Category Archives: Design


A blog that starts “I was lucky enough to…”

Around this time last year I started working on what has been my favourite job to date, The Oldest Woman in Limerick.

This was a co-production between Wide Open Opera and DumbWorld, commissioned by the Limetree Theatre as part of the Made in Limerick strand of Limerick City of Culture 2014.

It tells the story of Sr. Antony, a 104 year old nun.

It also tells the stories of those Limerick women (& one Lithuanian) writer John McIlduff and composer Brian Irvine encountered in their attempts to find her.

My brief was that for those parts where the singers were narrating, they should be wearing something light-coloured and tailored and that they should look like their “best selves”

There would be one scene which would reproduce an old photograph of Camogie players as Sr. Antony, prior to becoming a nun, had been captain of her local Camogie team.


Then, as nuns, the singers would have three looks; one for Vespers, or evening prayers; a more ‘casual’ look for when they were drying orange peel to make tea, something they did in the convent in Rome during the War; and a modern look for Sr Antony’s return to Ireland.

Rachel Croash

Rachel Croash

As far as I was concerned Vespers was the money shot. I wanted something dramatic – but not scary – instantly recognisable as ‘Nun’, but not necessarily authentic.

The nun is such an iconic figure and quite malleable, visually. Hendrik Kerstens has made a series of photographs of his daughter wearing a variety of head-dresses and collars to reference Old Masters. As can be seen from the photo below, something as everyday as a plastic bag can be used to telegraph ‘Nun’.


Hendrik Kerstens, “Bag, 2007”, Danziger Gallery

Nina Katchadourian has made a series of toilet paper portraits, Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style, that illustrate this point even more fully:


Nina Katchadourian

I ended up using the Black&Blum Super Seed Lampshade.


Flipped inside-out it looks like ears, slightly bouncy ears. Perfect!

To make the putting on & wearing as uncomplicated as possible I decided to attach each one to a hairband, and in that way the singers could find its best balance-point on their head.

To increase their stability and the glue-able surface area I first attached a small circular straw base to the hairband. I used Gorrilla Glue as it foams and would spread into the straw. Then I glued a collar stud to the centre of the base, again using the foaming Gorilla Glue. The inside-out lampshade clipped on to the collar stud.

We tried them out in rehearsal but the ‘ears’ moved laterally on the stems of the collar studs and swung in front of the singers’ faces.

The Seed is made of polypropolene, perfect if you need to clean them, but with no absorbency, nothing that an adhesive can adhere to. Glue just lays on top. Also, their natural instinct was to re-take the shape they were intended to be.

I tried using a superglue to partially glue the ears to the hairband and to a greater area of the straw base but once the glue dried it became obvious that the ears needed to be allowed some movement and the superglue was just too brittle.

I had a long conversation in a hardware store and eventually left with Gorilla Gel. Apparently the gel is used in shoe repairs precisely because of its fexibility. I glued everything, (including my finger to my lip twice) then used foldback clips to keep the ends together and the backs of screw-in earrings to hold the polypropolene tight to the straw base and left them overnight.



In any piece of theatre there is a willing suspension of disbelief. It gets a bit meta when you see a performer do a costume change on stage. But this was the intent: During rehearsals for their previous work Things We Throw Away John had said he was working on an opera about putting on an opera “So anything could be in it, this conversation could be in it”

This song accompanied, heartbreakingly, three of the singers reading a transcript of an interview with Sr Antony about her time in Rome:

The Vespers scene takes shape loosely and organically, with the singers crossing the stage, placing props, picking up their head-dresses, fastening their cloaks and gathering some chairs in a circle. It isn’t wholly clear what’s going on. It sounds like there’s a radio on in the background, it sounds like a football match. In fact it is, it’s the 1948 World Cup final between Italy and Hungary. (Sr. Antony really got in to football while living in Italy).

The singers sat down, the lighting shifted and lowered and suddenly we were in a Vermeer:

Sarah Shine

Sarah Shine

L-R Sylvia O'Brien, Emma Nash, Rachel Croash, Sharon Carty, Sarah Shine

L-R Sylvia O’Brien, Emma Nash, Rachel Croash, Sharon Carty, Sarah Shine


It is a cliche in keeping with the Humbleblog, but truly, #Blessed


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Filed under Costume, Design, Opera, Theatre

Lisbon Tile Nerd

I’m just back from a short break in Lisbon. Despite being moved to tears by the Alhambra, Granada, I thought I was pretty ambivalent about tiles. Turns out, not so much. Here’s some iPhone shots taken in the Graca and Alfama districts of Lisbon (apologies for the quality)













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Filed under Azulejo, Design, Lisbon, Portugal, Tiles, Travel

Square is Blue

Or I thought I knew Bauhaus but I didn’t know Jack

Or Travels with my design connoisseur friend Kevin and a hangover.

The Bauhaus Archiv in Berlin is housed in a small building of unexpected charm. I’d anticipated something stern, but just look at this:

The museum was designed in the 1960’s by Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus movement, and posthumously constructed between 1976 and ’79 proving controversial even within the Bauhaus group, with Max Bill calling it “a screwed-up old man’s design”.

It is idiosyncratic. It’s a small museum, capable of displaying only a third of the archive at any time. Despite its modest scale however it seems pretty comprehensive, covering chairs and lighting, larger pieces of furniture, architectural models, ceramics and (having done no advance reading about Bauhaus before I visited I was also surprised to discover) a lot of carpets and tapestry.

In his 1919 Bauhaus Manifesto Gropius stated, “There is no essential difference between the artist and the artisan.” The tension between art, craft and the machine-made is evident in the Museum’s juxtaposition of tubular steel furniture and wicker (wicker!), horsehair or hand-woven textiles.

The official Bauhaus website (A collaboration between Berlin, Weimar and Dessau)  says “The outcome of Gropius’ approach was not established from the start but was to be discovered in the spirit of research and experimentation, which he called “fundamental research” applied to all the disciplines and their products, from the high-rise to the tea infuser.”  In other words the Bauhaus was as much an ongoing debate as an ideology.

I think this is why the museum is quite text-heavy, each section having what looked like a lengthy written introduction. To be honest I barely skimmed the writings although Wassily Kandinsky’s quote “Square is Red” did jump out. (Kevin and I stood in front of this for a few moments going “Uhhh…”)

In the visitors book on the way out we noticed someone had written “Personally, I always felt Square is Blue”

Kevin’s Model B3 chair – also known as the Wassily chair, after Wassily Kandinsky – designed by Marcel Breuer.

Photos 1,3 & 4 by Oliver Lins, Olex,where you’ll find lots of beautiful photography, and more about Bauhaus

Photo 2 from Bauhaus Archiv Berlin

Photos 5 &6  show two designs by Anni Albers from What I Do

Photo 7 shows Mies Van Der Rohe’s Cane Chair from here

and Photo 8 came from here

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Filed under Bauhaus, Design, Museum, Weaving