Tapestry Girl

7th September 2023

First published in Inspirations issue #105 in February 2020, written by Ansie van der Walt

‘The key black lines give the colours, textures and images salience. The black lines bring what would be abstract shapes together. I am always inspired by the tagging, graffiti and ripped billboard posters from our streets and laneways; their images often have a limited colour palette and they bring it all together with key black lines.’

Niki McDonald, also known as Tapestry Girl, is a contemporary needlepoint artist based in Sydney, Australia. She has a degree in creative arts majoring in textiles but creating with wool has been a part of her life since her mother gave her a small weaving loom as a seven-year-old.

Textile art is her passion and Niki walks, talks and dreams about her art practice while she parents her two sons and works as a high school teacher.

‘It is better for me to have a day job because I continually battle with the duality of creating and selling.

I’m inspired by the ephemeral and drawn to the mechanical nature of my textile art practice. I feel my spirit pulsating as the piece unfolds and takes shape. Wool, like spirit, absorbs light and sound. It is rich and tactile and comes from a source that has been nurtured and grown. When cared for and cherished it calls to all and sings a new song and an old song.’

Tea a Drink with Jam and Bread, 2018

2019 was a particularly productive and busy year for Niki. The Seed Stitch Collective of which Niki is a member had an exhibition called Dopamine, as part of the Sydney Craft Week. She created a six-panelled work stitched in pink, black and silver ‘telling the tale of striving but never arriving and the pursuit of our primal drive for more.’

Niki was also the guest artist at the Stitches and Craft Show in Sydney, Brisbane and Newcastle. Contrary to her previous experience of selling her work at galleries, Niki had to adapt her practice for the craft shows as her audience was now fellow makers and not just onlookers or consumers. ‘I wanted to offer something alongside the workshops I was facilitating so I developed a product range of Tapestry Girl needlepoint canvases to sell. I completely sold out and am now selling them locally and internationally. I felt rejuvenated and inspired. To be in a space where everyone loved textiles was new to me.’

L – You’ll find me rolling in the deep | R – My Garden my Rules three, 2018

In 2020 Niki wanted to take her tapestries off the wall and create an exhibition of different sized totem-like poles.

'It is still evolving but I’m excited by the fact that I can bypass the framer on this one and that I will be combining the idea of storytelling through tapestry with using the tools of domesticity for feminine empowerment.

My work is deeply connected to my thoughts and emotions. I never make a mark or sew a stitch that is not on purpose. I journal daily on inspiring or meditative thought. These musings are the roots of my art. I read and listen to podcasts extensively; other people’s ideas and thoughts spark new ones for me, and I scribble a mind map of ideas that grow shoots. When I’m in the process, I am daydreaming, problem-solving, and clarifying challenges. I can do the most boring job but I’m alive with wonderment. People often say I’m so calm and happy and my response is that I have a rich inner landscape that is ticking away and keeping me on purpose, on track, and motivated.’

Walking Home

Niki starts her process with photos and images from the layered urban landscape she finds so fascinating. The designs that grow from these images are then painted onto canvas. Her abstract designs are limited to six colours, brought together with her signature black lines. She draws strong images of women’s faces over the backgrounds allowing the colour blocks to show through.

‘The colours and shapes from our streets empower these women and give them sass and individuality.’

The colour blocks are applied with spray paint and the black lines are hand painted. It allows for a good stitch guide and where the wool is thin, the coloured canvas shows through and adds an extra dimension. Niki always stitches the black lines first. It helps keep the tension on the canvas and gives her a good idea of what colours to select.

She has a natural affinity for and an emotional connection to, working with wool but there are more practical considerations too. Wool is clean, needlepoint canvasses are portable and easy to work on-the-go – an important factor when you are a busy teacher and mother. Niki is also drawn to the mechanical nature of her textile practice; the repetition of the half-cross stitch emulates the pixilation in dot matrix.

City Sunsets (Source)

Each body of work consists of about six pieces which she works on simultaneously, designing and painting over a few days. She then spends the next four or five months stitching them all, dipping in and out of different canvasses as she progresses.

Although she is inspired by the urban environment, Niki’s style is influenced by cartoons and comics – the limited colours and black outlines – as well as by the Pop Art movement. ‘It is bold and simplifies complex images and brings subjects and objects back to basics. But I’m actually more excited by the modern twists on Pop Art where artists take it further and use it as a social story for feminism, racism, and social injustices like Banksy and other graffiti artists do. It inspired me to simplify my work, to use colour blocks and key black lines, however, my subject matter is more personal and an extension of myself rather than a broader social commentary.’

Rose Tapestry

The women featured in my tapestries are the archetypical mother, daughter, sister, aunt, niece or girlfriend. They are wide-eyed, true to themselves, on track and living life on purpose. They are curious, empowered, owning their sexuality yet not sexually exploited, inspired by, but not crushed by the urban landscape. Perhaps it would be fair to say that these women depicted in my tapestries are affirmations to myself.’

Niki’s latest body of work is titled My Garden My Rules, celebrating the blossoming woman as she says: ‘I can do it my way and you are not entitled to anything without my consent. My garden, my rules where I’m not asking for permission to shine, instead I am building shade, nurturing new life, empowering the blossoms to be the best and most full they can be.’

This woman is respectful of the streets that she walks down and finds good in everyone else’s gardens. She knows her garden is her very own, but she is sometimes happy to share it with gorgeous like-minded travellers that tend the gardens alongside her, that sow new seeds and talk of gardens that she has never seen. An apt description of Niki McDonald, strong woman and Tapestry Girl. She explores the laneways and urban landscapes, collects colours, layers, and images then nurtures them in her own limited-colour garden contained by her signature black lines.

You can find more information about Niki’s work on her website, Instagram or Facebook.

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