TAPESTRY ARTIST EXTRAORDINAIRE
IN HER OWN WORDS.
Hi, my name is Meg-an and I make Tapestry Crochet hats. I travel around Australia in a van, setting up setting up stalls at markets, wherever I may be, to sell my hats and hand-painted clothes.
You can see a lot of my work here on Flickr.
Believe it or not, I have only just learnt that what I've been doing for the past 21 years has the name of Tapestry Crochet!
I began crocheting in 1987, having always been an artist, and selling my hand painted clothes at a local market outside Melbourne. The friend who taught me to crochet tiny pouches for crystals, suggested I buy any old pattern from an Opshop, to learn other stitches. This I did, and promptly added a round of treble stitches to the inch & a half of 'crystal pouch', and voila! the pouch turned into the top stem point of my first 'Gumnut Pixie Hat'. I had been drawing them for years!
As a 16 yr old I'd proclaimed "I'm going to run a hat shop when I grow up". Little did I know what the future would hold for me then!
I wore my new hat every Saturday at St Andrews Market, in the hills north west of Melbourne, where I sold hand-painted rainbow clothes. Soon friends and customers were asking me to make them a hat like mine. The first few hats were pretty much hit and miss, sometimes having a nice line of increase, some were horrible lumpy-looking “things”, yet all were sold. My prices then were very cheap!
As I progressed I would gradually raise the price, (by a $1 or $2 !) but until I entered my first "Beanies" in The Alice Springs Beanie Festival's competition, and my partner said "Put proper prices on them. Work out how long they took to make...." etc . I was always grossly under-pricing them. Not only under-selling my own work I was down-pricing other artisans work too. Now I value my work for its’ unique individuality.
I know it's hard to compete with the mass produced and slave labor work from third world countries, but as I have found, there are people out there who really do value the one-off original pieces, and are prepared to pay their real worth.
When I start a new hat, I don't know how it will turn out. Some commissions have taken three hats to actually make “The One”.
After a break from crocheting, which always seems to happen when it gets too humid, I wind myself up for new work, by winding my new wool into balls, from the spinners’ hanks . It really gets me ready to work as I sort the lovely round balls into baskets of each colour and I get inspired. It's great to be able to select a new range of colours from the assorted baskets, collecting them into a smaller work basket. Then begin and watch the new designs appear as if by magic. I love watching the hat grow out of strands of yarn.
Each hat tends to get associated with an individual Number as in Numerology, all by chance as I bring in various patterns. For example, a simple triangular pattern can be short or long, depending on how many stitches you make between the two colours on the first round, I never count out how many will fit in beforehand, and am constantly amazed when I return to the start to find it numbers in perfectly. This then sets the number of points to count. As in Numerology you can always change and add other such Numbers into your designs of course.
In 2001 I thought I had to stop crocheting and painting clothes, when my right arm seized up into constant spasm, twice the year before. Very painful, the first time I was walking round with my arm stretched up and out in front to ease the pain. Went on for 6 weeks the first time, the next episode I received better treatment and it eased much sooner. But I still gave up crocheting for a whole year, thinking that might be causing it.
But it's not the fault of the crocheting, it's the way the crocheter holds her head! Now when I get numb hands, I just do some neck exercises, keeping my hands and crocheting as they were, and the numbness goes away.
It was really wonderful to learn about the Alice Springs Beanie Festival in 2003, being a crocheter of hats, with only a few other items made, it was a beanie Hat Maker’s Dream. They have a Competition section exhibited in a major gallery in the Araluen Arts and Cultural Precinct, in Alice Springs, Central Australia, along with what is called Beanie Central, held over the festival weekend in an adjoining venue, “Witchetty's” . A traveling exhibition of outstanding beanies, purchased or lent, from the first 10 years of the Festival is traveling round the larger Australian galleries.
The competition really gets me going each year now, with the different categories. The first year I entered I had no idea what the festival or standard of hats was like at all. A fellow beanie-maker told me about it, and with just enough time to return to my mother's shed, (where most of my yarn was 'stashed' whilst living in a small camper-van), I quickly got to work and sent it off.
Seeing Flora and Fauna as a category, I chose to try and make another 'Emu' (large Australian bird) design like one I'd made back in the '90's,after being commissioned to make one like a South American Llama or Alpaca. I did, and with my increased experience, made a much better emu, and it won the Flora and Fauna category.
This Emu hat sold for AU$225!
These were the first hats where I'd put such prices on and had to take a deep breath before writing the prices and sending them off. I couldn't have stood behind a market stall and listened to peoples re-actions to such prices , it was much easier to send them elsewhere.
I was surprised that they did sell, and still had no real idea what the Beaniefest was like. I thought I was on to something with the Australiana themes, so the following year I did a whole collection of Sunset Silhouettes, Emus, Kangaroos and Echidnas. I was delighted as they sold for top dollar. I now have a range of totally unique pieces hats , some highly priced, some less so. They are all individually unique, but similar to the originals in that Australian Series.
That year I was lucky again, and won the “Spirit of the Land” category, with the fourth for my Sunset Silhouette series, "Follow the Sun".
The next year, my first "Emu" with a long neck and dangling earflap legs, was awarded a Special Mention in the "New and Innovative" category.
Then in 2005 my third "emu" hat, a needle-felted emu that wasn't quite working to plan, and was turned inside-out and embellished a lot, aiming for the “Best Use of Embellishment" category, was Awarded a Special Mention for the "Mad Hatters" .
It is quite hard for me to repeat some styles from the past , as I either don't have that wool any more or I can't bring myself to use just plain, non acrylic, fluffy yarns, that I can't resist these days. Years ago I never used anything acrylic, but the new yarns weren't available then, were they!
Two years ago I was commissioned to make a newborn sized "Temple Top" for a yet unconceived baby, a style selected from my photo album, from a series of hats I'd made in 2000.
Not having made any of that design for five or six years, when I began it rapidly grew far too large for a new-born, with the temple pillars pattern I'd begun. Halfway thru, I stopped and took stock of my work, and thought:
"Yuk! its horrible, it's bulging out on one side, I don't like the choice of colours at the top, but I do like this Blue and Orange combo here in what will be the middle. What if I ..hmm...... pinch it in together here ......... and, yes... extend the blue into loops .... I could hang beads and stones from them ....now..... continue the brim down ..... but ,ah!... I think I'll stop it short right here ......... Wow .... I've created a new design ! “
I later called this new hat the "Jackaranda Crown", and I kept that first one as my new personal beanie. I have continued making a series of 'Crowns', all quite different to each other.
I have yet to start work on my competition entries for the 2008 festival, but I have lots of ideas, and will get to work very soon, that is as soon as I can stop Flickr-surfing thru all the photos of everyone's wonderful work. LOL.
I'm so glad I've finally taught myself to use this computer, and found Flickr and then found all you wonderful crochet artists, and been reminded about Etsy.com, which I joined back in Apri '07, but living life as a nomad, travelling Australia, didn't allow for enough time to learn the on-line stuff, or actually be on-line every day.
Soon I'll get to open my Etsy shop, but I need a new digital camera as my first one has seized up.
Hope you enjoy my work as much as I do.
Anu & Meg-an meet at the Buddha Belly, Mt. Warning