My interview with Margaret is the first for The Studio Stories Project. I have known Margaret for a number of years through WAFTA, although it was not until early in 2015 when she asked my son Josh Wells to photograph her work that I discovered what she does. At the time Margaret showed me her studio and told me a little about her work while Josh took some photos of her studio space, so when I decided to start this project Margaret was a natural first choice.
We started the morning with delicious freshly made, still-warm scones and a cuppa, and then moved into Margaret’s studio for the interview.
Margaret has had the same studio space (she calls it her “work room”), a small room at the back of her house for 54 years. The area was created not long after she moved into the house with her husband and 2 1/2 year old daughter. She had nowhere to put anything so her gardener gave her some cupboards from a shed, much to the horror of her husband as they were old and worn out. They have changed colour a number of times from white to yellow, bottle green and currently blue. The whole space is very organised, a trait she learnt when she was a tailoress where everything had to be cleaned up, pressed and put away at the end of each day. The space hasn’t changed much over the years, although the use of it has. Margaret used the space to work as a dressmaker for some wealthy ladies for a number of years, she made all her children’s clothes here and since retirement about 20 years ago she has been making her art works. Cupboards and shelves lining all the walls are filled with fabrics, threads, paints, tools…she says “What I’ve got here is like a shop – I’ve got everything”
Margaret gets her inspiration from a picture. She then likes to study the subject, going to the local library and finding out about her subject. She loves the planning stage, getting all the pieces together, the drawing of the pattern onto paper. “Which part do you enjoy the most?”, I asked. “I love the whole lot” she said.
She gets so involved in the project she will happily sit for 6-8 hours a day working intensely on a piece for months on end, feeling quite upset when she has to stop and make her husband’s lunch! She can’t start working though until the housework is finished, then she can relax knowing the house is clean. Not feeling guilty, she can sit there and work all day.
Margaret has always been creative. She said she was gifted with an eye for detail and from 2 years old was drawing all the time. By 8 she was making costumes for all the kids in the street and bribing them with a shilling apiece to participate in her concerts. Margaret’s aunt was a tailoress and a big influence on her. She used to watch her aunt doing hand work at home and was soon able to stitch fine work herself. She could simply look at a hand stitched button hole and was able to make one. This was at the age of 10 -11! Margaret would deliver her aunt’s work to the Tailor in Perth city and realising she was sewing some of the work, he asked her to come and work for him as soon as she finished school.
At 15 Margaret joined the High Class English Tailor starting her 5 year apprenticeship as a Tailoress. By the time she finished her apprenticeship, her wage was twice that of a shop assistant, a very good wage. She would make a coat in two days, from start to finish, completing every step herself, except for the cutting, which the tailor did.
Over the years she has seen huge changes in the way clothing is made. In the 1960s stock work was introduced ending the tradition of one person completing the whole garment. A man’s suit although expensive, would last many years due to the construction, nowadays they are throw-away…not made to last.
After Margaret got married she stayed home with her young family, where she did dressmaking for private clients. She found this a breeze compared to high class tailoring. This lead to working part time at a local fabric shop when her youngest child was 10 years old, and then full time managing Northlands fabric shop for 20 years, spending a lot of her time showing customers how use the products and materials they sold.
This was 1980s when everyone was making their own clothes and there was a fabric store in every local shopping centre. Margaret would make a garment in the evening and then model / wear it to work the following day and sell the pattern and fabric to her customers. She developed a loyal customer base helping them select fabric patterns, threads and trimmings for day wear and Christening gowns to ball dresses, sometimes going along with a daughter’s desire to wear black in a time when our mothers thought it was a big no-no! “Oh she has beautiful young skin, she will look gorgeous…”
On retirement Margaret joined Contemporary Quilt Group “for somewhere to go” and then WAFTA about 9 years ago. In the late 1990s she discovered the stunning realistic and detailed work of Annemieke Mein in a textile magazine, and knew she wanted to do this type of work. Annemieke Mein was the inspiration for the work Margaret now does. She started making her current artwork about 9 years ago.
Margaret had originally wanted to be a commercial artist and I asked if the work she now does is as fulfilling? She said “Oh no, this is much better”
Margaret is inspired by a picture, often an Australian bush scene or an old building, ones with lots of detail. She uses a variety of textured base fabrics that she paints, stiffens and then heavily hand stitches with embroidery threads to create the desired effects, “Like painting with stitch”. She often hits the finished stitching with a hammer or rubs it with a pair of scissors to blend the stitches. She secures additional 3D sections with strong tailors threads. She loves the challenge of looking for images with lots of detail and aims to make it as realistic as possible.
Carnarvon Gorge is the work she is most pleased with as “It’s so damn good, full of detail” She loves the positive reactions she has received for this work.
Margaret has received many awards from the Perth Royal Show and most recently the Textile Award at the City of Stirling Art Awards 2015 for the “Balcatta Hotel”.
Margaret, along with WAFTA Life Members Judith Pinnell, Joy Knight and Peggy Buckingham will be talking about their “Creative Lives” at the WAFTA general meeting Tuesday 19th April 2016.
Margaret can be contacted via the form below.
If you would like to learn more about Bespoke tailoring, The Coat Route by Meg Lukens Noonan is a fascinating journey of the craftsmanship through history to the current day.