Coat hangers! They’re the perfect armature-making material for my cardinal dress — and here I was going from store to store trying to find the ideal wire to use. But I am not into soldering so I have to figure out how what joinery material I am going to use.
Viewers of my dresses react to the surface. That’s what they are supposed to do, but it is what you don’t see that is always the greatest challenge: I have to find a way to provide access and egress and, at the same time, design the structure of the dress so that is retains its form.
Cardinals are not showy like peacocks. They are sleek passerines (from the order, Passeriformes). Passerines are songbirds; they are one of the most diverse vertebrate orders on the planet. There are over five thousand species of Passiformes and that’s twice as many as the largest mammalian order: Rodentia.
Passeriformes have three suborders; the passseri (oscines) have the best-developed syrinx muscles so they are the best-known vocalizers. Passerines include ravens/crows and some of the most admired birds in the world: lyrebirds (for their capacity to imitate the sound of almost anything including the chainsaws that are destroying their habitat) and birds of paradise (for their extraordinary plumage).
I chose the cardinal I know best: Cardinalis cardinalis. (Say that out loud and try not to think of Claudia Cardinale.) They are the most common cardinals seen around here and they are striking birds, tall and proud looking due to the crest on their heads. And their black masks add drama to their appearance.
One of the things I like about the things I make is the certainty with which I land on ideas in spite of my inexperience. I am addicted to discovery, to problem solving. I don’t do any research; everything idea of what to use and how to use it comes out of my head.
I try things and most of them work because I think things through. All the time I was making the feathers for the peacock dress (about twenty hours) I was thinking about three things: How to build the armature, what to use for the substrate and how to make the plumage.
Armature: Check; coat hangers. Plumage: Check; red plastic picnic plates. Substrate: I’m not certain yet. I’m thinking cardboard, some kind of stiff paper or papier maché.
Here are some shots of my first paper constructions.
You can, by seeing them, understand why I am diving deep into colour this time. The obvious place to start for me, was the peacock. Because we have them here, I fell instantly and passionately in love with them as a child.
I’m doing the cardinal dress so I can work in red. And, as with the peacock dress, making the plumage. My favourite part of every dress is the plumage. I am in a state of bliss when I am a feather making machine. I love the routine; I love the detail; I love red.