Leanne Taylor has always loved old stuff, not just fabric, but also buildings. At her home in a quiet Carterton side street the textile artist combines both pleasures; from a charming cluster of free-standing structures that were mostly sheds in their former lives she brings old fabric and yarn to new life.
Leanne at her shop door.
Set among productive old-fashioned gardens, the stand-alone “rooms” are home to Leanne and partner Todd Compton, who have lived for the last 10 years in what was once his granny’s back garden. The couple, who met through the gypsy fair circuit, once travelled the country in an old bus whose interior Leanne is currently refurbishing – though it is unlikely ever to take to the road again.
In her roomy studio – “two double garages end to end” – Leanne stitches dolls, aprons, cushions and brooches out of old fabric and blankets rescued from op shops. She machine-knits bags and bracelets for felting and creates small framed collages from old dressmaking patterns and bric-a-brac. Even the labels
from the balls of wool are laminated to make bookmarks.
A trio of Leanne Taylor’s handmade tea cosies.
Leanne knits her cheerful signature tea cosies in the more intimate surroundings of a light-flooded kitchen and living space the couple converted some years ago from a garden shed. Surrounded by vintage china and cushions re-covered in recycled fabric, she knits and crochets yarn – often recycled from old jerseys – following elaborate patterns from the internet, as well as more traditional sources including a pattern book that belonged to Todd’s Grandma Tilly.
The well-ordered space features items of personal significance – family photographs taken in the garden, a butcher’s steel that belonged to Todd’s grandfather and a labelled stool from the nearby Borthwicks freezing works, where he spent his working life.
Eye-popping colour combinations mark Leanne’s textiles, from daffodil-patterned tea cosies to retro cushions sporting souvenir pennants of Featherston, Castlepoint and Eketahuna, and screenprinted wool cushions in saturated reds and oranges. Linen coverall aprons, bound with 1930s prints, are reminiscent of Depression-era sacking pinnies.
As a teenager in Taranaki, Leanne was already into vintage fabric, collecting jersey knit dresses from opportunity shops. She later moved to Gisborne and then to Auckland to study fabric design.
In the early 1990s Leanne made a living hand-printing T-shirts, tights and duvet covers. For the last seven years she has combined textiles with tutoring at Masterton’s King Street Artworks.
Leanne buys a lot of her fabric at op shops while on her travels. A visit to Todd’s brother in Invercargill, for instance, revealed a recycling centre treasure trove. “I found about seven pieces of beautiful vintage floral crêpe. They were only small but I saved them to make dresses for my cloth dolls.
“I don’t add to my stash of fabric as much as I used to. I’m being brave and using what I already have.
I think more people are seeing the appeal of vintage textiles and bric-a-brac and it’s reflected in the prices.”
Her shop, a converted army hut, sells dolls dressed in vintage cloth, felted wool holdalls, vibrant cushions and her signature tea cosies, almost all made from recycled cloth, wool and found paper objects.
Leanne now sells her Ramari Textiles – a combination of the names of her grandmother and her grandmother – at weekends and on Mondays from a shop that started life as an army hut. She’s painted the exterior turquoise but left the battered old door’s original paint as testament to its history. It’s a far cry from two decades of being outside in all weathers at gypsy markets. And there’s no travel involved.
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