World of WearableArt 2017…. what a stunning spectacle I thought, as a friend jokingly suggested that we should enter the competition. Already midway through 2017, there wasn't enough time to submit an entry, but there's a thought. Perhaps WOW 2018 instead; now that had a nice buzz to it.

That would be right up my street... before my AVM brain haemorrhage in 1995, that is. Emergency open-brain surgery for nine hours to stem the blood flow, and six months later - radiosurgery using a linear accelerator to clear the remnants of the AVM. After the stroke, I could barely function; couldn't move or even stand. At 34, I couldn't : talk, walk, read, write, remember, had severe aphasia, was in a wheelchair, and paralysed on my right side. See: Stroke .

A slight disadvantage then. Entering WOW 2018 seemed a thousand miles away, if I was to seriously consider it, ...hmmm. As a child in Penang, Malaysia, I doodled girls' fashion as a pastime, influenced by Ultraman, the Japanese Animated cartoon shows, and other TV series of that genre, Marvel Comics, superheroes, fantasy...

Being streamed for Science studies, my interest in the arts wasn’t promoted nor developed. It just wasn’t the done thing; something I could never dream of doing as a career – my parents wouldn’t condone it, and I wouldn't have dared to venture it to them. It was not in the status quo of what was acceptable.

In the 1980's, I considered changing my vocation... Or, maybe just continue with lucrative analyst-programmer contracts in IT, and travelling? I decided to do both: I took up being a part-time colour consultant, draping clients with swatches, style suggestions and creating beautiful visages with makeup. So it was day-job in a left-brained profession (computers); and weekend-job, my right-brain occupation (fashion/style-creation).

In London, during our extended OE (Overseas Experience), I was a fit, healthy person; didn't smoke, going about my daily work as an analyst programmer with energy, whilst wondering and then planning the next exciting holiday. I did jazzercise, my husband and I danced (ballroom-Latin American); we travelled to different destinations: skiing in Austria, trekking by donkey in the Valley of the Kings, go horseback-riding and watched the sunset in Giza - enjoyed many other activities and places...

Turkey in June 1995 for a break, enjoying pristine beaches, mud baths in Dalyan, visiting Lycian Rock tombs. Back in London after the holiday, four days later: wham! my brain haemorrhaged out of the blue. It was a time-bomb, there from birth – it could have ruptured at any time. A blessing that I enjoyed life in blissful ignorance, until blood vessels in my head failed and I collapsed, unconscious.

After the stroke, laying prone on the hospital bed, paralysed down one side: everything had to be done for me. Even though my left side was unaffected, I couldn't move without aid. My body was very limp, lethargic, and so heavy - nurses had to help. Also add in acute aphasia, which is no voice function, and impaired cognitive thinking: I could see an object but couldn’t remember what it was called, or how to say it.

The space where my thoughts used to reside, was like a bucket with no base at all: I'd forget things as soon as I remembered them - my short-term memory took a major hit; it would take many years of DIY stroke rehab to repair that. I couldn't readily speak and found it difficult to write.

Natively right-handed, now having to use my left-hand for everything, was quite a challenge especially with writing: ''Miro, or Picasso-ish' ...I’ve never seen you write your signature like that before”. Room for improvement, then. Manipulating general things with the non-favoured hand took time and much effort to get right.

Having very little speech for a long time, I was very watchful of others, in an effort to ''mime'' them in working out what objects were for and how to use them... as I got on with having to re-learn almost everything.

Challenging myself, later on, I modelled for charity in London in the 2009 Credit Crunch Calender; housing and homelessness was increasing in the UK. Look fabulous even when you are on a budget and help a charity at the same time? Vintage couture or bohemian chic, garments of any description in could be had at charity op-shops, pre-loved gear.

