Natalie Fisher – Zellige inspired needlepoin...

Natalie Fisher – Zellige inspired needlepoint

TFT Natalie Fisher Ben Youssef Madrassa Marrakech

Needlepoint has been my passion since I was thirteen years old.

Natalie Fisher

Fairly typically of a beginner, I began stitching needlepoint kits of horses in stables and European landscapes, before experimenting with my own designs. I spent several of my adult years creating a series of giant flower blooms that guided my creative output for a long time.

TFT Natalie Fisher Casablanca Law courts close up
Zellige tiles at the Casablanca Law Courts

In 2015 I went to Morocco for a holiday. On this trip, I was drawn to the beauty of Moroccan architecture, and particularly the tilework, known as ‘zellige’. Moroccan tiles adorn surfaces everywhere, from floors to tables, public fountains, and walls, indoors and outdoors, in the public and private spheres. The tiles were mesmerising, as were the beautiful Moorish arches and detailed timber panelling and plasterwork. I was fortunate to have seen craftsmen in action, working in zellige factories making tabletops and domestic fountains, and restoring tiles on walls and public fountains. Their skill and attention to detail were astonishing!

TFT Natalie Fisher Casablanca law courts
The architecture of the Casablanca Law Courts

As my fascination with Moroccan zellige grew, I came to recognise a link between the ancient craft of zellige and the traditional work of needlepoint stitching. Both crafts date back centuries, both are labour intensive. Just like Moroccan zellige, my needlepoint tapestries also require extreme patience and great attention to detail. My large pieces take many months to complete, with most large pieces containing tens- to hundreds of thousands of little stitches.

TFT Natalie Fisher Life Size Casablanca Law courts inspired
Life-sized needlepoint tapestry installation inspired by the Casablanca Law Courts

On my return to Australia and inspired by what I had experienced on my trip to Morocco, I embarked on a series of Moroccan-inspired tapestries that kept me busy for many years. I felt compelled to create original pieces that depicted my love of Moroccan architecture and tiles. I wanted to explore using wool to depict not only the beauty of the colours and geometric patterning but also the way the tiles were ageing and chipped and faded, in appreciation of their history and heritage. Stitching these pieces was my way of hanging onto those colours and designs. I found it exciting to work with wool in a way that was recreating these gorgeous patterns.

All of my needlepoint tapestries are designed using my own photographs from my travels. I enlarge them to A4 size, trace the main design elements, then enlarge the line drawings to the required finished size. I then use wool in a painterly fashion to apply colour.  I keep the original photograph beside me and refer to it every few minutes to help with colour selection.

TFT Natalie Fisher Hassan II Mosque Casablanca
Zellige in the public courtyard at the Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

I have worked on a range of scales, from small A4 size petit-point depiction of Moroccan doors to larger-scale tapestries inspired by sections of tiled walls from Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Bou Inania Madrassa in Fes, and some of my favourite places in Marrakech including Ben Youssef Madrassa, the Saadian Tombs, and the opulent La Mamounia Hotel.

TFT Natalie Fisher Hassan II Mosque inspired
Needlepoint tapestries inspired by the zellige in the public courtyard at Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca. Credit: Jayne Oishi

I took another trip to Morocco two years after the first, which further consolidated my intense love of the architecture and tiles. A visit to the Casablanca Law Courts, in particular, had a huge impact on me. I was almost swallowed up by the immense scale and beauty of the main courtyard, with its huge expanse of gorgeous tiles and intricate timber work and Moorish arches, punctuated by a central fountain, which is a typical architectural centrepiece in Moroccan courtyards.

TFT Natalie Fisher Ghorzah IAF
Exhibition: Ghorzah (Stitch), Islamic Arts Festival 2017, Sharjah, UAE

I could hardly wait to get home to start working on new pieces inspired by this visit. I felt compelled to start working on a large scale and to introduce the 3D form into my work, in an attempt to communicate how all-encompassing these sites can be. I stitched a life-size Moroccan courtyard section, with doors, tiles and fountains inspired by the Casablanca Law Courts. I worked with ‘extreme’ felted wool to create tiled walls two metres high and 72 ply wool to create a life-size timber door, stitched onto perforated metal. I used chiselled foam blocks (usually intended for sofas!) and timber dowels to build the fountains.

My travels to Morocco have set me on a long-term odyssey to delve into the intersection between Islamic architecture and needlepoint tapestry. I am immensely grateful that my work is being appreciated by Islamic communities in Australia and abroad. My work has been exhibited in Mosques, Persian carpet galleries and Islamic museums in Australia and the UAE. On the other side of this global pandemic, I am due to exhibit my work in Sharjah, UAE, for a second time. My Moroccan pieces will be accompanied by works inspired by my recent trip to Uzbekistan.

TFT Natalie Fisher Hassan II Mosque Casablanca repair work
Zellige restorer working on a public fountain at Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

Oh, Morocco, look what you have done! You have touched the heart of this needlepoint artist from Australia and opened up my world to appreciate the beauty of Islamic art. You have given me energy and purpose to keep creating and exhibiting and to share my love of your art, architecture, and culture with others. I am immensely grateful.  ‘Shukran’. Thank you.

All images by Natalie Fisher unless credited otherwise. Feature image: Sitting with one of my tapestries against a wall that inspired the design. Ben Youssef Madrassa, Marrakech.

Natalie Fisher is a tapestry/needlepoint artist based in Sydney, Australia.
Instagram: @artweave_originals

Your email address will not be published.

By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website.

Please Add Widget from here