By Artist Dawna Ellis
My mother was the first person I knew to re-purpose something. She taught me to sew when I was about 8 years old and amongst other feats, she effortlessly turned a bed sheet into a set of ruffled curtains for my bedroom. I am fortunate to own the round braided rug that she made about 57 years ago out of Pendleton wool scraps. My love of sewing continued into adulthood as I found myself pursuing a career designing and fabricating costumes for the entertainment industry, where re-purposing objects, clothing and other materials was common place.
I reached a point about six years ago when I craved a different creative outlet for my sewing skills and discovered a book called “It’s A Wrap” by Susan Breier, which focuses on fabric wrapped & coiled baskets, trivets and purses. Strips of fabric that are about 1” in width are wrapped around clothesline, coiled and sewn into the desired shape. With the aid of her book, I taught myself this wrapping and coiling technique, embarking on a new creative adventure. I experimented with a lot of shapes and different fabrics which brought me to where I am today using recycled Japanese kimono fabrics. Experimentation also led me to an understanding that the proper scale of a print was vital in the success of a finished piece.
Each textile vessel I make is unique. While similar ones can be made, no two are alike. I am energized by the synergy generated when creating a 3-D object from textiles that would be more commonly made from basketry materials or clay. I am drawn to texture, pattern and color as they interact with each other to create the harmony of each vessel, culminating in a one of a kind art piece. The shapes I make are uniquely my own and the materials themselves inspire the attitude of each vessel.
I use recycled Japanese textiles because they are extremely detailed, many vintage prints are perfectly scaled for my purpose, they have color ways that translate well to my color preferences, and just as important, the weight, hand and quality of these textiles lend themselves perfectly to the finished product. I feel a strong reverence and spirituality by breathing new life into these beautiful textiles that served someone else well in a past life.
My search for decorative elements to serve as handles for my lidded vessels led me to the discovery of the intricate beauty of vintage and antique Japanese kanzashi. These are hair ornaments used in traditional Japanese dress, many which are hand carved, lacquered or hand painted and often signed by the Japanese craftsman/artist that made them. It became instantly clear to me that these one of a kind, hand made objects were the perfect thing to pair with recycled kimono fabrics.
Almost everyone asks me, “Do you go to Japan to get your materials?” How I wish this were the case! But at this time it is not possible for me to do so. The textiles and kanzashi that I use are purchased on line through vendors that take excellent photographs and who I have grown to trust for their quality product. Kimono fabrics are only about 14” wide, and sometimes I am only able to purchase one panel that might only be 50” long, so my construction process is a combination of spontaneity and careful planning.
Within the last year or so I have taken up quilting, continuing my love affair with textiles in yet another way. I always have lots of ideas involving textiles swirling around in my head, but one of these days I’m going to make a wall hanging out of recycled kimono fabrics.
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