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The whimsical stitchery of Albany artist Melissa Daw

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Melissa Daw
Camera IconMelissa Daw Credit: Laurie Benson

The whimsical world of Melissa Daw’s artwork is the product of thousands of intricate and detailed stitches coupled with a fantastical blending of nature and the built environment.

The Albany artist and Albany Senior High School art teacher has been creative all her life.

“I’ve always been one of those kids who draws and paints and just makes stuff,” she said.

Growing up in the Perth suburb of Thornlie, Daw was part of one of the last cohorts of the Bachelor of Arts Education course at Curtin University, which allowed her to further her love of the arts by majoring in textiles.

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“I’ve always loved textiles art and have always knitted and crocheted and quilted, and my mum and both my nannas did all that stuff, so I learnt lots from them,” she said.

Melissa Daw artist.
Camera IconMelissa Daw artist. Credit: Laurie Benson

Daw moved to Ravensthorpe in 1996 to work as a teacher, where she met her husband who had grown up in the area.

After moving back to Perth together, they returned to Ravensthorpe, where they raised their children and Daw embraced her passion for community arts, working at the Ravensthorpe Regional Arts Council.

In late 2016, the family moved to Albany, which had an influence on the direction of Daw’s art.

“I guess it’s only really now that the kids are kind of older and don’t need me so much that I really have the time to kind of do what I want to do,” she said.

“It took me a while to settle on doing this and I’ve tried a few different things.

An embroidery artwork by Melissa Daw.
Camera IconAn embroidery artwork by Melissa Daw. Credit: Melissa Daw

“I still love drawing and painting, but I guess no one else was really doing (embroidery art) locally.

“So I kind of thought, well, it’s still doing my style of work but instead of drawing it, I’ll stitch it.”

After learning how to stitch and sew from her mother as a child, and attending technique workshops as an adult, Daw has developed her own “made up” style of stitching through a process of trial and error.

“I guess it’s similar to what they would call crewel work,” she said.

“That uses two strands of wool and quite filled-in spaces, but I’ve used a bit of a bastardised approach, where I’m a bit more economical with the thread.”

A Melissa Daw work in progress.
Camera IconA Melissa Daw work in progress. Credit: Laurie Benson

Daw uses a variety of stitches in her work from chain stitch to cross stitch which all come together in the finished products.

“To me, it’s almost like painting with stitch, and I kind of approach it the same way as well,” she said.

Daw’s smaller pieces can take her about 20 hours to finish with bigger pieces taking even longer — so she watches “a lot of telly” as she stitches.

Her process usually starts with going through old sketch books and finding past drawings that take her interest.

“I start with exploring whatever I’m thinking of or what I want to do, and then I’ll just simplify it into a style that I like,” she said.

“And then I just trace it through on to the fabric and decide what colours to use and start.”

A sample of Melissa Daw's work.
Camera IconA sample of Melissa Daw's work. Credit: Laurie Benson

She is the proud owner of two former farm cats — now pampered indoor pets, one missing a leg and the other missing an eye — who also make their way into her art.

Daw also takes on commissions and enjoys telling the stories of other people’s pets through her work.

When she is creating her own pieces, much of it includes a recurring four-legged creature that she first depicted as a fox.

As her work has developed, the creature has changed shape.

“They tend to morph a bit so it will look a bit like a Tasmanian tiger, but it might have a ringtail possum tail,” she said.

A sample of Melissa Daw's work.
Camera IconA sample of Melissa Daw's work. Credit: Laurie Benson

“They just become creatures rather than a particular animal.

“I really love nature and I re-work lots of different ideas just in different ways.”

Another recurring image in her art is that of a house on the back of various animals — from whales and snails to birds and blue bottle jellyfish.

Daw takes inspiration for the houses she stitches from the historic homes in Albany she passes on walks around the town.

As for the meaning of these pieces, that has also morphed over time too.

Melissa Daw's whimsical humpback whale artwork.
Camera IconMelissa Daw's whimsical humpback whale artwork. Credit: Melissa Daw

She said at times the houses explored the idea of what “home” means, and in other pieces the animal represented a “beast of burden”.

“The idea for that sort of started with the animals carrying the weight of humanity, I suppose, and how we keep clearing land and that sort of thing,” she said.

But not all her pieces are steeped in meaning.

“Sometimes I think I’m making environmental statements,” she said.

“And then other times I just go ‘oh, no, I’ll just do something fun’”.

Threads.
Camera IconThreads. Credit: Laurie Benson

Whatever she chooses to depict, Daw is always busy creating something.

“It’s like an urge to make stuff, like I can never not do anything,” she said.

“I just always have that urge to make something.”

A sample of Melissa Daw's work.
Camera IconA sample of Melissa Daw's work. Credit: Laurie Benson

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