My Art: Retired art teacher wins hearts with textile art

By Shepparton News

Ella Egan’s lounge room vibrates with the colour of big artworks. There are more in the hallway and in the bedrooms and the kitchen.

They could be water colour or oil paintings — as layers of turquoise, reds, gold and greens wash into each other to become landscapes, rivers, skies or abstract patterns.

Step a little closer and the truth is revealed.

They are made up of thousands of coloured threads, woven with intricate depth and subtlety. Each has been carefully chosen, arranged and stitched together to make a flowing thing of joy.

Ella’s textile art looks peaceful, easy and serene. But behind each piece are hundreds of hours, weeks and months of painstaking work.

‘‘It is labour intensive but if it’s been a horrible day I sit here with the music on and time just goes by,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s all practice. I stitch rhythmically. I love flowing lines. I try to get movement and rhythm in my pieces.’’

As a child, Ella remembers her mother making her clothes.

‘‘She was very particular — everything had to be perfectly done and my father was always very supportive,’’ she said.

She made early plans to be an art teacher.

‘‘Not because I particularly wanted to teach, but I knew I wanted to do something with my hands — pottery, sewing, life drawing,’’ she said.

Ella studied fine art at Caulfield Technical Institute, which was attached to the University of Melbourne. She then did a post-graduate teaching diploma and went on to teach at Echuca Secondary College and what was to become Wanganui Park Secondary College.

In 1971, she married her husband Peter who worked for a chemical company and they had two children.

Throughout her working life and her motherhood, she continued to sew.

‘‘I made all my own clothes, but I was always more interested in the art side,’’ she said.

Then when she retired 28 years ago she discovered the perfect medium.

‘‘Machine embroidery was coming in and people were experimenting, but it wasn’t until silk paper came in, that’s when I got really interested,’’ she said.

She spent hours poring over books and taught herself to stitch threads on to a silk background to build up layer upon layer of colours and textures.

‘‘I don’t sit down and plan it out. I plan it in my head. I start with the silk — it’s so gorgeous to work with. Then I arrange the colours. The colours suggest particular landscapes and memories come flooding back,’’ she said.

When Peter died from cancer two days before Christmas six years ago, Ella’s textile work became a form of therapy.

‘‘I would sit and stitch beside him when he had his chemo treatments,’’ she said.

She said her work was appreciated by Peter’s carers at Goulburn Valley Hospice Care.

‘‘I was asked to do a piece for a GV Hospice Care room at Pine Rd,’’ she said.

Her work has also earned the admiration of people outside her family, and her lounge room. Her large textile triptych The Ascension hangs in St Augustine’s Anglican Church in Shepparton.

She has also completed commissions, and her work has been shown in Canberra, Wangaratta and Shepparton.

Her textile piece After The Drought won the Peoples Choice Award at the Shepparton Textile Association exhibition during this year’s Shepparton Festival.

Ella remains humble in the face of all this public recognition.

‘‘It’s always surprised me. I often don’t put things in exhibitions. I think who would want these strange things?’’

Nevertheless, at 83 years of age, Ella is as busy with her textile art as ever.

‘‘I’m never bored. I’ve always got something on the go. I feel sorry for some people who lose their husbands, it does leave a great void.

‘‘But there’s always another exhibition to work towards.’’