'Grunty old Singer': Chch designer stitches past into wearable arts creation

Cushla O’Connell with her grandmother’s Singer. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Cushla O’Connell with her grandmother’s Singer. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Christchurch designer Cushla O’Connell is stitching the past into her latest creative endeavour.

The Belfast resident sewed her way to the finals of this year’s World of WearableArt using four different sewing machines, one from each generation from her great grandmother to herself.

She and Papanui resident Janice Elliott are among the 102 finalists in the international design competition.

The oldest of her machines was from 1877, but her go-to was the machine that had been her grandmother’s.

“Her's is a grunty old Singer, it just keeps going,” O’Connell said.

The purpose of using four machines was to connect the piece to her heritage.

“My families were milliners and dressmakers. It’s definitely in my genes.”

A design by Janice Elliott exhibited in the 2018 World of WearableArt show. ​Photo: Supplied
A design by Janice Elliott exhibited in the 2018 World of WearableArt show. ​Photo: Supplied
The unnamed piece was made of fabric decorated with free motion embroidery, she said.

The piece was the result of about six months of hard work over evenings, weekends, and whenever time could be snatched.

Even while in the car en route to Wellington to hand-deliver her creation the day before entries closed, there was still time to pull out a needle and thread.

“I did a bit of stitching on the way up. My partner drove and I sewed.”

It was her third time entering the competition, which was challenging but also exciting, she said.

She would be attending the Wellington award show in early October, and looked forward to seeing other designs, which would debut on September 30.

“You’re surrounded by creativity, it’s a magnificent outlet for people like ourselves.”

Elliott also made the finals with a creation made of leather.

She had plenty of experience behind her.

“I’ve been doing it now just over 10 years,” Elliot said.

It took a lot of work to create something to exhibit and she thought she was finished with the competition.

However, she was unable to stop finding fresh inspiration.

“I’ll see something and think, wow, I could make something with that.

“I’ll always be creative. It’s good to be creative.”

Competition founder Dame Suzie Moncrieff said judges would have a difficult task choosing their favourite designers.

The competition would have three recurring categories, Aotearoa, avant-garde, and open.

It would also have the three new themes of architecture, the Elizabethan era and monochrome.

“The skills, wide range of materials and techniques used in creating their work is breath-taking.”

  * The 2021 event was cancelled. The 2022 World of WearableArt Awards Show runs from September 29 to October 16.


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