Dr Tree Cocks
Disorder: Textile Junkie
Definition: Finding a length of fabric at the bottom of your stash, feeling it and falling in love with it all over again. You bring it to the top of the stash, sure (all over again) that you will find the perfect project to use it in.
Cure: There is none
Requirements: An eye for colour and design, technical skills learned outside of medical school, patience & a spot of daring.
In my hippie days, a friend made me this “out there” (even then) patchwork lamé bed quilt. ‘Twas magnificent to behold, but lamé in the 70s actually had metallic fibre in it, so the quilt was suffocatingly heavy to lie under and rather scratchy if one was feeling suddenly and acutely amorous. So it was banished to a cupboard. Every time I thought about taking it to a charity shop I worried that my friend would see it and think me ungrateful. So it stayed in the cupboard—for several decades.
Realising this was becoming somewhat absurd, I finally took it in to a second hand shop. As I was getting it out of its capacious bag, a customer (probably another textile junkie in search of treasure) looked at the quilt in all its lamé glory and said, “That would make a fantastic coat”. It was, of course, the perfect project. I rather guiltily slunk out of the charity shop.
I enjoy being totally absorbed in a construction challenge. I get a tiny bit of this when doing minor surgery (and I wonder why most surgeons are men, who are unlikely to have done needlework at school). The difference with a sewing project is that I don’t have to provide small talk at the same time—the “vocal local” as we call it (and often as important as the actual local anaesthetic). There are other parallels: problem-solving, textures (surprisingly important in surgery and examining patients), attention to detail, adaptability, fine discernment and all the layers of a diagnostic conundrum.
The joyful differences, amongst many others, are that no-one is likely to die, I don’t have to keep a detailed record of every thing I do, there is no pressure to keep to time, I can choose not to be interrupted by phone calls, and I can stop whenever I want. However, medicine has taught me stamina, so I can also do all-nighters on projects when I have the bit between my teeth.
Part of the coat project’s perfection was that I had long wanted to make a garment with a stand-up, slightly gathered/ruffled collar, for which the stiff lamé should be good, I thought. Problematically, the collar pattern I had wasn’t for a coat, so part of the challenge was to successfully meld two patterns.
Crazy patchwork is made by placing irregularly shaped pieces of fabric onto a backing. This means that where the corner of a patch is folded under, there are up to four layers of fabric. These may be on top of another patch’s folded edge (adding another two layers), which in turn is sewn onto the backing cloth—in this case, an old table cloth.
So, where the collar attaches, there are two layers of the collar plus two layers of coat = potentially 28 layers of metallic fabric with which to murder your sewing machine. It required extremely careful surgical excision in areas where this occurred to avoid such slaughter.
The end result was totally OTT and only enthusiastic pressure from a friend and several glasses of wine persuaded me to actually wear it. The final perfection was to be mistaken for a Highlander rugby supporter as we walked through Dunedin’s Octagon, when a match was on.
Dr Tree Cocks is a Dunedin GP, singer and sometime Singer operative.