Local artist: Lissa de Sailles

Updated: Jan 15, 2021

I met Lissa back in November 2018 when I attended one of her short weaving event taught by her with as part of the Shoalhaven Home Sustainability Workshops series. You can read more about my experience here.

We are hosting Lissa's second Basketry Masterclass on Saturday. If you are interested in future dates, then please fill out the contact form! In the lead-up to this workshop, I asked Lissa a few questions so we can all get to know her better!

Tell us a bit about you!

I grew up in the leafy suburbs of the Sutherland Shire on the Port Hacking River and my connection with the Shoalhaven goes back to the late 1950's as my family holiday spots were at Currarong and Orient Point. My brother came to live in Nowra in the 1970's and Mum and Dad followed in the late 80's and then I moved to Nowra from Canberra in 2004 to live with my elderly father. From the early 90's on I taught the first belly dance classes in the area and taught hundreds of women about the joy of dance and self expression.

I cared for Dad for twelve years and during this time I attained a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Wollongong and then retrained in traditional and contemporary basketry. I am now currently completing a Masters in Health and Social Well Being at the Nan Tien Institute in Wollongong.

How did your creative journey start? what did you start with? 

I have always been creative. Whether it was photography, drawing, knitting, crochet, embroidery, sewing, dancing or making dance costumes, I have always had a project going. My first memories of creating were with my Aunties who taught me how to thread buttons on a string when I was three and since then nothing has stopped me from keeping my little hands busy and those projects going.

Lissa de Sailles

How did you discover weaving and basketry? What came first? What drew you to it? Where did you learn?

I have been collecting baskets since I was a teenager and love seeing a well made object. Basketry is one of our most ancient arts and I see the basket maker as having an important role in village life. I love how I can create something from the natural environment with just my two hands and a pocket knife.

Finding a teacher in basketry was hard in the beginning until I met Jim Walliss from Greenwell Point who had been making since the 1970's. He was the first teacher I had found who had an applied arts background so it was a joy to spend a number of months learning from him and then finally showing with him in Nowra. He was very generous with his information and taught me about so many techniques and where, when and how to harvest natural materials. As I am also a keen gardener and have over 300 camellia trees in my home garden. I like the idea of growing materials and being able to harvest from my garden so I've been planting more useful materials lately.

Also I have been very fortunate to have received a number of local scholarships that have enabled me to travel overseas and learn with master makers in Ireland, England and the USA.

What are your sources of inspiration?

Growing up on the edge of the Royal National Park surrounded by beautiful bush land, rivers and beaches gave me a deep appreciation for solitude and connecting with nature so most of my work is inspired by my local environment and the wonder that nature inspires in me.

Some of my favourite makers are Joe Hogan, Liz Jeneid, Jackie Abrams, Peeta Tinay, Judy Dominic, Polly Adams Sutton, Caroline Gregson and Melinda West, All of whom I have taken workshop instruction with. Some of my favourite artists include Ruth Asawa, Bronwyn Oliver, Carol Eckert, Louise Bourgeois, Fiona Hall, Virginia Kaiser and D.X. Ross

What other crafty things do you do and how is basketry/weaving/fibre art unique/different to the others?

I am kind of lucky that I can turn my hand to most practical skills. I learned to knit when I was five and crochet when I was around 8 years old and am very proficient at both. Sewing and embroidery were taught in primary school as women of my era either became secretaries, school teachers or wives. I was a bit of a rebel though and took up belly dancing when I was a teenager and began a creative journey in learning dances of the SWANA (South West Asia and North Africa) Region. I was a performer, costume maker and teacher for over twenty years so that took me on a whole different creative path. I also dabble in botanical dyeing and making art journals and have learned ply split braiding, which is another little known skill taught to me while I was visiting England a few years ago. 

Basketry is a broad umbrella of techniques and skills that have been practiced for centuries and is unique in the way that you can make a functional or artistic work with little more than your hands and some natural fibre and a pair of secateurs or a pocket knife. It's a slow and mindful practice for the soul! Your manual dexterity and skill dictates the integrity and aesthetics of each piece and that can only be achieved by repetition and practice. Don't believe anyone when they say you can become an expert without putting time and effort into your practice.

Lissa de Sailles Artwork

What do you wish participants take away from the workshop?

I like to see that everyone gets a chance to learn a number of techniques that can be taken from the workshop and used independently. It's not only satisfying but empowering.

Basketry skills only get better with repetition so learning a thorough grounding in basic techniques is important and then the magic happens. You will make your own discoveries through trial and error and that's where the learning begins. One day doesn't give a lot of time to learn about everything basketry but learning at least four of five techniques and making little sample pieces gives everyone something to take away to continue their creative journey. I have taught hundreds of people over the past six years and some of them have combined these skills into their own professional or home practice or have become basket makers in their own right. Recently I was honoured to teach an amazing group of women with a couple of highly respected Australian artists. Its always such buzz to know that other professional artists are interested in my work.

What crafty projects are you currently working on and what's your next arty challenge?

The thing that I love about basketry is that it is also a fine art practice for those who wish to take it there so I am aiming high with a couple of upcoming projects next year, I have two collaborative exhibitions coming up. One at Gosford Regional Art gallery with natural history illustrator Nicole Berlach and one at the Little Blowhole Art Bar with local artist, Kylie Douglas. I am also hoping to enter my work in more competitions and have been invited to submit work to a well known Sydney gallery. That should keep me busy for awhile! 

Check out upcoming workshops!

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