My travelogue-stroke-cookbooks: Travels with a One-Handed Cook, and: Cook, Eat, Be Happy! were published around the same time. Need to tighten belts? Use cheaper cuts of meat and try dry ingredients for a difference - you could cook well and eat fantastically. Memory, collating ideas, cooking, serving the dishes, accessorise; scene settings, photography - wide area for thought, practice and improvement in DIY Stroke Rehab. Later I did an interview with - UK's flagship disability lifestyle magazine.

Ok, that’s the background: now back to the WOW-2018. With all those challenges, am I really going to enter this global art and fashion competition? I’d be up against known international designers, creative powerhouses with millionaire backers, famous movie makeup and special effects specialists and professional collaboration organisations, many whom have been entering WOW for ages... The WOW-2018 was it’s 30th anniversary, and year on year it has grown exponentially from early beginnings as a local quirky NZ art thing, to now a spectacular annual event on the global stage. That's a challenge - right?

Collaboration! That’s how we get there, the key word. With no-one else in the room as I was writing.. except...: Murray looked left and right, and then started to gently reverse out the door as soon as I said it….. “are you serious? ME?”

“Well, there’s no-else I could call-on, at a moment's notice, to help me”, I replied.

Hence we (the royal ‘we’) entered WOW-2018 as designers. So I'm a one-handed, stroke survivor; can walk with an unsteady gait, foot drop & clonus (hence the leg brace)... and still have a paralysed arm - add to the list “WOW-2018 designer”. Fantastic - now comes the fun part.

Build a house, DIY, plumbing, electronics, manual labour, whatever.. sure he can craft amazing stuff with two hands but this needs finer fingers so I’m not entirely convinced this is going to work very well. Long story short, we agreed I’d do the design and bits of creation-work and he would do his best handling the more challenging, finicky parts – let’s give it a go.

Murrays’ day job in NZ entailed architecting and designing computer networks etc., with one word that applies to WOW-2018: 'Fabric'. But there it just means it is a fully joined up thing rather than a collection of separate bits.

well, it  is  hardware… (!)

well, it is hardware… (!)

Not quite the same as Fabric or fabrication of garments, ...or was it? Take a shirt, pull it apart, study it, note everything down from scratch, design & create a new prototype, modelled on a willing person - Rinse, and repeat…

I found I'd forgotten the terminology of sewing; I had learnt to sew for 2 or 3 years at school, basic darning&mending, embroidery, sew a plain top, etc. Sales people had very little idea what I was talking about when I enquired about fabrics and tools. Try, try...and try again, to retrieve the memory of what I'd forgotten, or to generate new ideas.

Luckily, I could now draw; or at least produce a facsimile what I had in my mind - I did have to make proformas to show I meant. Read further, understand, remember. It was therapeutic and made for good therapy, just the thing that my DIY-stroke-rehab ordered – extend the research.

Our microwave kiln that is used for glass fusion got put to use to test out some ideas; glues and gums, plastics, wires were dabbled-with and trialled. Later on, we made gooey-gunk of head & face masks with papier-mâché, then decided probably that wasn't the way forward. Pottery experience I gained with glazing bisqued items from clay greenware came in useful for colouring myriad textures and objects, as we carried on with testing the next and onward designs.

Trial + Error approach: dissected angle, material, folds, number and look of stitches(!), glue type, and frequent reversals when the engineering was beyond physics or just really didn’t work. Which generally means after epic time and effort and then standing back and looking at it with head tilted, usually resulted in “err, that bit does not look right”.

I made a few DIY stroke-rehab craft projects on video - see: 2018 Videos. Everything was exciting and challenging to me. Thermoplastics, what was that? Known to Cosplay-ers for a long time in Europe, it was a new product for us to play with – a purpose for the many wet weekends.

Swapping concrete mixers and steel welding, Murray had to learn the basics of garment manufacture in a week, before we could start anything - i.e. Sewing-101!

A very ancient Bernina sewing machine we'd inherited gave way to a new replacement.

Grappling with this newer contraption (his words), he had a challenge on his hands…. after two exhausting days, he said that screws and nails aren’t anywhere near as finicky or sharp (dangerous) as needles.

