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January 10, 2013 By Andy Ross

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Of waistcoats, monkeys and men...

I have been looking at the American Textile History Museum recently, and happily taking a virtual walk through the collections. Go to http://www.athm.org/ and have a look under the Clothing collection for a great waistcoat. Wool with a real flair.

I used to make waistcoats. 1950's summer dresses, silver thread work, tapestry, cotton, wool, felt. I used them all at some point, and now the collection of waistcoats is in storage in the studio in Yell. We are planning a showing of them because they are quite fun.

One of them has a sad tale. I created the waistcoat out of a Jacquard woven picture of Chairman Mao which I placed on the back and decorated with red sequins. On the front I put small pictures of Lenin and Stalin, and on the lapel I wore the small red star that designated the Soviet Young Pioneer Organisation. One day, while standing in a queue for an opera ticket, a woman behind me caught sight of the pin and almost passed out. She remembered wearing it when she was young during the days of the Soviet Union, and it brought back many memories, not all of them good. I took the pin off the waistcoat and never wore it again...

Another is very happy. It is made out of a beautiful piece of 1950's cloth which originally was a skirt, and is full of moody colours, depicting a forest scene. I wore that waistcoat until the cloth is starting to fall apart, to parties, concerts and celebrations, and I wore it to sing Benjamin Britten during the recording of my English Song CD.

The happiest of all is my wedding waistcoat. It was made by my mother, sister, myself and friends, and has decorations tatted by my mum which represent Andrew and I. It also has a picture printed on cotton of the members of our family that were not able to be at the celebration. I used the iron-on sheets and my inkjet printer to make the images and then we cut them out and ironed them onto the back of the garment. I also printed some small pictures of primates from a book we had bought on a wonderful trip to Borneo which was written by Agnes Newton Keith about her life in that country. There are indeed lots of treasured memories in that waistcoat, and if you are anything like me, your clothes say a lot about you!

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