Hand-painted fine Australian merino wool
Ditchfield Designs by Jan Ditchfield has become a staple to the annual Canberra Wool Expo. Jan’s business began 20 years ago when she painted mainly on silk items. That was until a lady approached her one day and said, “It’s a pity you don’t have an all-Australian product.”
It sparked a lightbulb in Jan’s mind prompting her to transition from silk to the all-Australian wool. The change only require more time in waiting for the paint to dry on the fabric. The same dyes are applied, and although the concept of her work from silk to wool largely remains the same, the result creates much more interesting mixes and patterns.
“I had never really thought about it to tell you the truth,” says Jan. “Wool was incredibly difficult to find, and since then I’ve done 90 percent of my painting on wool.”
“I’ve spoken to customers who I’ve known for fifteen years, and they tell me that they’re still wearing them”
The wool goes out in the bale, gets spun in Germany, and finished in Italy, before it makes its way to Jan’s workshop in Adelaide. Jan doesn’t produce the fabric. Instead, she designs them through her painting. Her workshop is forthrightly set up with a big horizontal frame, ready for Jan to pick up her brush and work her magic.
Because each piece is carefully hand-painted, they are each one-offs and distinct from the rest. Designs might bear similarities thanks to a theme or design, but as a whole, each one is an original.
The process after painting involves steaming the fabric for at least three hours to make sure that the design doesn’t not wash off. It will then be washed and sewn. Jan’s intention is to ensure that each piece is long-lasting. It certainly helps that the fabrics don’t crease. Along with the scarves and the wraps they can be quite comfortable for colder weather.
“I’ve spoken to customers who I’ve known for fifteen years, and they tell me that they’re still wearing them,” says Jan. “As far as I know, I’m the only person in Australia who paints on wool.”
Jan has come a long way since she first emigrated from the UK in 1979. Back then, she had no interest and experience with art. That was until she walked past a gallery in Adelaide where a magnificent dress was displayed by the window. She coveted it instantly. The soft greens and oceanic turquoise complemented the material and style. But it was a size too small.
After asking the lady in the gallery for another size, she was told there was none. The piece was hand-painted and thus a one-off. Seeing the disappointment in Jan’s face, the lady offered to teach her how she could make them herself.
“I started painting in a garden during summer with cotton stretched between two tables under a patio”
“I was hooked from then on,” says Jan. “I started painting in a garden during summer with cotton stretched between two tables under a patio.”
In the early days of her business, Jan sold her products to cruise ships which gave her an access to an international audience. She recalls an enthusiastic reception from North Americans and Europeans who appreciate natural fibres.
Likewise, she’s found that her pieces have been well-received by audiences visiting the Bus Depot Markets as she’s found that her products tend to attract people in their fifties and over. Finding audiences who are genuinely interested keeps her coming back yearly for the Canberra Wool Expo. Consistency in quality is what Jan aims for as she looks to bring a number of her original designs for shirts, wraps, and scarves that have made her a staple for the event.
“The Markets has a lovely atmosphere,” says Jan. “I just wish I had more time to go around the food court.”
See a display of Jan’s original work and shop on her website, Ditchfield Designs. Visit her at the Old Bus Depot Markets in this year’s Canberra Wool Expo held on the weekend of the 19th and 20th of May.
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