Category Archives: Stitching Stories

makers, artists, creatives

Yarrenyty Arltere Art Centre

Alice Springs Art Centre edited1The first time I saw the work of Dulcie Sharp and the other artists of the Yarrenyty Arltere Art Centre was at the Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art in Adelaide in October last year. Their soft sculptures and hand embroidery jumped out at me. I immediately felt a connection. It is as if every figure had a soul.

I spoke to some of the artists at the Adelaide event but did not have the opportunity for an in-depth conversation. While working on an article about the artists for Inspirations Magazine (Issue 91- available in July 2016) I communicated with Sophie Wallace, art coordinator at the centre via email and phone, but I longed to see how and where the artists work and to experience the place that inspires them so much. When our family holiday plans to Central Australia came together, I made sure a visit to the Yarrenyty Arltere Art Centre was on the itinerary.

blanket taken out of dyeMy visit on a perfect autumn day in April could not have happened at a better time! I arrived at the centre on the outskirts of Alice Springs just as a blanket was pulled out of the dye vat. Wool blankets obtained from second-hand shops or donations form the basis for all the soft sculptures. Opening up a newly dyed blanket bundle has everyone in suspense. The rusted metal pieces and the natural plant dyes used in the process ensure that the final product is always an eagerly awaited surprise. This one had subtle green and charcoal patterns which would eventually find their way into another unique artwork.

Concept sketchesI was fortunate to see the whole artistic process in action. From the newly dyed blankets all the way to the finished sculpture. The artists come up with concepts for their work, usually inspired by their everyday life in the town camps, or their vivid imaginations. Pattern

 

These concepts are sketched out and developed before being translated into pattern pieces. The figures are cut from the blankets, machine stitched and stuffed before it is meticulously filled in with hand embroidery. The story behind each piece dictates the pattern and the colours used for the embellishments.

Rosabella, Dulcie, Trudie, CandyAll the work is done at the art centre where the artists come together around a big table piled with yarn and thread in every conceivable colour, texture and thickness. Works in progress and new ideas scribbled on sketchpads find a space on there too. On the day of my visit, I met Rosabella Ryder, Dulcie Sharpe, and Trudy Inkamala. Candy the art centre’s mascot dog kept watch under the table, making sure everyone was happy and safe.

artists handsThe soft sculptures coming from the hands of these artists, working quietly in this far-flung and remote part of the world, are in high demand in galleries from New York to Singapore. But here around the table, that does not matter. What matters are the stories that are coming to life, stitch by colourful stitch.

Seeing where these sculptures are conceived, I now understand where their soul comes from. It comes from the hearts and lives of these women who tell their stories with their hands. Needle and thread translate the soul of the Larapinta Town Camp in Alice Springs into artworks worthy of the best art collections in the world.

Kaffe Fassett – no doubt about colour

When in doubt add twenty more colours.

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Kaffe Fassett fabric used in one of his quilt designs

I heard this quote from Kaffe Fassett many years ago, long before I really knew who he was or how extraordinarily creative he is. I was a young Afrikaans girl in suburban Pretoria, South Africa. All I knew was that he’s a man from ‘overseas’ who knitted multi-coloured garments. There were so many things about him which were completely foreign to me.

Firstly, I didn’t know men can knit. Secondly, I didn’t know that knitting was considered art and that one can make a living from it. I also didn’t know it was ‘allowed’ to mix all these colours together. I came from a time and place where blue and green didn’t go together, beige was always a safe option, and only mums and grannies knitted.

I had no idea that many years later I would live ‘overseas’, have a career which revolves around creative needlework, and actually have the opportunity to meet the man himself.

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Filled with energy and enthusiasm during his talk

Kaffe Fassett and his business partner Brandon Marbly visited Australia earlier this year, doing a series of talks and workshops around the country. I had the opportunity to meet him in Adelaide on the last weekend of a hectic almost two-month tour.

What struck me most about him was not his amazing talent or sense of colour, although that is something to behold. It’s his amazing energy. Kaffe is in his early 80’s yet talk, move and act like someone at least 20 years younger. He is bursting with enthusiasm about his work, about colour, about meeting other creatives, and about teaching.

