11 July 2015

Have we met? Julie Casey :: Milliner

The idea of leaving her career in banking had been floating around in Julie Casey’s head for some time. More time with her only son, Ben, and a change of direction were top of her list.

Looking for something to do from home, Julie began testing the waters with a few millinery courses in Melbourne, the epicentre of the trade in Australia. She had begun to enjoy her new creative outlet, but it was a family accident eight years ago that finally forced her hand and cemented her decision. 

Aged seven and a half, Ben’s right foot got run over by the family’s ride on mower. It had to be amputated, and a prosthetic limb put in its place. Julie took three months’ leave to care for Ben and her mind was made up. “I said, ‘yep, that’s it.’ I wanted to be at home. It’s only a short time that your kids are with you, and I’ve only got one.”

Growing up in Byron Bay, Julie and her husband, Paul, met at high school in Mullumbimby and moved to Clunes to build their own home thirteen years ago. This time of year, leading up to the spring racing carnivals, Julie is at her busiest. There are regular clients who get a hat made each year, plus fashion parades and shops to supply with her striking pieces.

“I like to do things that are unusual and different, starting with a base and creating from that”, Julie says. “Generally where we start is the dress, the shoes and the bag.” A customer’s preferences and the properties of the various materials are crucial in the initial design stage, but from then on Julie is relatively free to come up with a one-off design.

“You can’t force something to do something it’s not supposed to”, she says of the different materials and objects used in millinery. Feathers, straw, ribbon, silk, lace, felt, netting; some are easier to work with than others. “I do love shaping with feathers because it’s a fairly instant result, you can get something dramatic pretty quickly”.

Julie shows off a large, brightly coloured headpiece of hot pink and Gatorade-orange feathers. It only took about 6-8 hours to make, while others have up to 20 hours of work involved, with hand stitching, wiring, shaping and stiffening the fabrics before adding the trims. “But it’s fun!” beams Julie, “and it’s exciting when you finally get to the end.”

Millinery trends closely follow changes in fashion, but some ideas are slow to shift. For the uninitiated, the traditional spot to wear your hat, or fascinator, or headpiece, or even ‘hatinator’, yes, it’s a word, is on your right temple. Recently, milliners have begun to break away from positioning hats on the side, says Julie, led by British milliner to the stars, Philip Treacy, after he caused a stir with his hats worn in the centre of the forehead by guests at the royal wedding in 2011.

Because each hat is a one–off, it’s forbidden to copy other milliners’ creations, Julie says. “To really broaden what you do, you need to do as many courses as you can with different milliners, because they all teach differently and they all teach different techniques they’ve created themselves.” Julie has gathered skills from workshops with many milliners over the years, including well-known Australian milliners Louise McDonald and Neil Grigg.

As well as designing and making headwear from her home workshop in Clunes, Julie and her husband have recently bought a joinery business in Lismore, which is taking up a lot of her energy at the moment. It’s part of the family’s future planning, and also another string to Julie’s bow.

“It’s good to mix it up and do different things throughout your life. I couldn’t imagine being stuck in the same building with the same people for 30 or 40 years.”

2 July 2015

Back in my good books: a story about discovering Irish authors in cyberspace


I have previously written about my sense of malaise at not being able to remember what I was supposed to look up online, and about being underwhelmed by the web when I use my phone instead of my computer. I was annoyed with myself that my web surfing had been reduced to quick scrolls with a finger instead of delving down rabbit holes of wonder, and I was always being distracted by what was coming at me via email and various social media channels. My fault entirely, but still hard to get over.

To overcome this, I have been consciously trying to go directly to webpages which I love, or blogs which make me happy, to see what's happening there. That way I get to see stuff I am choosing to see, rather than the stuff choosing to see me (I'm looking at you, facebook).

Recently I found this post on one of my favourite sites, Meet Me At Mikes, and it took my eye because of the reference to a podcast with the children's book author, Oliver Jeffers. We own two of his books, with their immediately recognisable illustrations and their grown up concepts woven into enthralling tales for kids. 

Pip's post on Meet Me At Mikes is about the beauty of being oneself, and not trying to be the same as everyone else. But more than that, and something which resonated with me, it was about the idea of backing yourself. Coincidentally, when my 2015 diary asked me for my New Year's Resolutions, I had written exactly that. 'Back Myself'. Such a simple instruction, but one that's so easily forgotten, or worse, consciously deleted from our self-talk. 

In the podcast (here), Oliver Jeffers speaks about the way that each person's handwriting is different, and expands the idea to apply it to art and even the way our brains work.
"If you didn't have your own handwriting everything would look just like it was printed in a book", he says. "Everybody's got their own little quirks and tweaks that make it theirs. And it's the same with drawing and probably the same with thinking." 
I look at my handwriting in my desk diary open in front of me and notice the letters slightly slanting to the left at times, sometimes narrow vowels and curves, at other times more rounded. Apparently even my handwriting can't manage to be the same as my own handwriting.

...But back to Oliver Jeffers. His point is that we all have our own styles, and we should try to embrace what sets us apart from others, instead of trying to be the same. At a point, Jeffers realised he needed to stop copying what other artists and illustrators were doing, and let his hands draw the way they wanted to. It was then that he discovered his own style which came so easily and enjoyably, and in turn others came to love it as well. I love the realisation that imitation was pretty futile in his line of work, "somebody's already doing that for a living, and it's that guy".

My own discovery that Jeffers has a life outside of kids' books (he's a painter and filmmaker as well) was just another gem I found on this little rabbit-hole adventure. And, as if this weren't enough treasure for one day, thank's to Pip's post I also found out about another great site, Brain Pickings. It is, in it's own words, a cross-disciplinary LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces spanning art, science, psychology, design, philosophy, history, politics, anthropology, and more. I think I'll be visiting there in the future. Type it straight into the address bar, do not pass Go. 

So, I am back loving the internet, and not just because I have found 7 different posts about how to hide veggies in my toddler's smoothies, dinner, dessert, cupcakes, carpets. Sorry, that last one wasn't online. That was in my actual house.