Designer Edge with tapestry artist Niki McDonald
Forget floral arrangements, fruit bowls and rolling hills — it’s the graffitied laneways of Melbourne, neon signs and tattoos that tapestry artist Niki McDonald turns to for design inspiration. Her bold and brave approach to a traditional craft has led to an eye-catching series of artworks and has generated fresh interest in tapestry.
Sydney-based artist Niki was captivated by Melbourne’s edgy streetscapes while visiting, and was inspired to capture their beauty in stitched artworks. “After a week of absorbing the urban landscape — the tagging and graffiti, the walls, the people and their clothing — I drew a series of drawings on tapestry canvas and began stitching,” says Niki. “The repetition of the stitches echoes the pixels of digital work and the spray paint used on the streets.”
Her fresh and contemporary artworks are inspired by photographs she’s taken. Once she is happy with the design, she paints it onto tapestry canvas and begins stitching. “I am drawn to colour, ply and texture and seek the wool that will best represent my intention. I try to limit my colours to around six and bring the image together with key black lines,” says Niki. When she first began, she limited herself to 12-count tapestry canvas and skeins of wool. “My scope has expanded and I now use tapestry canvases ranging from 3.75 count to 14 count and wool up to 30 ply, if that’s what is needed to express my ideas.”
For Niki, tapestry is the ideal creative outlet. The portable nature of tapestry means she can fit stitching time into her other commitments. “I’m a mother, a high school teacher, home maker and an artist — how do I fit it all in? I sew as I go. Having children changes everything; after having my babies I put my art practice on hold as there was so much to do and very little time to do it. When my youngest turned three, I needed to start making art again as my life lacked magic. I got out my old tapestry needle and wool and drew up some images. It was the perfect solution. My tapestry rolled up and didn’t require a studio, it wasn’t messy and it was portable. Long hours of watching my kids at swimming classes, martial arts and soccer practice all turned into perfect opportunities for me to create art. I like to think that I balance my busy life with the pace of needlepoint tapestry.”
Her passion for her work is infectious and there is a growing interest in her workshops and DIY tapestries. “Tapestry has many advantages,” explains Niki. “It’s portable, clean to make, uses left-over knitting wool or skeins, can be framed or made into something functional like a cushion.” Plus, tapestry can benefit your health and wellbeing. “For me, it’s easy to get bogged down in the routines of life, but when I’m focused, creative and playful, as I can be through tapestry, it feels like life blossoms.” Niki plans to continue creating and making art and facilitating workshops. On her bucket list is to take her craft abroad by running workshops on a craft cruise.
Niki’s work is a celebration of the urban beauty of Melbourne, and the strong and creative women who inspire her. “Whenever I spent time in the city my attention was always drawn to how beautifully people had adapted to their urban environment. The tail-lights of cars, neon signs shining urban colours on women’s faces, their clothes mirroring the architecture and laneway graffiti. I asked myself, were the people reflecting their environment or was the environment reflecting them? I figured that the urban environment was a catalyst for inspired, sassy, strong women.”
Find out more about Niki McDonald, of Tapestry Girl, on her website (tapestrygirl.com), Facebook (www.facebook.com/TapestryGirl) and Instagram (@tapestry.girl). To see her DIY tapestries, available for purchase, follow @tapestrygirl.diy on Instagram.