Gentle soul

Wellington artist Jane Denton’s hand-stitched artworks have a clever way of quietly setting the mood.

It was a piece of yarn-bombing street art that set textile artist Jane Denton on a creative course that has become her full-time occupation. “The original inspiration for my work came from seeing how someone had wrapped wool around a few squares of a tall wire fence on Vivian Street in Wellington,” she explains. “They’d made a pattern with the wool and even though it had faded, I could see potential in the idea as an art form.”
On her return home that day, she began experimenting with using wool in a similar way. Fast forward six years and her intricately stitched geometric works adorn walls around New Zealand and, increasingly, the world.
The shapes Jane makes are at first glance simple but on closer examination revealed to be beautifully textural, mixing thread type, colour and stitch style in palettes from tranquil neutrals to vibrant brights. The pieces are pretty, feminine, detailed and contemplative – a pleasure to live with.

TOP “I love working with lots of natural light,” says Jane, who also wouldn’t be without her embroidery stand “and tons of gorgeous coloured wools and cottons for inspiration”. ABOVE Crafted using fine cotton, this piece, entitled Still iii – Black + White, is from Jane’s latest series, Still. This chic scene also includes Luster candleholders by Menu from Let Liv.

When did you begin creating artworks using cotton and wool? I started in 2011 when my two children were very young and I felt I needed a creative outlet. I began selling my first series of work at homeware stores Small Acorns, Allium and Let Liv, and was also lucky enough to gain support from some well-known American stylists and bloggers, including Emily Henderson and Amber Lewis, who promoted my work and helped me break into the American market. Today my artwork is sold through my website, and although I sell a lot of pieces to New Zealanders, the majority of my orders come from overseas.

Tell us about your studio. For the first five years, I worked out of our family home, but once my workload increased and I employed an assistant, I knew that had to change. We had a downstairs space with its own access, so earlier this year we turned it into a studio. It had previously been used as a storage room, but had loads of potential, with inbuilt shelving and deep inset windows. Now that it’s been painted and carpeted and has new furniture and lighting, it’s become a really lovely, light-filled place to work.

ABOVE Clockwise from top left are Still i – White, Still iii – Celadon, Still ii – Grey + White and Still iv – Celadon.

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at work each day? I love the start of my day! After taking my kids to school, I meet my assistant Kate Mah in the studio. We make coffee, chat about what needs to be done, put on some music and get started.

How do your pieces begin their life? I’m usually inspired by a shape or pattern I’ve seen, and then I think about a colour palette. I’m always noticing colours and patterns in everyday life – often in unexpected things like floor tiles in a bathroom or a display in a friend’s garden. Different seasons affect my choice of colour too. In summer it’s all about soft and muted tones, whereas in winter I’m drawn to more intense colours.
My woollen artworks are typically brighter and bolder in design, and I think the wool gives them a real tactile quality; the cotton is more subtle – it gives the artwork a more refined look. I was recently given some New Zealand corriedale and perendale wool, which I’m looking forward to incorporating into my work.

ABOVE Boxes of wool and cotton crowd the shelves in Jane’s recently refurbished studio, where a roll of colourfully stitched canvas sits on the workbench, waiting to be mounted onto a board, then framed.

How has your signature style developed over time? My work has always had clean lines, and overall I think it has a deceptive look of simplicity. The palette ranges from soft and pale through to bright and colourful, but even when there’s a lot of colour, I like to tone it down with neutrals so it’s not too busy.
I currently have a lot of orders to fulfil, but I’m always thinking about new designs. I’m going to start a new series of cotton work soon, which will be bolder in colour but still have the delicacy that cotton provides.

Do you undertake commissions or collaborate with other artists? I do a lot of commission pieces. Sometimes they’re simply existing designs using different colours, and in other cases they’re something completely new.
I really enjoy the collaborative process. The most recent project I worked on was with Emily Henderson. We worked together to create a limited-edition artwork that she promoted through her blog and social media.

ABOVE The beautifully serene artwork pictured here is Still i – Pink.

What would be your dream project? Over the years I’ve stitched some really big woollen artworks for American clients, but I’d love to create a very large cotton piece. Cotton is more refined and delicate – I think it would look amazing on a larger scale.

Words Lisa Morton
Photography Bonny Beattie

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