Wendy Voon header
Image courtesy of the maker.

Wendy Voon

Craft Conversations

Wendy Voon, founder of Wendy Voon Knits, talks the ongoing revival and appreciation of textiles, her studio and the relationship between composer, musician and raconteur William Basinski and her new series of works.

Wendy’s scarves reveal sculptural thought processes and engage different weights of yarn and sizes of knit to continually challenge our familiarity with fibres. The drama of specialist yarns is juxtaposed by the regularity and precision of stitches, and the detail to finish Wendy attends to.

We’ve talked about this a lot at Craft recently, the ongoing revival and appreciation of textiles and fibre made using more traditional techniques and at a more intimate production levels. The success of Mourne textiles in Ireland and Waverly Mills in Tasmania come to mind. Have you noticed changes in the last few years surrounding people’s willingness to engage and collect your work?

I have noticed that people are more willing to engage and invest in my work – I believe this is a combination of factors – that I have been around for a while (perhaps it takes that longevity for people to develop a sense of trust to invest in your pieces when they are not impulse items) and an interest and return to pieces that are personal and special due to being locally designed and made in small runs. Each of my pieces is invested with a lot more time than more commercial means of production, and this ‘extra quality’ can be seen and felt when worn.

A little over 4 years ago – you decided to open a space on Victoria Street in Melbourne - an exciting move from working in an appointment only studio environment! Can you talk more about this journey?

Wow time has flown! I opened up a pop-up space at Therry Street in Melbourne which was only meant to run for 4 months.  This short commitment was the only way I could get my head around paying rent on a retail space, I was very nervous about it at the time.  The space was set up as an atelier, so there was always knitting machines set up – whoever was working in the shop – could be knitting when it was quiet.  It was definitely a point of interest and drew customers into the store, and it revealed how disconnected most people are from the making process and how long it takes to make something.  I developed a great local customer base of people who lived and worked around that area – as well as interstate and international visitors who were looking for something special that was Australian designed and made.

At the time it felt like a really big step, but it worked out so well that I ended up staying until the store had to be relocated to Victoria St (one year ago).  Now I can’t imagine not having a store.

You originally studied Textile Design at RMIT University – what are some of the stories and some of your most loved advice that you still carry with you today.

I studied the Diploma of Textile Design and Development at RMIT in 2002-2004, and completed the Advanced Diploma in Clothing and Footwear in 2005. A piece of advice from my drawing teacher, whilst I was working on a piece, and was stuck and couldn’t move forward to progress or finish it – ‘just start another piece, and when you get stuck with that – start another piece’ it was very freeing, and taught me how to snap out of that circular obsessive thought process that can happen when you are creating/designing.  One of the most important things I learnt from that course, was that the creative process is not linear.

You work predominately with natural fibres, what do you look for when determining the materials you work with?

I look for materials that are a pleasure to wear, in terms of handle, look and drape, that are beautiful to work with (if it won’t work nicely with my machines then I can’t use it) and that have longevity (wear well). I work predominantly with natural fibres, because I like the breathability of them – this means they are much nicer to wear and pieces can be worn for most of the year, and you don’t have to launder them as much.

Have you always been drawn to the idea of making knitwear? If not, when and why did you decide to explore this medium?

I have always been drawn to knitwear – I learnt to knit from a young age and the process of making a knitted garment – just made sense to me. I like the simplicity of it – if you’re hand knitting, you only need a pair of knitting needles – it’s not a big investment to start.   Knitting is quite a mathematical and logical process, and my brain likes working that way.

Could you describe your studio or making environment?

My official studio is a mess – it has become more of a storage space.  It is on my to do list to clean it up, re-organise it and start working from there more.  It’s in a shared warehouse space in Brunswick, that’s where I keep all reference books/materials, yarn books from knit companies, a lot of yarn and some of my knit machines.

I tend to use the retail space more as my workspace now – as it’s cleaner and more organised and there is beautiful natural light there.  This is where I have my yarns set up in custom made shelving, and our knit machines sit on beautiful wooden desks that I designed.

Your new series of scarves combine jacquard textile references with a nod to composer, musician and raconteur William Basinski – could you talk more about this and how you research and look for inspiration.

I don’t intentionally go out to research and look for inspiration – that does not feel natural to me, I think it puts too much expectation on what you see and do.  For me – inspiration is about ‘catching’ and gathering joy and energy to embark on something, this can come from the natural world, and from experiencing work by people that moves and engages me.  This can be food, film, art, music, design and architecture. The music of William Basinski really appeals to me – because of the way he sets up a mood, in a very rhythmic, almost gentle and meditative way, and you start to recognise and enjoy a section, but then he will change it up and take you somewhere else. That is also how I like to design; creating and following a pattern and structure, then changing it subtly so it is no longer perfect – but which results in something more interesting and beautiful.

Wendy Voon 1
Image courtesy of the maker.
Wendy Voon 2
Image courtesy of the maker.