And fabric was as controllable as a slippery eel. It took another week for the plasters to come off his fingers.

I found it hard not to chuckle.

artiste hard at work, at the table of creativity….

artiste hard at work, at the table of creativity….

lights, no camera, but lots of crystal worbla action

lights, no camera, but lots of crystal worbla action

…it’d be fun she said.. .it’ll be easy she said… “as long as  you  do it”, was missing

…it’d be fun she said.. .it’ll be easy she said… “as long as you do it”, was missing

A mannequin was a handy accessory, we spent too many hours draping it.  Finally, we found that I'd be better off modelling the garment myself. Luckily I now fitted the model-size required, which was a blessing as for a very long time after the stroke, I was carrying quite a huge amount of weight. Note that WOW creations have to be designed to be worn if they are selected, and the model sizes they stipulate ... are standard model height and dimensions!

When I was in the wheelchair – I put on weight and girth, more than several sizes in fact. No physical exercise, eat and not expect to put on weight? Treadmill, gym workout doing circuits, run in the countryside, play frisbee, etc. was out of the question.

Still no physical exercise, when I was wheelchair-free – couldn't walk fast, jog, run, etc. I later realised you can do a lot of passive exercise to get your heart going and metabolize, even in a wheelchair. And jiggling on the spot or fidgeting, burns up calories. Tapping your foot, cooking, moving about preparing dishes; exercise while you sit, standing exercises, even hanging the washing out – a fantastic way to tone muscles.

Back to the present, I still had a paralysed arm; lifting it to show the seams and silhouette of the garment was a challenge – my sub-luxed shoulder (a partial or incomplete dislocation) after the stroke, was sub-luxed even more after any garment-fitting session.

Shoes for the model? WOW models and other performers are typically dance-trained and the whole extravaganza is choreographed - footwear has to be provided if performers are not walking barefoot ... eight-inches platform shoes with silver-wings, creation of monster-feet or something in-between.

Perhaps Latin dance footwear? They typically provide good support, allowed the wearer to turn very adroitly in Latin dance-steps, twirls and complicated routines. So we had to get dance shoes that fit me (woohoo!) as I had to see the whole outfit, top to bottom and any accessories, headgear, mask, even though someone else would wear it. How very exciting. I just loved shoes, especially high-heels, before my stroke. These days have a challenge to try and find shoes that fit on my right, affected foot (with leg brace) and walk, with my gait and clonus (NZ: walk videos).

The World of WearableArt 2018 on their 30th anniversary, art & design extravaganza spectacular award show. Our inspiration?

Simurrgh: a fiery kingly bird in mythology, much like a phoenix, an armoured bird of prey. Also depicted as a peacock - divine figure, butterfly healing power, life and hope like the sun. Our World of WearableArt entry garment is fiery-red and armoured in gold. Simurrgh is a fighter, though on the reverse, a gentler side, nurturing, butterfly care.

Concealed behind the bird-mask are the nameless faces of Stroke Survivors, whatever creed, colour or race, at times voiceless, on the road to recovery. I’ve had a similar journey in 1995 - AVM brain haemorrhage, paralysed, tied to a wheelchair; the way forward was hazy, shrouded, a long tunnel. Did I know more than ~20 years later, we would contemplate entering WOW 2018, and I would dance a jig?

Out of the ashes, a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly: Simurrgh Metamorph – rejuvenated, changed, stronger, resolute. Be the light of a new dawn.

Exciting times.... submit an entry, you might be surprised...

Acknowledgement: helpful staff at Spotlight, Sylvia Park, who must now recognise us from afar; a gargantuan Thanks to WorblaNZ Heather and Ethan, with their legendary service; Look Sharp, Lunn Avenue who has seen us weekly, even daily at times...

I modelled the outfit we created for photos/video, for the judging panel of WOW. I was leg brace-less; my first time 23-odd years after the AVM-stroke – omitting heels for now, but danced a little jig.