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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’.

Reading + Listening + Learning + Watching

Some craft and inspiration links

During your ‘COVID-19 Residency’, you might enjoy some of these articles, podcasts, videos and online courses in the list of links below.  It’s an unashamedly random collection.  Some fun, some inspiring, not exactly ‘pd’* and certainly not paid endorsements! Scroll down for podcasts, online tutorials, and access to the world’s archives…
(*A ‘Useful Craft Resources’ page is coming soon.)

We’ll keep adding to this, so please share your links too, by commenting below or emailing us.

Reading

  • Coronavirus offers “a blank page for a new beginning” : The coronavirus epidemic will lead to “a global recession of a magnitude that has not been experienced before” but will eventually allow humanity to reset its values, according to trend forecaster Li Edelkoort. See also podcast of interview with Li below.
  • What is Crafts Role in a Fast Changing World: Crafts Council UK: a discussion about the issues fuelling craftspeople today, from gender politics to migration.
  • American Craft Inquiry, Volume 2, Issue 2  : Read the online magazine. Full of fantastic visuals and in-depth writing.
  • Garland Magazine: thoughtful articles about beautiful objects made today across the Indo-Pacific; produced by the World Crafts Council – Australia. Explore some of the 877 stories on the platform!
  • The Australian Ceramics Association offers a digital archive of the first 56 years of its Journal publication to everyone, FREE! Browse over 150 issues full of articles, technical information on glazes and kilns, in-depth profiles and critical opinions on Australian ceramics.

Listening

Time Sensitive features candid, revealing portraits of curious and courageous people in business, the arts, and beyond who have a distinct perspective on time. Trend Forecaster Li Edelkoort on Why Doing Less Is More

Soul Traders podcast: two West Australian chicks’ new podcast about working as a creative freelancer. It’s just started but we know it will be gold. Photographer Bo Wong & writer Amy Snoekstra. (This link is to Spotify but also available on other pod platforms.)

Web TV

Craft America – various episodes:  Artists explore issues of gender, race, culture and place, offering true expressions of their experience in this world on film.

Hermes Documentaries including ‘Luxury is that which can be repaired’, ‘The Story of an exceptional saddle-maker’ and ‘Manufacto: Shaping One’s Life by Making Objects’.

Learning Online

  • Around 30 free or near free short uni courses from around the world available online in art and design. Including ‘Innovation through Design:Think, Make, Break, Repeat’ from Sydney and ‘The Power of Podcasting for Storytelling’ from Wollongong.
  • Craft Club: on the Crafts Council website, look for the Downloads on the right hand side of this page for lots of at home craft projects – suitable for beginners and experts, such as knitted jewellery and a cardboard automata.
  • Woolmark Learning Centre: I nearly wept when I saw the opportunity to learn more about the beautiful material of wool (it’s an ancestry thing) – courses for industry and tertiary level, as well as the plain interested.
  • How to Weave a Basket with Tjanpi Desert Weavers, who also have a learn to weave kick-starter pack. Tjanpi Desert Weavers is a social enterprise of the NPY Women’s Council, working with over 400 Anangu/Yarnangu women artists from 26 remote communities in the remote Central and Western desert regions, who earn an income from contemporary fibre art. ‘Tjanpi’ means grass in Pitjantjatjara language.
  • Stop Motion School: Free online course to keep you and the kids busy. The instructor, Trisha Zemp (@trishazemp) says she “will help you create your very own stop motion videos. Whether you are 7 or 107, this class is sure to be a blast!” [untested]
  • Learn how to maximise your craft business via Pinterest: Learn about how Pinterest could help your business with local WA entrepreneur and strategist Kate Wilkinson.

Free patterns for the stitch and yarn community

  • Rose Megirian of Many Peaks Assembly has provided links to FREE sewing patterns and created some instructional videos on sewing techniques, such as ‘Sewing French Seams’. Rose is a locally based Fremantle designer maker and entrepreneur.
  • Rowan Yarns produces some of the most beautiful yarn shades and patterns for crochet and knitting, as well as patterns in collaborations with UK top designers; based in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. Many of the patterns suitable for beginner to intermediate to expert are free online, as well as crochet and knitting tutorials in their tips and tricks. Their magazine is also full of knitting inspo, available via their new app.
  • The Australian Yarn Company – free knitting patterns from the stable of Cleckheaton, Panda, Patons and Shepherd.
  • Yarnspirations – free knit, crochet and quilt patterns and video library of tutorials. Based in Georgia, USA.

Fun stuff 

Browsing Binges

With Google Arts & Culture, you can tour over 500 art institutions worldwide, including the V&A, the world’s leading museum of art and design in London, where you can browse exhibits and over 5000 objects. Also other art museums such as the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, and many others.

The Internet Archive has literally billions of resources. There is so much in this Archive, that we may lose you for years. It is a not-for-profit digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artefacts in digital form. It provides free access to researchers, historians, scholars, the print disabled, and the general public. Their mission is to provide Universal Access to All Knowledge. Explore The Smithsonian and Guggenheim catalogues, look out for ‘how-to‘ books and videos about crafts, vintage films, and so much more.

Portfolio Items