Kaffe 2

When in doubt add twenty more colours

He is extremely prolific, turning out designs for fabric ranges, quilts, as well as knitting patterns and books at a pace which makes me tired just thinking about it. As someone who takes the time to process information and contemplates ideas before putting it into action (read: procrastinate), I am in awe of this skill!

In his talk, he tells about his travels to different parts of the world. Australia, South East Asia, Africa and India, features alongside South America and Europe. He finds inspiration in everything from street markets to faded wall paint. But it is not just the far away and exotic which speaks to him – he finds as much inspiration from his neighbour’s garden as from a faraway location. As long as there is colour, Kaffe can turn it into something extraordinary.

Kaffe designs knitwear for Rowan, fabric for Westminster Fibres, and needlepoint tapestries for Ehrman. He also publishes an array of books on quilting, knitting and colour inspiration. I found his autobiography Dreaming in Colour, especially interesting and inspiring.

Kaffe 3

Image from Kaffe’s slide show

One of the questions put to him during his talk was how he gets time for everything. For Kaffe, the answer is simple: No television, no mobile phone and no computer. Brandon, who is his business manager, handles all those things, freeing up Kaffe’s time and mind to create. He loves listening to music while he designs and to BBC Radio 4 while he stitches.

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Brandon working on a design wall

During the workshop, Kaffe and Brandon shared another secret: Work with music. Choose something with a beat and turn it up loud. Move to the rhythm! Kaffe believes in doing first and editing later. When designing a new quilt, he works on a flannel covered design wall where he can put up all his fabric pieces, adding as many colours and patterns as he wants. Then he stands back and edits by removing and rearranging. His mantra is – Don’t be afraid. Add more colour and pattern.

Listening to Kaffe and watching him work and talk about colour is extremely inspirational. He oozes energy and enthusiasm for life. Beige does not feature anywhere in his work or life, blue and green can go together, and with many other colours too.

I now realise that that quote I heard so many years ago does not just apply to needlework. It applies to life.

Have you attended any of his workshops or made any of his designs? Please share!

Deborah McKellar Talking Textiles in Singapore

The taxi dropped me off at a busy intersection in downtown Singapore. The narrow sidewalk, stacked with car and motorcycle tyres, fronted a row of workshops where men huddled over dismantled wheels and greasy axles. My inquiries about the textile studio indicated on the map were answered with blank stares. Just when I thought I had the wrong address I found the narrow staircase tugged in between the tyre shops, with a sign saying Talking Textiles: 4th floor.

Talking Textiles Stairway to heavenWinding my way up the steep stairs, I’m encouraged by phrases painted onto the steps saying things like ‘Stairway to Heaven’; ‘Art lovers, design enthusiasts and shopaholics – Welcome’. As I was about to run out of breath near the top, this one, ‘Feeling unfit? Join the Pilates class.’

Once I reached the top landing a wooden door opened up into a light filled, airy studio where I’m welcomed by designer and artist, Deborah McKellar, and her assistant Adeline. With a refreshing cup of green tea in hand, Deborah leads me on a guided tour of the open plan studio, office and retail area. The glass wall making up one side of the space opens up onto a wide roof terrace where a cat lounge lazily on the sofa overlooking the Singapore cityscape. The vantage point and the view is a far cry from the tyre shops below.

Talking Textiles displayDeborah, born and raised in South Africa, completed a BA in fine arts at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts in Singapore, followed by a Master of design, majoring in Textiles, at the College of Fine Arts at the UNSW in Sydney. She now divides her time between her textile design studio, lecturing in Fashion Textiles at her Alma mater, and practising her fine art.

Her workspace is full. Rolls of textiles, huge colourful canvasses, and piles of hand printed cushions overwhelm the senses and create a feast for the eyes. Yet, the huge printing table, the neat desk and the well-organised supply shelves, create a sense of order and calmness. This combination of overwhelming creativity and calm order, I soon realise, is what makes Deborah a successful artist and businesswoman.

