Cultural expression through what we wear and how we present ourselves is as old as time itself.

For Australian Indigenous artist and researcher, Elisa Jane Carmichael, that form of expression is an innate part of her being and informs her exciting oeuvre that blurs the line between art and fashion.

Elisa Jane’s works meld the traditional with the contemporary, weaving her family’s connection to country through her judicious choice of colour and various fibres into wearable art. In this Q & A, we learn how Elisa Jane approaches her work and where she derives her inspiration.

What is your design process in terms of determining the way you approach a new work?

My creative process is very organic and spontaneous. Sometimes I plan things on paper but most of the time I work with a picture in my mind and let the design grow naturally. With my creative practice for university, I moulded my works on a mannequin only using my hands and the fibres I weaved into cording – weaving full body garments.

How do you bring traditional techniques into your work and give them a contemporary feel?

I use jersey offcuts, recycled found materials, natural elements, cotton twine and cotton fabric digitally printed with the designs of my paintings. I hand make the cording that forms my garments using the traditional techniques of looping, twining and coiling.

I shape my own stories, using my hands, weaving personal narratives into wearable mediums. I’m reviving the techniques of our ancestors’ traditional forms of everyday dress. I believe I’m contributing to an intergenerational history while acknowledging the strength and structures of traditional weaving techniques which have influenced the structure of the materials we wear today.

Where do you derive your inspiration and how is that reflected in your work?

Nature, country, family, elders and ancestors.

What are your top five design books or magazines?

Containers of Power, Women with Clever Hands by Louise Hamby

Art on a string: Aboriginal threaded objects from the Central Desert and Arnhem Land by  Louise Hamby and Diana Young

Aboriginal String Bags, Nets and Cordage by Alan West

Twined Together: Kunmadj Njalehnjaleken by  Louise Hambly

Floating Life: Contemporary Aboriginal Fibre Art by contributing authors include Diane Moon, Diana Wood Conroy, Anna Haebich, John Kean, Julie Ewington, Bruce McLean and Lynne Seear

Who do you look up to in the Australian and international fashion design scene?

Bronwyn Bancroft

(Bronwyn Bancroft is an Australian artist, notable for being among the first Australian fashion designers invited to show her work in Paris)

What do you enjoy doing in your down time?

Being in salt water.

Where do you see the future direction of contemporary Indigenous fashion going?

Everywhere! Watch out world!

What words of wisdom would you impart to young students pursuing a creative life?

Always follow your heart and dreams and be YOU!

Elisa Jane belongs to the Quandamooka people of Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia and is a descendant of the Ngugi people. She is passionate about nurturing and preserving her strong connection to the sand and sea, Yoolooburrabee. She is a graduate of the Queensland College of Art and is completing a Masters of Fine Art in Fashion by research at Queensland University of Technology.

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