YUKKA written by Mathilde Bach Stougaard

When I first met Janet Meaney, I was intrigued by her story as an artist and when she provided more information after signing up to the makers directory, I was eager to know more about her practice.

I looked at some more pictures of her works and in fact my YUKKA (which I call it and which is the piece below that could be described as a vessel with the shape of a vase) was one out of three pictures that Janet submitted for her Weavers around the World profile, which you can see here.

We quickly started chatting and then I decided to ask more about this particular piece, which is now standing in my home for me to enjoy the beauty of every day, the colours of the leaves are absolutely stunning and a natural beauty colour of nature.

For anyone interested in knowing more, here is a Q&A about this piece followed by a couple of images for those who would like to see and read more about other works from Janet.

1) Where did the inspiration for the vessel come from?
I was very inspired by the work of the late Virginia Kaiser. I like the symmetry in her work and her use of the colours of the yukka and Dragon Tree leaves. The colour is at the joint where the leaf attaches to the body of the plant, vibrant yellow with tinges of maroon in the case of the yukka, shiny luscious red in the dragon plant and variations of both at the end of the leaves where the shoulder joint forms a curled horn shape. Virginia used these features to embellish the formal shape of the work and the spiral stitch that she uses to join the coils that form the vessel.

2) What materials are the vessel made of?
This particular work is made of yukka leaves gathered from an enormous old tree on a property just outside Canberra (Australia) and stitched with Swedish linen thread. In fact it is made from the yukka leaf itself bundled and coiled. The coils are stitched together with linen thread. The shoulders of the leaves have a show of yellow where they have been separated from the branch of the yukka tree. The shoulders of the leaves are dried first and then sewn into the rows of bundled leaves. If used freshly cut they will shrink and twist as they dry and be less predictable in their arrangement which could add interest in their randomness though.

3) What kind of plant is yukka and what is the process behind the use of it?
The yukka tree, at least this variety and of this age, is large and has long rigid leaves with a dangerously sharp needle end known to cause serious harm as it pierces eyes and ears in particular when moving around the tree so picking requires some caution and the wearing of gloves and goggles and preferably a leather apron. Another difficulty in picking the leaves is that they overlap and wedge together at the trunk so they have to be picked one at a time and in sequence of the overlap then pulled with downward thrust to detach them. If one resists and breaks leaving part of the horn this part has to be removed. This entails getting in close to the trunk avoiding the surrounding spikes etc. You get the gist. The older and dried portions of the tree give up their leaves much easier but with different colourations and are less giving in working with them. It is a matter of personal preference as to the colour and strength and how they behave and what one is trying to achieve. I personally prefer to work with fresh material and in the case of the yukka because it is highly fibrous it shrinks very little and I use a lot of tension when stitching the coils that make the piece together. The coils are bundles of finely stripped fresh leaves that are stitched together upwards forming a spiral from the bottom upwards. In this case I used unbleached 16/2 Swedish linen for its neutral natural colour and strength and a large eyed needle no. 16 with a rounded point.

4) What is the size of the piece (dimensions)?
The YUKKA piece is 12cm tall, 11cm in diameter tapering out to 17cm at the bottom and with the frill the overall diameter being 26cm.

5) Why did you choose to use thread?
I used linen thread because it is natural and the neutral colour blends with the colours of the fibre. It forms a spiral pattern on the body of the piece without competing with the colour or form of the vessel itself. In some cases a contrasting colour can be complimentary and deliberately make a statement about its presence.


Here you see another piece made using the same technique but with philodendron leaves for the body and the large leathery shoulders as embellishment and rust coloured 16/2 Swedish linen thread.

The following image depicts the inside of three coiled spiral baskets without embellishment and stitched with natural 16/2 Swedish linen. Note the different colours and textures from the three different materials, from left to right Lomandra, NZ Flax and Bangalo Palm inflorescence.

A big thanks to Janet for the creation of my YUKKA, for sharing the knowledge and for giving an insight in to her working process about this piece and a the other works described above.

Author’s note:
Mathilde Bach Stougaard is the Founder of Weavers around the World with a passion for the arts and her mother is a willow maker on a hobby basis.

Janet Meaney

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