Hi everyone! Look I made a gigantic eel! I know you’re probably wondering why… It’s not the sort of thing I’d wake up on a random morning inspired to make but I work with creative people and that’s just the kind of stuff they think up so a couple of weeks ago my colleague, Margaret, decided that we needed a four metre long replica of a New Zealand native long finned eel for the Porirua harbour themed revamp of the children’s Tuatara education space at Pataka. I’m not sure how many other people she asked to make it before she came to me but I know there was at least one and she said no, luckily for me 😉
Of course I said yes! I actually said, ‘OMG, YES PLEASE!!!’ Nothing this exciting normally happens to me at work. I was so excited I was two year old excited. You know how excited little kids get about really great things that happen to them, well I was that excited. I was so thrilled I told some of my work colleagues that I was making a giant eel three times without realising I’d already told them twice already.
There is a back story behind this which may explain my excitement. Recently work sent me on a Dale Carnegie Leadership for Managers course which is a fantastic course, I’m enjoying it immensely and learning a lot. As part of the course we’ve done a Myers Briggs personality test (I’m an ENFP) and when our instructor read out the summaries of our personalities I found out that I am not suited to jobs involving figures. Guess what my job is! I’m the Finance and Reporting Co-ordinator (I love my acronym). Figures are just about all my job consists of! But it actually gets worse… While I was googling away finding out info about my personality type (and I know that lots of people think they’re a bunch of unscientific crap but mine is pretty much spot on so I’m going with it) I found this blog post about the definition of Hell for each Myers Briggs personality type. Mine is ‘Every minute of the rest of your life has been scheduled for you – and it’s a long series of arbitrary, solitary tasks’. This description is alarming close to what my job consists of (admittedly I didn’t like the sound of any of the other personality types’ worst nightmares either). So when I was offered a chance of escape from the drudgery of my day-to-day existence I was so thrilled I was bouncing off the walls. I was more excited than this.
Margaret and I headed off to Pete’s Emporium, which is the local shop where you can buy almost anything cheaply and we got some fabrics and a gigantic bag of stuffing, which is what you need to stuff a colossal eel. We made the mistake of not taking a vehicle and must have looked interesting carrying it across town back to work. Here’s Natalie, my stuffing assistant posing with the bag of stuffing, she’s quite a lot taller than Margaret and I.
After getting the materials I got quite busy with other things and didn’t start on it until the education team were beginning to worry that I wasn’t going to get it finished in time, but finally after rushing through all my soul-destroyingly-boring normal work I was ready to crack into it.
Making a four metre long eel takes quite a lot of space and I realised after contemplating it for a few days that I wasn’t going to be easy to make it at my house. I don’t have that much room and I didn’t fancy crawling around on my floor marking and cutting it out (and I’d have to tidy up to do that too) so I decided to take my sewing machine to work and make it there in the education classroom space, which is perfect because they have big long tables, lots of room to spread out and great lighting.
See, there’s enough room to swing an eel
My creative process works best when I have a few days to think a project through, sleep is a very important part of the process. First I think it over for a few days and form a bunch of ideas of how it will work, then I put pen to paper and start to rough out a plan. After that I leave it until the next day because I come up with more ideas and refinements to my plan after a night’s sleep. Often there are some details that still need to be ironed out but I’ll make a start anyway because some things have to be worked out once I get to that stage and can see it in front of me. During the making process it’s beneficial to take a break and pick it up again the next day because refinements and solutions to problems come to me after sleep. Interestingly that’s pretty much exactly how I approach doing a budget as well.
I started by downloading and printing a few images of eels from different angles. They’re not the prettiest creatures…
I found a handy diagram which I took measurements from and with the help of an online ratio calculator scaled them up for the four metre long eel, then I started drawing plans. Fortunately an eel is really just a simple tube so it wasn’t difficult to work all of this out. The trickier parts were getting the mouth, lips and the shape of the head right. They took a little more thought and the finer details were worked out on the go.
Above left: Alice, the Social History Curator dresses up as an enormous eel
Above right: The lips get some contouring done from the inside
Above left: detail showing the contrast lower body intersecting with the bottom fin
Above right: Margaret appliqued the eyes, I assembled and attached them
There are a couple of things I would change if I made another eel. The lovely red velvet in the mouth is stretchy, I should have interfaced it so it didn’t stretch when it was stuffed. I’ve hand sewn some darts to take in the excess inside the mouth which actually looks quite good, it gives the impression of contours so it wasn’t a complete disaster. For the bottom lip I extended the head bottom piece out then gathered the outer edge, folded it in, stitched and stuffed it but because it’s partially on the bias parts of it want to twist and buckle. If I was making it again I would cut the bottom lip separately and attach it like I did for the top lips. The stiffening in the lower and upper jaws aren’t ideal. I’ve used plastic embroidery canvas and cardboard but they’re not as stiff as I’d like and they aren’t secured in place very well so they may migrate a bit. Next time I’ll try to find something better to stiffen this type of project and attach it more securely.
I managed to stab myself with pins and needles on this project more than I’ve ever stabbed myself making anything. That may be because of the layers and thickness of the fabrics, the unwieldy size of the project, being unaccustomed to the 10-15cm dollmakers’ needles I was using to do soft sculpting etc. I probably should fill in a health and safety incident report and do a hazard assessment, if only for the entertainment value it will give the HR department. After all these years sewing I’m not sure that there’s a way to entirely eliminate accidental pin stabbings. I’d like to know if anyone else has figured it out.
I also got very tired sore hands from wrestling with the project while doing the handsewing parts. On the last two days I wasn’t able to snap off a row of Whittaker’s 72% Dark Ghana chocolate for my dessert after dinner. It was a problem until I realised I could just gnaw on the whole block. I may have lost track of how many lines I ate…
Tuna is the generic Maori word for freshwater eels, hence the name Tina Tuna, that and she has a good singing voice…
Here she is immediately after being released into her natural environment.
One of my other work colleagues, Mark, has a pet eel in the stream at the back of his country house. She’s quite tame and comes to be fed (raw meat). She’ll even come up out of the stream and slither around people’s legs like a cat… a big freeky wet slithery cat. Can’t say I’d be keen to experience that. I asked him if Tina looked like his eel and he said she looks a lot friendlier and less aggressive than his.
I hope she doesn’t give any children nightmares. Are you a fan of eels?