Studio Spaces: Kaz Madigan from Curious Weaver

Creation: 'I think weaving is the most human connected craft because it’s so connected with people and their whole lives, and rites of passage through life, from birth to death," said Kaz Madigan, pictured sitting at her 24-shaft loom. Photo: Scott Calvin.
Creation: 'I think weaving is the most human connected craft because it’s so connected with people and their whole lives, and rites of passage through life, from birth to death," said Kaz Madigan, pictured sitting at her 24-shaft loom. Photo: Scott Calvin.

Studio Spaces is a collaboration between the Manning River Times and the Manning Regional Art Gallery featuring artists from the MidCoast region. The project culminates with in an exhibition, which opens in April 2018. Learn more.

Hidden away behind a house in a suburban street is the studio where Kaz Madigan weaves her ideas, experiences and observations into her cloth creations.

While it is now a space filled with looms (a device used to weave cloth and tapestry) and the materials needed to carry out her work, she didn’t always have a dedicated space.

“We’ve had this for 20 years probably but I previously had all the looms in the lounge room with the kids, so it was all inside and very messy. Then in 2010, we did all the gyprocking and made it nice.”

The Curious Weaver Studio is set up not only for Kaz to create her own pieces, but to share what she knows with others.

“I've got 10 floor looms or more and regularly teach Saori, or freestyle weaving, so there are small compact looms I use to do that with. I have workshops of up to six people and run five or six workshops a year.

“People come from all over - New Zealand, Singapore, all over Australia. I’ve had them from Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. I went to Tasmania in 2016 for a month and taught down there.” She also travels to Japan annually and runs textile tours.

“I sell these products, so the retail aspect has helped propel me. It’s a combination of things, to try and create an income and a driver for the craft, so that’s been really good.”

Kaz discovered weaving at the age of 19.

“I actually saw something on the ABC. It was a woman, I think she was from the North Coast actually. The craft’s revival was quite big in the 1970s, early ’80s and she was weaving and I thought wow, that’s really a way of combining art with my like of sewing and yarn.”

Kaz’s father was an oil painter and also worked in acrylics towards the end of his life. “He sold some of his paintings though his life. It wasn’t his main job, but I think as a child you’re sort of nurtured in that sort of environment so it sort of comes to you in some way.”

The freestyle form is her preferred way of working.

“The emphasis on Saori weaving from Japan is more about freedom in weaving, and weaving your own self into the cloth. So with the set-up of the loom, you can actually weave and do what you like to do, exactly in your own way. It’s very freeing and that’s why it is very popular at the moment.”

Her collection of Saori looms have been imported from Japan and are made from birch. Her first loom was made for her by her now husband Dave.

“It was all like that, building things, and because of the tools involved and that can be involved, I’ve become a bit of a tool fiend. I’m a collector and we love all the people who make the tools for us. There’s a lot of ingenuity in weaving, because people have developed tools over time to do things. So I have great respect for human ingenuity.”

One corner of the studio houses what is a technological advancement in weaving.

The 24 shaft loom is a European loom imported from Finland that has a computer box at the top. “There’s 24 shafts and I don’t have 24 feet so we get the computer to drive the lifts. I do really complex cloths on that.

“It’s quite a complicated loom in comparison to the others, in that it has 24 shafts – 24 frames that hold heddles. Heddles are little, either string or metal, but here they’re string, and there’s a tiny eye in there and every eye has to be threaded with one of these 1500 threads that I’m threading, so it does take a while.”

Visit other studio spaces: Rod Spicer, Andy Snelgar, Jane Hosking, Steve Williams

Kaz uses a computer to program the pattern and threads every thread in exactly the same way.

“I have to follow quite an exacting little chart and when it’s all threaded it can be connected and I’ll program this back into the computer and off we go and weave the cloth.”

The technology has been around since the 1980s but it has only been much more recently that “normal people” could buy them.

“It was very expensive and I didn’t get it until quite late, but it was bought. Normal people could buy these looms and create things that only industry were creating at the time.

“So that’s the change of technology. It’s not so much how weaving is done but it’s more accessible for us because of the change in the technology or the materials. And then we change our purpose along the way, so that’s the exciting thing.”

Her studio also includes a smaller loom that young children can weave on.

“I’ve set it up as a little play loom, because when people come into the studio they always leave behind bobbins half done of their colours and their history, so I get a whole collection and eventually I have to weave them off into a cloth that is a combination of all the people who have come through in the past few months.”

Again, it is a freestyle loom and Kaz said loops and bumps are not mistakes but in fact create the dynamics of the cloth.

Curious Weaver: A number of looms are set up in the studio for Kaz to work on her various creations.

Curious Weaver: A number of looms are set up in the studio for Kaz to work on her various creations.

“The idea with Saori weaving is that factories are already taking care of our clothes and cloth that we need at the moment, so we don’t really need to copy them, so we weave in our own human way.

“It is an art form where you can be free and just make your little mistakes, and make more of them and see what happens, make holes and see what happens. That’s what we do.”

She said the idea is just to weave the cloth, not thinking that it is for a particular type of garment, because it starts to restrict the flow when you think it has to look a certain way.

“What we’re doing is weaving the cloth, doing it all creatively, get it off the loom and then we drape the garment and go, oh, that’s an interesting bit, let’s just put it there. We don’t lock our head down, that’s the whole idea, so the brain’s a bit freer. Weaving is synonymous with human existence. We all wear clothes, we all have warm carpets, we have curtains, there’s never stopped being a use for humans, even though we don’t see it very often, it’s still happening.

“Irregularity is the big thing in the studio here and certainly in Saori weaving. There is a theory which says that irregularity is sort of representative of our society at the time. 

“We’re all liking and yearning for the irregularity and the surprise in fabrics, but there might become a time when symmetry and regularity becomes more of a yearning in our society, so perhaps we’ll see the turnover to that.”

With so many different ways of working, she said her preference is for freestyle.

“There's freestyle for my mind and the (24 shaft loom) for the development of my weaving and career.”

Clothing is her big thing, Kaz explaining that she trained as a dressmaker.

Kaz Madigan makes cloths for various purposes, but said clothing is her big thing.

Kaz Madigan makes cloths for various purposes, but said clothing is her big thing.

“Scarves are probably the most basic thing we can create, but then there are other things we do, like home furnishings work, table runners, bed things, cushions, all textiles - well, textiles are more art, I mean we’re wearing them.”

Her studio is where she displays some of her art pieces, scarves and clothing.

It also houses the equipment she needs including her “wall of colour”, a collection of various fibres in different textures, weights and colours.

“We do a lot of dyeing, so even though there’s a lot of colours here, we do use a lot of white yarn, especially in Australia and add dye effects after we’ve woven the cloth.

“It’s hard to get the range of colours, not like America where they can walk into shops and pick up this and that. Here in Australia we’re pretty good dyers and spinners,” she said.