Patterns for Life

6th May 2020

First published in Inspirations issue #102, written by Ansie van der Walt

“Moroccan mosaics are visually intense, their design complex, yet also ordered and repetitive. It is this repetitive pattern on a large scale that particularly draws me in, and I find parallels with the repetitive patterning that is the stitched needlepoint tapestry.”

Sydney-based NATALIE FISHER stitched her first needlepoint when she was thirteen years old. She instantly fell in love with the tactile nature of the wool and the satisfaction of seeing her work come to life.

A few years later, bored with the commercially available kits, she discovered Kaffe Fassett. “His book, Glorious Inspiration, encourages confidence with colours, to experiment with possibilities for needlepoint creations in everyday objects like ceramics, paintings, mosaics, drawings, textiles and nature. I took his advice to heart and discovered my own sense of colour and design.”

Honing her skills of observation and colour blending, Natalie worked on a series of nature inspired designs. “I explored the possibilities of portraying a single flower form on a large scale. My intention was to delve into the contradiction of portraying nature’s smooth, fluid forms in simple pixelated stitches, using the freestyle blending of colours to incorporate intricate details of light, shade and colour in every petal.”

Working on the flower series lasted almost a decade. Natalie found inspiration in her career as a landscape architect and enjoyed needlepoint as a creative outlet with no intention of selling her work or turning it into an art career. But this changed when she received an invitation to exhibit her work at the Chelsea Flower Show, and two of her flower designs became available in kits from the Ehrman Tapestry online shop.

Natalie’s creative path took a radical turn with her first visit to Morocco five years ago.

“My travels exposed me to the centuries old tradition of ‘zellige’, the geometrically patterned mosaics used to decorate walls, ceilings, floors, fountains, pools and tables throughout Morocco.”

She found a natural synergy between the pixelated craft of needlepoint and the repetitive patterns of the traditional Moroccan tile designs. Although Natalie’s Moroccan designs look geometric, she uses a much more intuitive and freeform method of working.

“Every project starts with a concept and some good quality source photographs. I constantly makes artistic decisions by interpreting the photos and blending the colours as I progress.”

Her work has a photographic quality when seen from a distance, but on closer inspection her free interpretation and individually coloured stitches become apparent.

Since that first visit to Morocco, Natalie has returned several times, observing and photographing, but also stitching on site, soaking up the ambience and atmosphere of these zellige panels found in narrow lanes and quiet courtyards. This exposure to Islamic culture lead to her work being included in the 20th Islamic Arts Festival held in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates in 2017.

Her installation in Sharjah, called Ghorzah (Stitch) opened up yet another turn in her career path moving from two-dimensional wall mounted pieces to larger scale three-dimensional work.

“I am not working on domestic works for selling anymore. I am working on larger installation pieces that create a more immersive experience for the visitor as they move through the space.”

Natalie manages to combine the ancient tradition of zellige and needlepoint to create a thoroughly contemporary art form that sits very comfortably in our pixelated, screen-dominated modern society.

“I am often asked if I consider my work art or craft. I view my practice as art, art that came about by the refinement of a technical skill. By using a traditional craft technique, I create works that are intended to not only have aesthetic value but also challenge perception, encourage debate and make statements.”

With coloured wool and canvas Natalie manages to successfully combine the wild abandon, freedom and colour inspiration of Kaffe Fassett with the predictability and abstract ornamentation of Moroccan geometric design. With her new direction into large scale installations Natalie is inviting us along on her travels through narrow lanes and quiet courtyards to experience her visually intense, yet ordered and repetitive, world for ourselves.

You can see more of Natalie’s work on her website:

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