Talking Textiles scissorsHer work is distinctly Singaporean. Deborah’s habit of photographing typical Asian architecture, the tropical landscape, and other local design features, forms the basis of her work. She uses these images to create various screen prints which are then used in different combinations and colours to create cushion covers, tea towels and other décor items, marketed under the trade name Talking Textiles. Her series Raffles, inspired by the architecture and features of the famous Singaporean hotel, can be viewed and bought at her retail space in the hotel.

Talking textiles screen printing

photo courtesy of Talking Textiles

The huge canvases covering the studio walls are layered with screen printed images and textile strips, overlaid with freehand machine embroidery, creating works of fine art. “My first solo exhibition was back in 2012 and I aim to do one solo exhibition every year,” Deborah explains. “I enjoy the freedom of making fine art, but it does take many hours to create a big enough body of work for an exhibition.”

As if a busy textile design business, her role as part-time lecturer at LASALLE-SIA, and a successful fine arts career are not enough, Deborah believes in giving back and paying forward. The Talking Textiles studio takes on apprentices and students, to teach, coach and prepare for careers in the textile art world.

Talking Textiles Deborah McKellarBefore I left the studio, I asked if I could take a few photos. While I busied myself trying to capture the riotous colour and rich textures of the textiles, Deborah rummaged through a stack of tea towels to find one of each design so I could pick one as a gift. I asked if I could photograph her in front of one of her canvases to which she readily agreed. As she took up position in front of the canvas, she took the clip which held her hair up in a bun out to let it fall over her shoulders. In one quick movement, Deborah changed from a designer business woman into an artist, and the switch between calm order and overwhelming creativity which I noticed on my arrival happened right before my eyes.

As I exited the narrow staircase back onto the busy sidewalk filled with tyres and noise, all I could see was rich colour, tropical designs, and the distinctive Singaporean style. The narrow staircase did, in fact, lead to heaven. Textile heaven, that is.

The Marriage Bed

This is the story of my entry into Dare to Differ 2015.

THE MARRIAGE BED
My kombers en jou matras en …*
(My blanket and your mattress and …)
*Part lyrics from an old Afrikaans folk song
When we got married, most of our furniture were hand-me-downs from our respective childhood homes. Our bed, however, was brand new. The first piece of furniture we bought as a couple – a symbol of two lives becoming one and a place where we could dream and plan a future together.
The bed served us well for 15 years and even came with us when we moved to different countries. It was our refuge where we escaped the world, where we felt saved and loved, and the cradle where our family was conceived and cared for.
When it was time to replace the bed, I saved the frame and started working on the blanket, using yarn from my stash collected over the years from different parts of the world. They all represent a time and a place where we shared our lives. The blanket and the mattress are made separately and then stitched together in such a way that it cannot be separated again without destroying the whole thing.
THE MARRIAGE BED represents our marriage. Two separate entities becoming one. Each one with different characteristics and different values, which when put together cannot be taken apart again. The one provides strength and support, the other provides warmth and safety. Together they create a home and a family.
The lyrics come from our childhood, they don’t define us, but they anchor us. They make us belong.
As with any marriage, this one is not perfect. Dropped stitches, tension variations, messy colour changes, wires poking through in odd places, and loose ends – mostly hidden out of sight but still there. Looking closely you will see many flaws, but standing back, you will see a harmony of colour, the words will become clear and make sense, the structure will be strong and organised, and the threads will hold it all together.
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knitted strips

knitted strips

This project started way back in 2011. At that stage, we were living in Dubai and had just bought a new bed. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to make, or rather what I wanted to say, but had no fixed plan of how to go about it. I knew it had to involve the mattress frame and a knitted blanket. The snippet of lyrics served as the inspiration.

The plan I came up with eventually meant I had to knit the blanket in strips, weave it through the mattress springs and then stitch it together through the wire afterwards. It was the only way to get the knitting inside the steel springs. It took a bit of trial and error to get the right dimensions for the blocks and strips, which I then used to draw up a pattern and eventually a graph for each letter.

