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Q&A – maker of the week: Claire Townsend

Jeweller, Metalsmith and Educator

Claire Townsend March 2019We first met Claire Townsend when we started up Maker&Smith and were looking to plan some craft specific talks and discussions. In March 2019 we hosted a one-day forum, ADORN, about contemporary jewellery and metalsmiths in partnership with the City of Joondalup, to complement an exhibition of work by the JMGA-WA (Jewellers & Metalsmiths’ Group of Western Australia) and the City’s Urban Couture festival.

After an illuminating talk from Katherine Kalaf about her journey promoting contemporary jewellery in Australia, Claire introduced the gathered throng to her work, alongside five other ‘smiths’, and later ran an enamelling workshop for keen amateurs.

We are pleased that our work on the ADORN programme grew our acquaintances in the local jewellery & metalsmithing network and our knowledge of their unique talents. It has also informed us of the challenges they face as skilled makers in Western Australia (WA).

Claire highlights in this short & sweet Q&A her love of rings and her desire to see craft and design nurtured in Western Australia.

Read on for a glimpse into Claire’s smithing life.

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

I mainly make jewellery and like to use traditional techniques to make wearable art.

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

I live and work from my studio in Lesmurdie, in the Perth Hills. I love it!

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

I have a beautiful old hammer that came from my grandfather’s shed. He used to make wooden toys, so I never knew why he had a metalsmith’s repousse hammer, but I love that he used to hold that same handle.

Your inspiration – what really pumps your creative heart?

I am most interested in the marks we leave on each other through our exchanges. Friends, strangers, lovers, family, we all affect each other, so I guess I’m interested in humans, and how we interact.

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

I made my first ring in high school and I gave it to a friend. The joy I had in seeing him wear it with pride has given me an ongoing desire to make things for others to wear.

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?

I am really flexible, because I work around my family of four. I am in the studio whenever I can be, my dog keeps me constant company, and I mostly listen to podcasts. Huge fan of true crime, and I love getting immersed in the story while I’m immersed in my work.

What are you working towards right now?

I want to make a new selection of rings to sell at some galleries over east*, and am exploring more enamelling in my pieces.

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

I would love to put together an education program for contemporary jewellers in Perth. A program that produced and fostered the future of craft in WA amongst this ever changing fiscal and technological driven landscape. I’d also get to make rings at the same time!

*this is the term that people in WA use to refer to the eastern states of Australia.

[Collected 3 November 2019.]

Learn more about Claire Townsend and view a sample of her work in our Directory – with links to her Instagram feed, website and online store.

*Since we had this chat with Claire, we’ve had many discussions with her about the need for a craft specific centre of excellence in Perth and Western Australia. We continue to have conversations along these lines with many local craftspeople of differing specialisms. If you’d like to join one of our chat sessions and/or can contribute any intel, please contact us.

This is a standard set of questions that we ask of all our guest presenters and ‘makers of the week’. They are deliberately low-key.

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’.

Q&A – maker of the week: Tom of Holland

Master Mender: Tom of Holland

Tom visited us in August 2018 to deliver a number of workshops in Visible Mending and Darning for both knitting and fabric. It was our inaugural program and we were delighted that Tom received a fabulous reception. We loved hosting him and look forward to another set of his workshops here one day.

Tom highlights in this short Q&A his favourite tools, working style and his aim to become more proficient in hand-stitching! (If you have seen Tom’s stitching, you will know that it is already precise and tiny.)

Read on…

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

maker and mender

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

My workspace is the living room of our flat. I have yarns, thread and fabrics dotted all around the place, trying to hide them discretely, with varying success.

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

Practically, my needles and thimble as I use them frequently and I enjoy stitching by hand. Aesthetically, I like my collection of vintage darning mushrooms, they have such a gorgeous patina from years of use.

Your inspiration – what really pumps your creative heart?

I am inspired by old sewing and stitching books, as I love learning about particular techniques for specific jobs. I also love antique darning and plain sewing samplers. The darning samplers are so colourful and for both darning samplers and sewing samplers I admire the neat and tidy stitch work, usually done by hand.

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

I can’t pinpoint a particular spark; I’ve always loved clothes and textiles, and have been interested in natural fibres from a very young age.

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?

I do a lot of thinking about a project, aided with my trusty notebook in which I often sketch or write down ideas. I like to try out new techniques on scraps of fabric, but sometimes I want to just jump in and see where the project takes me and solve problems along the way.

As I combine my textile practice with an office job, I try to do a lot of work on my “craft” day, which is Friday, but I also stitch on my commute or during my lunch break when I’m in the office. Sometimes I do some light stitching in the evenings or over the weekend.

What are you working towards right now?

I’m collaborating with a friend, known as NOKI, who subverts branded clothing, mostly streetwear. At the moment it is more of an exploration of how we can combine our practices, and because he has such a different aesthetic from me, I am challenged in interesting and creative ways; a great journey to be on!

On a separate strand, I want to become more proficient in hand-stitching, and I’m working towards stitching my own clothes completely by hand. I would love to have a whole outfit that I made myself, all stitched without a sewing machine in sight.

Update April 2020:

I’ve developed an interest in hand-stitching clothes, and I’ve now made two shirts that I completely stitched by hand. It’s very satisfying! Stitching by hand might take longer, but at the same time I don’t have to wait for the stars to align and find the right weekend to take over the living room to work on a shirt from start to finish, so I’m actually more productive!

Next step would be to make a pair of trousers, but I don’t have a full-length mirror at the moment, so it’s more difficult to check fit etc.

Separately, I’ve started my first patchwork quilt, together with my husband. I came up with a design that allows him to machine stitch his contributions, and I can hand stitch my contributions.

Right now, mending has taken a bit of a step back as these other interests have taken over and allow me to explore different create avenues

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

There are so many things I’d like to do! Repairing non-garment textiles (e.g. a rug or upholstered furniture). I’d love to present a collection of mended clothes where I don’t have to worry about the cost; put up an exhibition juxtaposing antique samplers with contemporary ones (inviting other darners as well to respond to the antique ones.) The list could go on!

[Collected 9 September 2019. With update added in April 2020.]

Listen to Tom interviewed on ABC Radio National ‘The Hub on Arts’ by Ed Ayres.

Read more about Tom of Holland

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