Where I work
I work in a heritage art deco building in central Melbourne, Australia. It’s called the Nicholas Building, built in the 1930’s – look it up, so much beauty!. It is home to five art galleries and many different creatives including jewellers, milliners, graphic designers and even a shoemaker. My studio on the fifth floor is airy with large windows facing out to our main railway station built over 100 years ago. I have three fairly basic hand weaving looms, lots of yarn on cones o a big bookshelf, a very old wire shop dummy called gertrude, indoor plants and a wall of little textile experiments I’ve conducted over time.
What inspired my work
In a word, grief. I have been a weaver all my adult life and for a number of years I had three floor looms in my partner’s garage and I wove there. Often he would sit with me and we would talk as I wove. Then he died. For three years I was bereft. My creativity deserted me too. Somehow the idea came to me to weave myself something with torn strips of his clothes. Slowly the weaving came together over a year. It is now a bedspread still offering me comfort and warmth every night. Out of this experience emerged my business, Woven Memories. Now I create woven pieces for the future with family clothes when someone has died to assist those who are grieving. I design and weave in collaboration with the people who come to me. Sometimes someone will also do some of the weaving. Recent projects include baby blankets, a cushion, and a wall hanging.
How I made it
I always start by asking the person I am going to work with to choose clothes for the project and bring them with them for an initial chat. I want to know the stories behind the clothes and get some sense of the person who wore them. Out of the discussion ideas about the object to be made often seem to organically emerge. Next I do quite a bit of sampling, taking the clothes apart first and cutting or tearing them into strips I can weave with. I am always aiming to get a look and feel that has something of the person who died and something that will work for my client. I try out different yarns, sequences and weave structures. The project may take a couple of months or over a year, depending on the size and complexity involved. I meet three or more times with the person I am working with to make sure that I am producing something they won’t just like but really cherish. I also pay quite a bit of attention to the process of handing over the finished piece – wrapping and boxing it with some of the torn fabric and offering time for reflection on the meaning of the piece.
What I am working on
I have two projects at the initial stages of development. One is a cushion with a husband’s shirts and the other is a large bedspread, with a husband’s clothes. The first project I will post my progress on my Instagram feed as I get started right through to completion. The person I am working with on the second project has requested privacy, so I will honour that.
Mary Burgess is an Australian textile artist, working primarily as a hand weaver. She has a longstanding interest in using retrieved ‘rubbish’ to create something that becomes precious and laden with meaning. Ideas of ritual wrapping, and protecting the body with cloth in various incarnations are often her starting point. Her primary work is re-weaving new items from the clothes of loved family members.