Thursday, 23 August 2012

Elephant No. 326: Metal Studs

I came across a container of metal studs the other day, which I think were left over from some theatrical costumes I made years ago. Since I had metal studs in several different shapes and sizes, as well as some with rhinestones, it seemed like a fun thing to try for today's elephant.

A longish online search for information on the history of metal studs on clothing turned up some strange sites, but no real history on the use of metal on clothing. So I did my best to cobble something together.

Pieces of metal have been used to decorate clothing since the beginnings of metallurgy around the fifth or sixth century B.C. Once people figured out how to extract and smelt metals to make tools and other rough objects, it required only a small leap to adapt metals for use in jewellery and on clothing.

The earliest form of metal decoration on clothing appears to have consisted of small, flat pieces of beaten metal pierced either at one end, or in several places. These were then stitched to clothing, normally at the neck or hemline. 

In many cultures, metal pieces were also added to clothing as protection. This protection took a number of forms, including armour-like scales on military garb, and metal amulets sewn to the clothing of pilgrims and warriors.

Gold amulet found in a Scythian grave. The amulet is pierced in
two places to allow it to be sewn to clothing.

In time, metallic decoration on clothing became associated primarily with the wealthy, partly because gold and silver were the most commonly used metals. As gemcutting improved, precious and semi-precious stones began taking the place of metal discs and studs, and metals such as gold and silver more often appeared as thread, small beads, and sequins.

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of mass-production, metal on clothing began to make a comeback. Although often relegated to practical uses such as the rivets on jeans, by the end of the nineteenth century, metal studs, buttons and discs were beginning to creep back into fashion.

By the 1920s, metal was again a popular element in high fashion. Interestingly, its use in the modern age reflected the very origins of metallic decoration on fabric. Metal sequins and paillettes made flapper fashions shimmer—in a way not so dissimilar from the bodices of ancient dresses. In the more sober decades that followed, metal studs also made a comeback—adorning necklines, sleeves and hemlines in a way also reminiscent of fashion from much earlier times.

Black velvet dress with studs, 1930s.

The heyday of metal studs on clothing, however, is the Punk era of the late 1970s and early 1980s. At the height of Punk fashion, almost everything bore metal studs, spikes, rivets and safety pins—from shoes and jackets, to jeans and gloves. To this day, the punk-influenced use of metal on clothing remains a staple of rock-and-roll fashion.

Studded leather jacket.

The contemporary use of metal on clothing is not limited to the world of music, however. Punk fashion, and the Teddy Boys fashion that preceded it, were actually inspired by the clothing worn by bikers. The metal on some biker clothing, however, had a more practical purpose than pure fashion. Metal studs on jackets and the seams of jeans could provide a bit of extra protection, should the rider fall and end up sliding along the asphalt. In some ways, this too evokes the earliest uses of metal as a form of protection.

Today, metal studs, spikes, discs and more are still used on clothing and accessories—albeit in a less elaborate or widespread way than at the height of the Punk era. Metal is also an important form of decoration in costuming for musical performers, film characters, and the world of cosplay.

For today's elephant, this is the selection of studs I had on hand. Some of them are plain metal, but many of them either have rhinestones embedded in the head already, or allow you to add rhinestones to a small pronged cup. 

I thought I had more plain metal studs than this, but these would have to do. I certainly wasn't planning on buying anything more.

The photograph below shows the general shapes I had on hand. For colours, I had a wide range of colours in the various types of rhinestone studs.

I was originally going to put the studs on a bag of some sort, then I remembered I had a couple of plain jean jackets that I had bought specifically to decorate, so I decided to use one of those instead.

I thought the best place for a studded elephant would be on the central back panel of the jacket, so I sketched an elephant outline on the back in chalk.

Although it had been years since I'd studded anything, I did remember that this can be a really time-consuming activity. Not only do you have to select the stud, place it correctly, and push the prongs through the clothing, but you also have to bend each prong down. 

Since most studs have four prongs, you can imagine how long it can take. I know there are tools to speed this process up, but I didn't think I really needed an extra anything in my house at this point. I decided to go old school, depressing the prongs with a thimble and sometimes my thumbnail. 

The most important thing is to make sure that the prongs are completely embedded in the fabric when you bend them down. This not only helps to secure the stud, but will prevent the prongs from snagging on your clothing or scratching your skin.

I started by inserting a few plain domed studs to form an outline. I could see right away that I was going to have to be very careful in how I used the studs I had. Although I had originally thought I would be able to fill in my elephant design, it quickly became obvious that I might not even be able to outline the whole thing if I wasn't sparing with my supplies.

Once the general elephant outline was done—which used up all the domed studs I had—I added some square studs for the ear outlines, some bars for the tusk, and a few nailhead studs here and there. I also added a pale blue rhinestone stud for the eye.

Next I added a crown using star-shaped studs, a square rhinestone stud, and three round ruby-coloured rhinestone studs.

A small rhinestone necklace came next. I used both rhinestone studs with prongs that go through the fabric from the top, and rhinestones set into cups that are inserted from the underside.

I liked this okay, but I thought the background was a little empty, so I scattered a few coloured rhinestone studs here and there throughout.

Before I started, I had visions of a more solid-looking design. For that, however, I would have needed quite a lot of studs—and quite a lot of time. In total, this took me about three hours from the chalk sketch to the last rhinestone, which I didn't think was too bad.

The final design is rather pretty in real life, and works well on its own as the jacket's only adornment. Knowing me, however, at some point I'll add to this with studs, beading and other forms of decoration. But for now, I really like this and will probably wear it as is.

Elephant Lore of the Day
According to a study of zoo elephants in Japan, elephants have excellent numerical skills.

Although details of the study were somewhat sketchy in the accounts I read, it was determined that elephants are very good at telling the difference between different quantities of objects placed in buckets. While they may not count out the individual objects, elephants have proven much better than both primates and human children at telling which bucket contains more items. 

The primate and human subjects could easily tell the difference between a bucket with one item and a bucket with two. Elephants, however, were skilled at figuring out the difference between a bucket having five items and a bucket with six.

This may explain why one of the orphan elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya began having tantrums during weaning. While his companions were receiving four bottles of milk, little Olmeg was only getting three.

Olmeg's tantrums apparently had nothing to do with how long it took to drink the bottles, and everything to do with numbers. The tantrums stopped as soon as keepers provided Olmeg with a fourth bottle, filled with water.

Orphaned baby elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Kenya, 2009.

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