A guide to treasure hunting with contemporary fibre artist Fleur Woods
There are endless creative adventures to discover in an opshop.
Words and photos: Extracted from The Untamed Thread by Fleur Woods Photo credit: Fleur Woods, Tonia Shuttleworth & Ariana Leilani
Welcome to my studio where I share my journey and processes — opening a window into my creative world while encouraging you to craft your own. I am thrilled you are joining me to explore the untamed thread of experiences that have converged to create my art practice. Stitch and nature are the two leading characters, and the pages before you overflow with the inspiration they bring.
This book is delivered with soul and a sincere desire to encourage you to engage in creativity, whether as a collector, viewer, dreamer, seeker, maker, artist or adventurer. Lovers of all things art, flora, colour, texture, textile and thread will find a safe, soft place to land here — a warm blanket of creative guidance with generous encouragement. It is a place to find inspiration; a gentle nudge to create more regularly with a free and joyful approach to contemporary stitch.
If you’ve ever wanted to find freedom and joy in the creative process and learn to let go of the concepts holding you back, then it is time to turn the page.
I can’t wait to see what we can create together.
Fleur Woods, contemporary fibre artist, seeker of joy and lover of nature.
ARE YOU SOMEONE WHO COLLECT THINGS?
Years ago, I started to collect vintage textiles and embroideries from second-hand stores. This was long before I started working with them in my art practice but I could never resist rescuing them even though I had no apparent use for them then. The sweet little flowers stitched lovingly by hand into a now slightly stained or holey teacloth enchanted me. I had to rescue them from the loneliness of the under-appreciated basket of ‘old cloths’ at the op shop or second-hand store. I gave away my entire collection, more than once, because I was unsure what purpose they served in my life.
Back then, I didn’t know it myself that those collections were full of treasures. You see, the things we are drawn to, whatever they are, are our treasures, and this sense of curiosity about an object you collect can give you vital clues to who you are as a creative. The same goes for the other things you intrinsically value, like places, colours and objects. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be very literal about it. For example, you may find yourself drawn to textiles, but your exploration of materials doesn’t need to stop with making a cushion. What it means is that it could be worthwhile researching and exploring textile art forms as a medium for your creativity.
What can also be true is that you may be drawn to a particular textile, but the patterns on them or the weave of the fibres are what resonate with you. It is about digging into what makes you stop and pick up that particular object. What is the essence of it that draws you in? It’s not certain that the objects you collect will translate directly into art practice, but if you want to create with more joy, more regularly, these little clues might, at the very least, give you a jumping-off point.
I love collecting old books with beautiful floral illustrations, often gardening books. If I were to look literally at this, I should be a gardener as my creative outlet. On further investigation, I realised that the simplicity of the illustrated imagery, the colour palettes and the types of flora captured, are what appeal to me most. Interestingly, even though I’ve always collected these little books, it wasn’t until I started stitching into the painted flora I’d created, using them as a reference, that I realised what a perfect alignment it was for both paint and stitch.
Following my curiosity I regularly scour local antique and second-hand stores for textiles and fibres to use in the studio and am guided by my aesthetic when selecting them. I don’t think of a particular project as I gather. Usually, it’s just about picking things that spark my interest — colour, texture, pattern, sparkle. It’s fun to gather and repurpose creatively. Sometimes an out-of-date shirt or dress in a great linen can be perfect to cut up for your creative work. Equally, knitters often donate their ends of balls that are too small to knit a project with but perfect for a fibre artist to use for stitching. This part of the process aligns with my values and gives me all the more joy. During a frustrating hunt for beads in the craft section of the second-hand stores one day, it occurred to me that there were a lot of quite interesting necklaces hanging there, with the most beautiful beads on them. They’d had their moment in fashion so I ended up getting the necklaces, cutting them and collecting the beads.
It is not only the repurposing that appeals; it’s the sense that this object, fibre or textile has a story. If you can learn more about the textile, the manufacturer or even the process used to create the object, you might find that your little treasure can reveal endless stories and deliver multiple options for creative projects. I like to imagine that the residual energy left from the person or people the object lived with continues into the new artwork, helping form new creativity.
The biggest obstacle for most people that prevents creating with a joyful purpose, is second-guessing their weirdness. Let your weird and wonderful ideas out. These little things are part of your story and will gift you the ability to tell your own creative stories. If you just let them.
At this point, we are not pursuing a result, we are hunting. Hunting for treasure is a slow process. When there are paths with dead ends, we turn around, retrace our steps and turn towards the light at the end of the tunnel. The thing is, everyone’s light and tunnel are different, so this process cannot be illuminated by trying to hunt for someone else’s treasure. It is time to get out of your own way and let these little gems guide you.
So, I encourage you to go on a treasure hunt. That could be in your existing stash of collected objects, a second-hand store, beachcombing, or even capturing photos on your phone. Select 5–7 things that spark your interest. Explore each object and consider the key things you are drawn to: is it the colour, the texture, pattern or form? Perhaps your collection will inspire an obvious jumping-off point to explore further, so go for it! But if not, here are some ideas to get you started:
CREATE A FLAT LAY
This is a simple process of choosing a flat surface and displaying your collection to be captured from a bird’s-eye view.
1. A table (or even the floor) with a good natural light source is perfect. You can use the existing surface or add something as your base — a large sheet of paper, some wrinkled linen or perhaps even one of the elements you’ve collected can perform this task. Then decide on your framing, for example, a square shape, and arrange your collected objects within this. Position yourself above the arrangement, with the camera parallel to the surface, and take some photos.
2. Play around with different arrangements — turn, fold, roll, flip and explore the objects. Notice what you like about these treasures as you play and examine various layouts. This is important information about what sets your creative soul on fire.
3. Flatlays can be a fun exercise to get your creativity going, or they can inspire further work. If you love the image you’ve created, you could consider printing it as artwork or drawing/tracing/painting over your printed images. You can also have images printed digitally onto fabric that you can stitch into it. It’s also possible to stitch into paper.
SKETCH & WRITE
This is about transcribing your collection onto paper. The goal here is to give yourself a simple brief and do it quickly. Try not to overthink it. This is purely for you and doesn’t need to be shown or shared so can be wild, weird and rough; as long as you can decipher what you were thinking later. Remember this is an exercise and not a test — there is no right or wrong; simply exploration.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
+ Write down three words inspired by each object, and make marks representing those words. You could use any medium, including stitch, for this.
+ Use a timer and give yourself 30 seconds to stare at each object. As soon as the timer finishes, write and/or draw what comes to mind.
+ Put them on display — create a little shrine or vignette of your collected objects. Sometimes simply acknowledging that they are unique to you and elevating them to a place of pride will subconsciously sow a knowing in you that permits you to work with those things as your inspiration in future.
Extracted from The Untamed Thread by Fleur Woods, $49.99. Koa Press. Pre-orders are open until 1st November 2023 from www.koapress.co.nz. Available from Koa Press and all good bookshops and gift/homeware stores nationwide.