Justine Bonenfant

Q&A – maker of the week: Justine Bonenfant

Haute Couture Embroiderer and Designer

Justine Bonenfant visited us in August 2019 to deliver Hand & Lock classes in haute couture embroidery techniques, not commonly taught in Western Australia, such as Goldwork and Tambour Beading. Participants enjoyed tuition and chats with Justine over the one, two and three day immersive classes in Perth and Midland. We were also delighted to host such a generous and congenial teacher who shared many stories of her life as an embroiderer to top fashion houses and celebrities, and her work in India.

Justine highlights in this short & sweet Q&A her inspirations and her desire to see better acknowledgement of the many skilled artisans who contribute to the fashion houses and who rarely get a mention.

Read on for insights into her embroidery life.

What is your craft? How do you like to describe yourself?

I am a hand embroidery designer, maker and teacher.

Your studio – where and what is your studio/workspace like?

I am based in London. My workspace is a small study under the rafters of a Victorian house. A skylight lights up my embroidery frame. A collection of ribbons, beads, spools, samples, inspiring pictures and cards are placed on shelves (or on the floor, where I tend to lay out my selections). This space is like my creative nest where I feel isolated from everything.

Which of your tools do you love the most and why?

The tool that I love the most is a little hook called the “Luneville” hook, used mostly for Haute Couture embroidery. Once this technique is mastered, we can apply beads and sequins to a fabric in a neat and fast way. It is a technique that requires practice which makes the result pretty rewarding.

Your inspiration – what really pumps your creative heart?

It is a very difficult question as inspiration can come from various forms. I can get close to the Stendhal syndrome, watching dedicated artisans such as the Chinese Buddhist monks who create Moxiu (hair devotional embroidery), although I have not cut my hair to have a go at it yet. At the moment, I would say that I am still inspired by my last trip to Rajasthan. My colour palette changed after that trip. The intricate Rajput miniatures and the Mughal outfits definitely inspired me.

What was the spark that made you choose this particular medium?

Working in luxury fashion, I had to develop textiles and collaborate with embroidery artisans. Seeing their incredible pieces, discovering the diversity of techniques and visual identities that can be expressed through embroidery made me want to specialise in this medium.

Your working style – how do you like to start on a project and then progress it? Do you stick to a working schedule 9-5 or flex around a bit? Do you play loud music? Are your pets welcome in your space?

On Mondays, I usually set-up a weekly and a daily plan. If I don’t stick to the daily one, I adjust the next day to reach my weekly goal. I used to work a lot in the evenings and on weekends but I am trying to reach a better work/life balance. If I work intensively during an extended period of time, I now make sure to plan a long trip afterwards to re-fuel myself. I like white noise and listening to music when I work. I recently discovered a musical app where we can select a decade and a country. My current favourite is 80s Ethiopian.

What are you working towards right now?

I am working on book instructions to develop new classes and a new project in between London and India that will be revealed next year… Watch this space!*

If you could land the dream commission/exhibition/project, what would it be?

I would love to work on projects that highlight the talent of artisans around the world, like a documentary series about the golden hands working in the shadows. Many European fashion houses commonly use crafts and techniques from other countries without acknowledging it, such as Dior producing designs similar to the traditional waistcoat from Bihor or the millions of skilled Indian embroiderers who see their work on the European catwalks every season. Credit where credit is due!

[Collected 9 September 2019.]

Listen to Justine interviewed on ABC Radio National ‘The Arts Show’ by Ed Ayres.

*Since we had this chat with Justine, she has launched “House of Penelope” – you can find her on Instagram @house_of_penelope

This is a standard set of questions that we ask of all our guest presenters and ‘makers of the week’.