You originally studied Media Arts, what inspired your transition into Textile design?
Coming from a photographic arts background, I was interested in screen printing and actually did a short course with one of the lecturers in textile design, Roze Elizabeth at Olive Grove Studio on Sydney Road. She suggested Studio Textiles at RMIT, so I enrolled in a part time capacity and completed a subject here and there in the print studio. To be frank, I can’t remember why I decided to give weaving a go, but it intrigued me no end. It didn’t take much - after that first class, I was hooked. Perhaps it was also the very idea of the beginning of something that resonated with me, making fabric from thread. Of course, if I were to take that at it’s most literal, I would also be harvesting the yarn, spinning and dyeing it. But I decided long ago that there would be some processes best left to those who do them very well and there is beautiful yarn out there, you just have to know where to look. It helped that we had a brilliant teacher in Rachel Halton and some lovely classmates who fell as hard as what I did. Luckily, I came across all sorts of creative types who have now become dear friends. There were plenty of late night tunes in the weave studio in my final year, as we raced the setting sun over Brunswick to get our production pieces finished.
Tell us about your relationship with Gunta.
Gunta and I became firm friends after I purchased her from RMIT. The textiles course had upgraded to twenty four shaft AVL computer driven looms and she was taking up a little too much room in the weave studio. She is about the width of a queen bed you see, not nearly as deep but just about as tall as me. Gunta is an eight shaft countermarch Karelia loom from Finland, which all just means she is ideal for weaving linen – did I mention linen was one of my other passions? Being quite a utilitarian object and also quite beautiful, I thought the name was fitting. Her namesake is the revered master Bauhaus weaver, Gunta Stolzl. She has much to live up to! I’ve just moved into a new house and studio so Gunta unfortunately is still in storage. At the moment, I’m weaving on a sixteen shaft South Australian Noble table loom borrowed from a friend that I’ve quietly named Eileen, after Ms Gray, the Irish architect and furniture designer who was also an accomplished textile and rug designer.
How did you become obsessed with Kumihimo? Was it your love affair with Japanese yarn that led you to this particular technique?
Almost certainly! I have always loved the materiality of things. Whether it is fiber based photographic printing paper, the indentations made by acid etched copper plates on paper or a skein of linen yarn. I came to silk a little later, mostly because I was afraid of it, it was expensive and had its own set of parameters. Ridiculous I know, as linen can be so frustrating to work with. But that aside, the Japanese know how to make beautiful yarn and they are excellent at silk.
In my uni day’s, I was using commercially made ropes and cords for my neckpieces but was ultimately unsatisfied with the end product, it wore badly and didn’t quite sit right alongside my woven pieces. As I didn’t have a background of working with metals to create findings and structural bars for my woven pieces, I looked into ways of creating my own cord using the types of yarns that I loved and kumihimo was it.
You are also a star baker, what are the parallels between baking and weaving?
Thanks Pop Craft! I’m not so sure I fit the star baker bill, but food and baking are my other great passions. Baking requires precision, much like setting up the loom and weaving. And much like weaving, baking is enjoyed in the final stages. The weaving and eating is the easy bit.
It is the setting up of a loom that is the hard work; long warps can take a day to wind on and you may have five hundred ends to thread through heddles, sley, tie onto the front of the loom and then the pattern to set up on your peddles. This all before you throw one single strand of weft through your shed. Baking is much the same in its preparation; there is whisking, folding, baking and making sure you have all the right ingredients at temperature and then the technique. All this to be done before a morsel passes one’s lips.
With both disciplines, there is a certain amount of hoping it will be the best you’ve made so far - woven exactly as you wanted it or with baking, that it tastes great and has risen perfectly. Lots of practice and experience teach us that we can replicate those experiences fairly closely. With both disciplines, the thing that has me coming back each time is that moment of waiting - for something to cool down enough to cut into it or weaving the full length of the warp before cutting it off the loom. Without a doubt, I love that inherent in both is that they speak of something made by hand, not by machine.
All photos courtesy of Heartland