Another Time – Lost in Customs

Graceland Under African Skies lo res

This is a digital image from a scanned slide. Earlier this week Richard Norman, a book binder who moved from the UK to France several years ago posted two entries on facebook of Paul Simon performing in Africa in the late eighties. They both were songs from his still inspiring album, Graceland. Besides having me humming along as I listened, they reminded me of the Graceland coats I made shortly after the album was released.

I bought the music, came home put it on the player and found out just how easy it can be to be caught up in his lyrics and rhythms. I promptly went to the closest fabric shop and decided to find cloth that could work for the scenes he describes in the music. Primarily two pieces, Under African Skies and Boy in the Bubble (which may have a different title, but that is what I called it).

I asked the sales clerk if she had cloth that felt like an elephant, a Masai warrior or could be a lion, it had to say Africa! After buying bits of each cloth that I thought would work and several yards of off white osnaberg cloth which is like a muslin, I came home only to realize that I had no pattern for what I wanted to do, no coat pattern.

So I folded the cloth in half, selvages on each side and laid down in the center with my shoulders on the fold. With the right hand I pinned along where I thought a sleeve should be by keeping my left arm extended. Then a couple of pins a ways out from my hip. The rest of the length could be figured out after I got back up. Once that side was cut out (both layers for front and back) I folded over that side to make a pattern to cut the other side. Flattened it back to where it was and cut up the top layer to make the opening and scooped out a bit of neck. I repeated this again with a small striped muslin for the liner of the coat.

All I had to do next was place the outer coat on the mannequin, turn up the music, lay out some National Geographics and start cutting and pinning. It was the most fun afternoon. Shortly afterwards I heated up some blue dye in a pot on the stove, shoved the shoulder area in to give myself the “African Sky”. Later I embroidered the “stars of the southern hemisphere.”

Once the outer layer met my expectations (which I kept pretty simple) I matched it up with the lining and added a layer of filler between. To finish it took just edging the front opening and hemming up the cuffs and bottom.

Then I made another:

Graceland Boy in the Bubble 1988 lo res

More dyed shoulders for the Boy in the Bubble. Had to have a place for that “distant constellation.” And doing the bomb in the baby carriage was interesting to say the least. It was one of the last pieces that my mother helped me stitch on before she died. I think she thought I was nuts. I loved these pieces.

I even wore one to a national quilt conference in Houston, Texas of all places. I just wanted to be in the audience with it on. It was swelteringly hot!

I was also active at basket making conferences at this time and some of us who taught had to do a talk to the attendees. I took my boom box so I could play the two pieces of music when I showed the slides. Not only that but I had shaped little rounds of black paper into fortune cookies with a curled quote about art making sticking out. The audience was to help themselves to one of these from my African basket on the way out. In all honesty I did receive some strange looks but I loved what I was doing and just wanted to share the enthusiasm.

Later on after moving myself and my coats to North Carolina, I decided to mail some of my art to wear on to Australia. There they were more likely to wear it than in my more conservative crowd. The first box arrived fine and donned the chairs in the dining room for years there in that most hospitable house.

The next box that contained these coats among other costumes did not fair so well. I received word that I had insured them too high and they were being held hostage in customs for a fee, $65, I think. I emailed customs there and apologized for my error and begged them to please release them. And I actually thought it worked.

After two stays at their home I realized that the coats I had sent a few years before were not there. They only could have went the way of the unclaimed at customs and met some sort of demise. But I would like to think that somewhere over there a customs inspector’s spouse puts them on when she plays Paul Simon’s Graceland album and dances around with all the pleasure I put into them.