Is it art? Is it craft? Is it design? Perhaps the work of Rachel Burke is best described as a combination of all three. She gives everyday household items, such as lampshades, table tops, chairs, bowls and platters, a new lease of life using decoupage and paper maché techniques. But Burke doesn’t just use any type of paper – she creates her unusual pieces with vintage sewing patterns.
Rachel Burke established her Patturn studio after moving to Geelong with her young family two years ago. “It was an aside to keep me sane while I raise my children,” Burke explains. “I find it helps balance my life to exercise the creative parts of my brain. While it takes effort, it also seems to energise me.”
Her romance for retro patterns began when she tried to design a template for a lampshade she was covering with fabric – it proved to be more of a challenge than she anticipated. “Trying to marry the conical shape of the lampshade with the pattern on the fabric was a nightmare. It was like I required a physics degree or needed to apply an abstract mathematical formula to get it right,” she laughs. In frustration she made a pattern re-using old sewing pattern paper and laid it on the lampshade. “I decided I liked the effect better than the fabric itself. It also occurred to me that the thin paper would allow quite a lot of lamplight to shine through, so the idea just got better and better.”
With encouragement from Kay Gibbons who ran the Ohsokay gallery in Drumcondra, Burke was motivated to try more designs. She sold a few in the gallery and the Patturn business grew. She is now busy working on commissions and several exhibitions. Her work was also included in the Love is Here book, to be launched this month, which features black and white artworks responding to the words “I love you”. Burke’s digital work depicting a love heart pocket pattern was one of the winning entries selected by Facebookers who were asked to vote on their favourite works.
Burke sources patterns from all over the world as well as hunting down vintage patterns in local op shops. She has found her muse in dull and discarded domestic items. “I get inspired by what I discover in op shops, particularly when I find a dirty or stained lampshade and a vision of its potential pops into my head,” she says. “I go through boxes of patterns which I’ve sorted into types and colours and it becomes a bit of a jigsaw puzzle to see what’s going to fit and suit best. There’s an awful lot of cutting and pasting until I’m satisfied it’s complete.” She finishes off the final design with a couple of coats of lacquer to protect it.
Behind all her work is a strong green ethos. She not only recycles objects but also makes her own environmentally friendly glue which she says is “so non-toxic you could probably eat it.” She is passionate about recycling and gets special satisfaction rejuvenating items that would usually be thrown out. “I do firmly believe we could do more as a society to reuse and recycle things more. There is still a lot of waste going on that could be avoided.”
In a departure from her functional pieces, Burke has also completed works on canvas and Interdependence, pictured below, shows the complex relationship modern urban living shares with industry and the environment. She explains it’s about “recognising our dependence on industry but we just need to work out a better way of doing it to achieve a sustainable lifestyle in the city.”
July is a busy month for Burke who is exhibiting pieces in the Light Up Geelong exhibition and in her own solo exhibition which opens tonight in vintage boutique, Born on Sunday. The exhibition is the result of the Heart in the City initiative which seeks to place artists into existing shops in Geelong’s CBD.
The Patturn exhibition is on Friday 15 July, 7–9pm at Born on Sunday, 85 Lt Malop St, Geelong and is open tomorrow Saturday 16 July from 11am–4pm.
You can find out more about Rachel Burke’s work, Patturn, on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/patturnstudio