Doris Lees - Fibreline December 2003

Doris Lees, Life Member of ATASDA, passed away in September 2008. The following profile by Penel Bigg and the acccompanying photograph were first published in fibreline, ATASDA's magazine, in December 2003.

Doris Lees

Doris and her husband John, now both retired, live on 5 acres above Cattai Creek, in Sydney's northwest. Their verandah overlooks a beautiful garden which in turn overlooks typical sandstone country, sloping down to the distant creek. Birds abound, with various finches, rosellas, and a thrush coming to feed at the table while we talk. Doris says that living here is like always being on holiday, and with such a lot of life and beauty at her doorstep it is easy to feel both relaxed and inspired.

Doris has been sewing for as long as she can remember - her first completely self-made dress, at 16, was a tiny white polka dot on blue cotton, with a heart shaped neckline, puffed sleeves and a gathered skirt. She learned sewing and other skills from her mother, the most important person in her life. In later years the two of them spent two years crocheting a large dinner cloth together.

When Doris married and moved to Sydney, she sold her piano and bought herself a Singer. Its first job was to make a christening outfit for her son, and this was followed by years of making her children's clothing as well as her own, including wedding dresses for family members. Doris learned patternmaking "due to necessity", as she wanted properly fitting clothes, a skill which has continued to be very useful.

Doris also learned lapidary and loved it and worked for about 20 years with stones, as well as gold and silver smithing. She is a Fellow of the Gemmological Association of Australia, and has a wonderful collection of carved jade, amber, and tourmaline pieces, among others. She worked for many years with Totterdells Jewellers in Parramatta, before moving to manage their new store at the Macquarie Centre. Doris and her husband also ran their own business before retiring about 7 years ago.

How did she become involved in Atasda?

In the late 1980s Doris was in Adelaide and almost by accident attended a silk painting workshop; she had called for information just as they had a cancellation. She returned to Sydney with four beautiful scarves and plenty of silk dyes, absolutely rapt in the process and the product. The dyes languished in their box however, until Doris found an advertisement for Fibre Forum and went on to do a class with Susan Holmes. Here she met Carolyn Cabena who told Doris about ATASDA.

With no sewing or arts training Doris felt shy about the standard of her work compared to other members, and is still very modest and unassuming about her own work. But she joined the group despite this, as she loved the support, friendship and learning ATASDA offered, and says now "it's just made my life." Because she believed that her organisational skills were her strength, Doris became involved in running the ATASDA stand at The Australian Craft Show. From the very first year when the group was doing only promotional work, Doris went on to exhibit and sell her own silk painted handmade clothing, bags of many descriptions, and silk paintings. Doris loves iris, and these appear repeatedly in her work. Her silk painted iris are small masterpieces of brushwork using tiny brushes and thousands of strokes, making them appear feathered and three dimensional.

An accident while on holiday some years ago left Doris with an injured spine, and while being treated for this she discovered she also had osteoporosis and, more recently, arthritis. These ailments have at last forced Doris to wind down the scale of her involvement as well as the scale of her work.

In 1998 Doris challenged herself to enter a piece in The Craft Show competition before retiring as an exhibitor. The theme was "From Sea to Sky" and her entry, "Aphrodite" was a flowing silk painted and machine embroidered long dress standing in a sculpted textile shell, with a matching shell headpiece in pearly white. The base of the dress is deeper purple-blues, lightening towards the top. Waves are indicated by multiple rows of stitching using variegated thread. To her great surprise and delight, "Aphrodite" won, and Doris won a Pfaff 7530. This machine is currently being used to recycle the shell headdress into beautiful fabric flowers for the wedding of Doris' granddaughter. Self-taught, Doris has read many books and has attended (and organised) many workshops. The support and friendships she has gained through ATASDA continue to be important, especially when ill health makes finding energy and inspiration difficult. "This year I had a pretty bad year and whatever I tried to do turned out just terrible. Ken Smith is my idol. He really spurred me on, and Barb Schey and Alan Tremain got me back on the right route again so I'm now starting to do things." Ken always says "just do it, don't let it beat you" and this advice has saved many a piece from being discarded. This fits with Doris' philosophy of always aiming to do better with each work she creates, and of putting all you have into what you are doing, to be whole hearted. Doris prefers to make things up as she goes along, rather than pre-plan, and lets favourite or focal fabrics suggest the next step. Scraps from one work often become starting points for the next.

"I can sit at the machine and do small things, not big things. But I can keep going." This means spending shorter lengths of time at the machine, and working on pieces that don't require large amounts of concentration or intense working. Her latest works, for sale at a gallery in Port Hinchinbrook, are small, but very colourful and rich. Doris is using mulberry fibre sheets with open uneven fibres, splashing on dyes and then stitching into them to create small and intricate worlds of colour and texture, reminiscent of the Barrier Reef. These first experimental pieces on mulberry fibre have been random, but Doris plans to approach the next ones with a more deliberate application of paints, and I look forward to seeing their evolution.

Doris shares a converted double garage with her daughter, tall shelving divides the space in two and one side houses Doris' studio while the other is her daughters home office. The sewing machine and overlocker live under the window and a large working/cutting table along one wall has boxes and crates of materials both above and below. Finished garments hang on a stand at the entrance and there is just enough room between all these for Doris to continue to get to the sewing machine.



The above member artworks are a selection of examples from our Galleries.


Return to Members Home Page