It’s been far too long since we’ve had a FibreSpace feature on the blog, and today you’re in for a real gem. Meet Kate James (@valley_maker), an Australian fiber artist whose vibrant natural dyes and spinning adventures have us totally smitten. Kate has a beautiful Instagram feed, which we highly encourage you to follow. You can also visit her website here to keep up to date with her newest fine art exhibitions. For now though, please enjoy this inside peek into her glorious studio space!
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up in Fiber-Arts.
I have always been a maker of some kind. As a crafty kid I would always have busy hands and whilst I kept myself occupied making things at home I was underwhelmed by my secondary art education. I went straight to art school after high school and ended up spending 10 years there! I absolutely loved studying and completed a Diploma of Art, Bachelor of Fine Art (Honours) majoring in Printmaking and then went on complete a Masters of Art (by Research) all at RMIT University in Melbourne. It was during my Masters course that I started to figure out what my artistic practice was really about as I was able to spend much more time experimenting and teaching myself new craft-based techniques. These included horsehair hitching, Victorian mourning hairwork, Mexican ropemaking and handspinning (my mum taught me this one!). Whilst I predominantly work as an object/sculptural maker I tend to rely on processes that are labour-intensive and have their origins in craft.
Give us a brief history of your workspace/studio and how it has evolved over time.
Since having children I have had to, for the time being, shift my focus from my art over to my craft practice. This has been both very difficult (I miss the quiet, slow hours of working in my studio) but immensely rewarding. I enjoy the freedom to simply make rather than to constantly question and consider all my creative decisions. I discovered botanical dyeing a few years ago and became completely obsessed with it and am back enjoying spinning again too. I am really enjoying experimenting with fibers such as alpaca, Samoyed dog hair, sheep fleece, silk and flax.
My studio was the first project my husband and I achieved when we bought our house in the Yarra Valley 9 years ago. It was a single car garage that we had a builder convert for us. The addition of large sash windows on two sides lets natural light flood in and I have two plain white plastered walls which are very useful. I have a set of plan drawers that we had a welder build a frame on castors for, so they can be moved around the space as needed. I love working in a mimimal, clean, white space (when possible!) It helps keep my head clear. The studio has been so versatile over the years and has played host to my workshops, parties, guest accommodation and kids play area amongst other things. My favourite incarnation, of course, is when I can see my (white) desk and sit down to it and work!
Can you give us a glimpse into a typical day in your studio?
I currently only have one precious studio day a fortnight without my pre-schoolers which I absolutely relish. After dropping them with their grandparents I sit down with a coffee and my journal and write a list. (I’m a Virgo can you tell?!) This helps me prioritise my tasks for the day. Time management in the studio has become very important since I’ve become a mother. Sometimes I am preparing for a workshop (which might include skeining up yarn and premordanting it or constructing booklets), emailing or doing admin tasks, a bit of spinning if possible, and if I’m working on something for an exhibition I might be planning, experimenting, making, finishing, documenting or packing my work.
Name a tool you cannot live without and why.
I have always kept a journal and use it every time I sit down for a studio day. I love using Hahnemuhle sketchbooks as the pages are a decent weight and they are a durable construction. The pages can also handle watercolour quite well. These can be found in Australia here.
Is there a piece of equipment or fiber you own that is special to you?
One of my most treasured piece of equipment is my Tarra upright spinning wheel. It had been my mum’s wheel (for almost 40 years) until last year when she gave it to me to use. It was made here in Victoria, Australia, but unfortunately the company is no longer in existence. It is such an easy wheel to spin on and is an absolute pleasure to use.
My most treasured type of fibre is alpaca. The colours (greys, greys, more greys, pure black oh my!), the softness, warmth, luxurious feel and strength are qualities that I love when spinning my own yarn.
Can you give us a glimpse into your storage situation?
I have a number of storage solutions in operation: These include my shelves (constructed from recycled timber boxes I purchased for $2 each about 15 years ago, Ikea cardboard boxes, my plan drawers for finished art pieces and paper and I keep my fleeces and other fibres for spinning in calico bags and plastic tubs (ugly but necessary when you use natural fibres that attract pests).