Creativity expressed through craftwork

Jane McMillan gets immense pleasure from quilting and other crafts. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Jane McMillan gets immense pleasure from quilting and other crafts. Photo by Linda Robertson.

Embroidery inspired by a psycho killer and quilts covered in underwear - Jane McMillan's craft creations are definitely unique.

The Dunedin woman knits, embroiders, quilts and crochets, and was turned on to craft by her grandmothers.

"I started when I was quite little - probably 7 or 8. I had two grandmothers who were both very industrious with handiwork," she said.

One was very precise with technique, and the other was more creative; she "got both sides".

Ms McMillan spends about 10 hours a week on various projects, and goes through phases of preferred method.

"I make a lot of things for gifts, and sometimes for myself, and a little bit of commission work for quilts."

Her latest inspiration is a book by United States prisoner Robert Stroud, who is known as the "bird man of Alcatraz" for rearing and selling birds in prison.

She said she loved the language he used in his writing and made a series of embroidery featuring dead and dying birds.

"He was sort of a psychopath ... his rage comes into it. It's a little bit macabre."

While many were not quite sure how to take these pieces, other people told her she should do more with her craftwork, like having exhibitions and selling it. However, she believed it was "hard to make craftwork pay", and turning it into a job would take away its appeal.

"I work at the law library at the University of Otago and I think that the work there tends to be about being efficient and prompt and it's nice to have the time I spend away from there that I'm in control of ... and it's about colour and creativity. It helps me have a balanced life."

Part of this balance is achieved by attending regular "knitting nights" with other crafty women. There Ms McMillan mostly concentrates on making "practical items", such as socks and jerseys, and enjoys learning different techniques from fellow members of the group.

She has also attended a quilting class, where she learnt traditional techniques, but does not want to join any of the guilds or clubs on offer.

"Mostly it's a solitary activity for me, and that's the way I like it."

She enjoyed having the freedom to create different patterns and frequently made quilts in unique styles and patterns, including one with Victorian underwear.

"I did not think I'd have the gumption to do one without a pattern and think of my own colours, but when I started doing it, I realised I could, and it was so satisfying."

In the future, Ms McMillan hopes to improve her knitting skills and design her own knitting patterns.

"It can't be that hard."

• "I think going to a class is a really good place to start, because then you've got techniques to be going on with."
• "Don't listen too much to what other people think ... do what you want to do in the colours, shapes and patterns you like."
• "You don't need a lot of equipment to get good results."
• "Embroidery is great if you are working with a budget, because you don't need more than a needle and thread and a little bit of fabric."
• "I try to use a lot of second-hand items; found objects are great."



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