The Marriage Bed patternThe blocks are 16 stitches wide by 80 rows long. Five blocks in a strip, times 24 strips. I started out with the blank strips at the side, using different stitch patterns, but I soon realised that it won’t work once I start the intarsia knitting for the letters, so I kept most blocks in plain stitch.

I used the yarn that I had, adding as I needed or ran out of colours. The plan was not to plan. My only guide was that the whole letter, which spans three blocks, had to be in the same colour and to not have two similar colours next to each other. I used different thicknesses of yarn but the same needles throughout, which means the tension differs, but I think that is quite appropriate for a marriage!

AssemblingI knitted over time with periods in between when I didn’t do anything. My dear husband patiently allowed me to have the mattress frame packed and shipped with the rest of our household when we moved to Australia in 2012. I have no idea what the packers thought when they had to wrap it up in bubble wrap and load it into the container to ship across the Indian Ocean…

The knitting was coming along well but was still separate from the mattress when earlier this year I decided to force a deadline on myself, just to get it done. My mind wouldn’t allow me to start anything else before this one was out of my system, so I decided to submit it for the Dare to Differ exhibition. Now I had something to work for, and even if it wasn’t chosen it would still be finished.

Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes

Putting the knitting and the wire frame together took less time than I thought. It was a bit tricky at times to get my hand in between the wires and I had several scratches on my hands and wrists by the time I was done.

My husband made the stand which I think came out really good and goes well with the rest of the work. I like the big bold wooden bases and the fact that the steel supports are almost invisible.

So there we are – a marriage bed with a story.

What will I do next?

PRUDENCE MAPSTONE: TOTEMS

027Prudence Mapstone needs no introduction. She is the queen of freeform knitting, crochet, and yarn manipulation. Her colourful, vibrant and fun work always draws a crowd – and admiring sighs and smiles. Her totem exhibition at this year’s Fair is no exception. The totems, displayed in a small alcove next to her yarn stand, cannot be missed – just follow the crowd.

021Totems represent a kinship group – a clan, family or tribe – where some totems celebrate cultural or religious beliefs while others are merely decorative and an artistic expression of a shared experience. Prudence’s totems fall into this latter group. She celebrates yarn. It is as simple as that.

022The colours, textures and thickness of the different yarns dictate how she applies them. “It is an organic process. “I start by choosing a colour palette and it just grows from there.” Prudence makes a swirl, or a scrumble as she calls it, adds new colours, change the stitch patterns and builds on it until she, well… stops. When she has a few of these, she lays them out on a flat surface, plays around with it, then she fills the gaps with more knitting or crochet stitches. And so the totem grows until the scrumble clan is complete.

029Sometimes there are recurring themes, like the mitred knitting, or the bullion flowers, or the felted balls, but other times many different styles and stitch patterns sit comfortably next to each other like different personalities in one big happy family.

Prudence is as delightful as her work, she smiles, talks and shares. It is obvious that she loves people, yarn, and yarn-loving people in equal measures.

To see her work and find out about her classes, books and patterns visit her website at http://www.knotjustknitting.com

Fabric of Life – and love

004 When I walked into Mary Jose’s shop in Melbourne Street for the first time, I thought – so this is what heaven must look like. Fabrics and textiles from all over the world were hanging on the walls, draped over tables, and tucked into shelves. The colour was glorious, but the smell was even better. I reminded myself of what I always tell my children before we go into a shop: ‘This is a hands-behind-your-back-shop. Don’t touch.’ But alas – I couldn’t help myself – I had to touch everything. I stroked the suzani’s, I hugged the kanthas, I caressed the Indian embroideries. I loved Mary’s shop and couldn’t wait to meet her.

Since then I learned that Mary is not just a Fair Trade textile dealer, but also one of the leading textile conservationists in the country, with an impressive list of conservation projects from across the world to her name.

