces on the same garment fascinates me.

Some of the gowns were definitely more Art than Wearable…

The V at the front and silhouette created by the wide skirts of this dress kept luring me back to look at it. I feel the need to use this as inspiration for something but I’m not quite sure what yet….

I was equally fascinated by the engineering behind some of the dresses as I was by the beautiful designs and forms created. This voluminous skirt appears to be constructed from threading a flexible rod through a channel sewn into the fabric, creating a continuous coil that was attached at the waist.

Sadly we were not allowed to touch the dresses (there were attendants in every room making sure we did not get too close) but oh how I wanted to feel the fabrics and look more closely at how each dress was constructed!

If you get the opportunity, this really is a MUST SEE exhibition, I know a few people who have been to see it several times already!

Merry Kerihimete!

(Merry Christmas!)

Wishing you a joyful and creative New Year

The Wool Revolution

As avid wool enthusiasts (including a few shepherds) most of us are all too well aware that the cost of shearing a flock of sheep is rarely ever covered by the sale of the fleece. In fact the financial return on many fleeces is so poor, I know many farmers end up composting what should be a valuable and eco-friendly product.

Woven and felted wall hangings

Part of the problem is that many of these under-valued fleeces are typically at the coarser end of the spectrum, shorn from sheep bred for the meat industry. In some cases the situation is further compounded by farmers deliberately selecting sheep with coarser wools for their breeding program because their logic dictates, coarser wool = a heavier fleece per sheep and since wool is sold by weight, a heavier fleece = more $$$.

If, like me you make mostly wearables from wool, you probably see the fault in that logic, I know I value the lower micron wools far more, cheerfully paying a premium for them because they are less “scratchy”. However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for the coarser wools too and as felt-makers and spinners perhaps we should not be so quick to dismiss them….

These coarser wools, also known as “strong wool”, have traditionally been used for various industrial applications that require padding that is fire resistant, for home insulation products, even the pads that piano hammers rest on.

In previous decades, one of the largest buyers of strong wools used to be the carpet industry, unfortunately the move towards synthetic carpets has seen the use of strong wools for carpets go into a steep decline. Currently there is a drive in New Zealand to support rural schools to replace their flooring with wool carpets, rather than the imported nylon carpet tiles the government wants them to use.

Large felted wall hanging

I fist met Liz Mitchell MNZM when she joined the Auckland Fun Felters (AFF), just a month or two after I did. Already a wool enthusiast, she was on a mission to discover new ways to use this fabulous, natural material and her enthusiastic interest quickly evolved into a dedicated promotion of strong wool.

Felt illuminated

Liz has had a very interesting textile career, as a fashion designer, with her own label, she was primarily focussed on hand-made couture and in 2005 was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the fashion industry and to this day she is one of the best known names in New Zealand fashion.

A series of large wet-felted vessels

In recent years Liz has expanded her repertoire to include working with architects and interior designers to use strong wools, still in their natural colours, for a mixture of wall hangings, rugs and soft furnishings. Her diversification from haute couture to interior design is beautifully documented in her current exhibition, “This Raw Material” on show at the Corban Estate Arts Centre in West Auckland.

This exhibition is open until 9 December 2023 and is well worth a visit, I particularly enjoyed the interactive room where you are encouraged to touch, feel, sit on and even smell the pieces. When was the last time you went an art exhibition where they encouraged you to sniff the exhibits?!! 🙂

Biker jacket and hot pants – Agate wool Jacquard

We were all very proud to hear Liz has secured a grant to set up a “Wool and Natural Fibres Textile Hub” in Auckland, which will serve as a hub for wool research, education and creative exploration. An endeavour I am very keen to support. She has also set up a Wool Revolution PledgeMe to raise funds to support the new Hub.

Winter White Wedding Dress – NZ wool felt
Detail on Wedding Dress