“Making is in my fingers and when I’m at the loom, I’m aware of the expertise and precision required to interlace warp with weft to create an envisioned structure”.
Liz established her studio in Sydney’s Inner West on Gadigal and Wangal lands of the Eora nation in 1985 where she continues to weave on her Glimakra countermarche and Sheridan dobby floor looms, both with 8 shafts
Her practice is diverse and includes designing for industry, exhibition artwork, production weaving of wraps and scarves, undertaking commissions, creating collaborative projects and teaching nationally and internationally. All involve weaving, the handmade and creating unique, individually woven and made pieces.
Textiles and weaving form the core of her practise with their historical, social and cultural associations providing a reference for design, structure and content. Of interest is the how and why textile objects have been created, used, loved, worn, darned, repaired, reused and what they signify and represent. Her studio textiles are a woven conversation around and about cloth, reflecting its history, circumstances and memory through the images embedded into cloth, its shape and surfaces and the particular elements interlaced into structures at the loom. Her weaving skilfully integrates concept and meaning with material, structure and technique.
Research projects to inform her practice have included digital Jacquard weaving at the Centre of Contemporary Textiles, Montreal, Canada supported by an Australia Council grant (1998-9); Renaissance textiles at Lisio Foundation in Florence, Italy supported by an Australia Council residency grant (2000); and Irish Damask in Northern Ireland during a residency at the University of Ulster, Belfast, Ireland (2002). Following this Jacquard woven pieces, many with damask patterning, were exhibited with some included in the 2006-07 NSW Government House Refurbishment Project, as upholstery fabric and interior textiles.
An opportunity to document historic Indian ‘Fustat’ textile fragments in British and European museum collections occurred during her residency at the UNSW Cité Internationale des Arts apartment in Paris, France (2015) with the research being documented in a journal article titled Inspiration from the Past: Tracing Motifs and Patterns in Fustat Textile Fragments, The Asian Arts Society Australia, Review (2016).
Studio research has revolved around cloth itself, its construction, use, wear and repair and the traces of memories and experiences left on the cloths surface and the changes in the cloths structure through use and repair. Many pieces have explored the notion of ‘darning’, the impact a darn has on the surface of the cloth, changing the surface, colour and feel of the garment and how a darn becomes an embellishment on the cloth. In 2006 her exhibitions A Visible Thread at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery and Visible Darning at Object, both in Sydney, investigated notions of invisibility and visibility in the domestic repair process of darning.
Liz was selected for the prestigious Living Treasures: Masters of Australian Craft series, an award given by Object Gallery and Craft Australia acknowledging her 30 years contribution to the craft and design sector through her practice, education and advocacy. Liz Williamson: Textiles her solo exhibition opened at Object Gallery in November 2008 before touring 13 Regional Galleries nationally to 2011. Dr Grace Cochrane is the author of the publication with the same name, documenting her career, practice and contribution.
Many of her weavings reference the traditions of rag rugs, using readily available materials and the idea of 'making do'. Weaving materials have included domestic materials and her old clothes cut into weft strips, waste and excess studio materials and materials coloured by locally sourced plant dyes.
Liz first experimented with local plant dyes when she began weaving in the late 1970’s and continues in 2021 with eco bundle experiments with locally sourced eucalyptus being woven for installations.
Her Living Treasures exhibition in 2008 and others at this time, included double layer structure or sacs woven with fabric dyed with traditional dyes of Indigo, Logwood and Cochineal alongside eucalyptus.
In 2018 Williamson curated "Local Colour: experiments in nature" for UNSW Galleries at UNSW Art & Design, Sydney. The exhibition presented contemporary textiles and fibre art from 21 artists, designers and social enterprise groups interested in sustainable practices, local ecologies and natural resources. Works in the exhibition express social, cultural and political issues ranging from place, identity, climate change and land use, to individual and environmental wellbeing. Australian and international exhibitors shared a common interest in experimenting with locally sourced plant materials to extract unique colour for their textiles, paper and fibre.
‘Local Colour’ was most valuable for opening up not only specific questions about making natural dyes, and threatened resources, but for widening our sensory world. This exhibition offered colours that came from different sources to those familiar colours used by painters and showed that these colours function in very different ways.
Research undertaken for Local Colour included documenting natural dye use, experiments and publications that explored the colours of Australian plants since the first British colony (1788) to contemporary practice detailing experiments undertaken to determine colours sourced from indigenous plants principally Eucalyptus by botanists, scientist, dyers and community groups. Her current research includes tracing the visionary idea of establishing a natural dye industry in Australia.
In 2019, her installation, Shadows of Eucalyptus was exhibited in the 1st Biennale of Natural Dyes and acquired by the China National Silk Museum, Hangzhou, China and a solo exhibition Local Colour: Eucalyptus Shadows shown at Off Centre Gallery, Milawa, Victoria.
Since November 2019, Liz has collaborated with colleagues in Australia, India and countries around the Indian Ocean with her Weaving Eucalyptus Project, requesting them to colour two metres of silk fabric with locally sourced eucalyptus leaves which she weaves into panels (17 cm wide by 120cm long). A selection of panels was included in the Make the World Again exhibition curated by Dr Kevin Murray and shown at the Australian Tapestry Workshop in Melbourne, Victoria from 1 December 2020 to 5 March 2021. The whole project will be exhibited at the Indian Ocean Craft Triennial (IOTA21) in Perth from September to November 2021 with at least 60 panels each.
Weaving Eucalyptus Project interweaves local colour, cultural connections and weaving traditions and represents a community of practice linked by an interest in the natural world, natural materials / processes and the environment. Countries represented are Australia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Thailand. As eucalyptus are native to Australia, supporting research has documented how and when these plants were transported to each country, enabling the species to spread around the world.
From 2017 to 2019, Liz collaborated with furniture designer Jon Goulder and Broached Commission on developing and integrating woven textiles into a suite of furniture designed and made by Jon. Leather and various yarns were woven for the chaise lounge and two credenzas exhibited in Sydney in November 2019 and the Jam Factory Gallery, Adelaide, SA from late February to May 2020. The Broached Goulder Chaise Lounge was acquired by the Art Gallery of South Australia in mid 2020.
Since 2001 Williamson has been engaging with artisan groups in Asia in various ways - conducting workshops, teaching, advising on design development and for production of her ‘Woven in Asia’ range of wraps and scarves. In 2012 she established the ‘Cultural textiles’ course at UNSW Art & Design, introducing emerging artists and designers to ways of working with artisan groups in Gujarat and West Bengal. The course quickly became a highlight of her academic year, being taught in Gujarat from 2012 to 2017 and with New Columbo Plan in West Bengal from 2018 to 2020. Over three weeks, undergraduate and post graduate students were introduced to issues of development, ways of working with artisan groups, social enterprises and social and cultural issues in the sector. The course has been documented in an article published in Garland Magazine (2016): a book chapter titled Cultural Textiles: design, engagement and transformation (2018); and a TAASA journal article Cultural Textiles: experience, education and transformation (2021)
In 2018, Liz began a program of Cultural Textiles tours to India for interested people. With an emphasis on textiles, especially weaving of the region, participants experienced the culture, landscape, environment and beauty of the state, while visiting museums and artisan groups specializing in weaving, embroidery, natural dyes, bandhani (tie dye) and block printing. Cultural Textiles tours ran in Gujarat in December 2018 and 2019 and in the Northeast of India (West Bengal, Assam, Nagaland and Meghalaya) in February 2020. Since returning from India in late February 2020, tours have been postponed due to the pandemic but hope to be scheduled in 2022 and 2023.