Mary Jose conservation projectAs an Art History student in Canberra, Mary soon realised textiles were her first love, so after graduating, she moved to the UK where she studied at the Textile Conservation Centre, then housed at the Hampton Court Palace. She spent several years at the Textile Conservation Studio where she also worked on the Hampton Court Tapestries. After returning to Adelaide she joined ArtLab Australia, working on conservation projects for different Australian and international museums and galleries. For the past five years, Mary has been an independent conservation consultant with clients across the globe. (The conservation of the banners in the St Peter’s Cathedral is one of her ongoing projects.)

Mary Jose textile collectionIt was a textile tour to China in 1990 that sparked Mary’s interest in ethnic embroideries and textiles, and paved the way for her business venture as a textile trader. She travels regularly to India and other Asian countries where she meets the artisans. Mary is a strong believer in ethical trading and she buys all her textiles from the original artists in their traditional environment, thereby ensuring authenticity and quality. By following Fair Trade principals she also ensures that her business supports community development, self-sufficiency and sustainability.

Mary has recently moved her shop online and her conservation studio to her home in North Adelaide. On the day I visited she was working on a vintage scarf which needed to be cleaned and mounted for a private client; a military jacket dating from World War I which needed some restoration, for a private collector; and a raised embroidery piece which needed professional cleaning, also for a private collector.

Mary Jose book collectionThe walls in her studio are lined with shelves – some filled with her glorious textile collection, some filled with her vast collection of textile and art books, and some filled with her growing range of handmade cards.

These cards are part of a new initiative she recently launched. Beautifully embroidered or printed textiles, designed and handmade by individual artists, are framed with cardstock and made into greeting cards. But it is more than a card; it is an artwork all in itself. Mary stocks several ranges from India and a vibrant range from Malawi. Every card she sells help support an artist and his/her family in an ethical and sustainable fashion.

Mary Jose handmade cardsMary’s house-studio-shop is indeed a little piece of heaven. Not just because of the sight and smell of glorious fabrics, but because of her love and devotion to the origin of these textiles – the history of the old textiles which she respectfully helps preserve, and the future of the ethnic textile traditions which she so lovingly supports. Her love for textiles reaches into the hearts of all she works with – artists, collectors and customers. Mary’s life is not a hands-behind-your-back life. It is a hug, embrace and touch life.

Visit Fabric of Life’s website here

Cheryl Bridgart

It’s all about the journey. What a great motto for life. And what a vibrant, colourful journey it has been for Cheryl. Her current exhibition is the culmination of a year’s work, inspired by her artistic travels around the country during 2012.

015Cheryl is a well-established, internationally recognised artist known for her self-developed technique called Fine Art Freehand Machine Embroidery or FAFME. With this technique Cheryl ‘sketches’ on canvas and paper using a sewing machine, fine cotton thread and her unlimited imagination.

While accompanying her travelling fellowship to every capital city in Australia and New Zealand, Cheryl documented her impressions with sketches and drawings that she later translated into embroideries, paintings and outfits. Each place she visited is represented by an embroidered artwork, depicting her impressions on the day – the outfit she wore, the people she met, and the attractions she visited.

005However, Cheryl’s impressions of a place could not be contained in one artwork. It overflowed and inspired vivid dreams that she later expressed in colourful paintings and a series of smaller embroideries.

Cheryl is not only known for her unique style of embroidery but also for her signature, handmade outfits, which are as vivacious and colourful as her personality. She makes all her own clothes and always wears a hat. For each of her travelling shows, she had a purpose made outfit, which is now part of the current exhibition and depicted in both her embroideries and paintings.

001What I love about Cheryl is that she does not hide. She lives her art. At this exhibition, as with most others, she works in the gallery, demonstrating her technique to visitors, sharing her ideas and inspirations, and generally lights up the room with her bright personality.

She is not a dark artist. Colour and positive energy are as much part of her work as her love for birds and animals, her ability to tell stories with pictures, and her obvious enjoyment of her craft.

010It’s all about the journey is on until 21 April 2014 at the Bay Discovery Centre, Glenelg Town Hall on Moseley Square, Glenelg. Please pay a visit. It will brighten up your day.